It seems rather poignant to be considering licensing and copyright issues today as parts of the internet take action against two bills being debated by Congress in the US.
The two Acts are Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).
There is much media coverage (e.g. BBC) , particularly of the protest by Wikipedia,
Wikipedia anti-censorship splash page
with Jimmy Wales appearing in numerous news articles, both online and in the ‘standard’ media.
But other sites are joining in the protest, Boing Boing for example.
Boing Boing SOPA & PIPA protest page
And the Digital Storytelling MOOC, ds106 run by Jim Groom has this:
Digital Storytelling MOOC DS106 Censorship Splash Page
DS106 is reliant upon ‘fair use’ of media to enable participants to engage with the media and create their own material to interact fully. Under the Acts, such a course covering digital expression could face closure.
This lead me to this rather informative video outlining the PIPA:
From this video I take it that PIPA allows powers for censoring the internet to go to the entertainment industry. This enables shut down of sites where people download unauthorized media content. Most of these sites reside outside US law. The Bill gives the US Government powers to make internet providers in the US block infringing domain names access; similar to the powers used by China, Iran & Syria, which democratic peoples find so objectionable. It will allow the suing of US-based search engines, directories, even blogs and fora to have infringing links taken down. Additionally, it can cause funds to be cut off to such sites by having advertisers & payment sites cut off their accounts. Blacklisting will mean that foreign sites won’t be displayed in major search engine results.
Concerns arising from the PIPA are that it will reduce the number of successful new start-ups, because they can be accused of not actively filtering strongly enough to prevent copyright infringement: this could particularly impact new search engines and social media start-ups. The early days of YouTube would probably have fallen into this category. Small sites or those in their infancy won’t have enough funds to defend themselves. The Bill will mean that it is easier to take down a site than for courts to decide upon the nuances of copyright law compared to free expression.
In the history of the internet, wherever people have come to express themselves, be creative, share ideas and knowledge, or even develop protest movements there is a tendency for there to be copyright media material uploaded as well. This Bill would seek to prevent that, and could lead to other countries developing legislation along similar lines. This would inevitably mean a very different internet being visible to differing parts of the global population. Potentially powerful localized laws would cause censorship of content, enabling abuse of people and limiting the freedom of:
It can be argued that there is already adequate (or, in the views of some, already extreme) legal provision in place via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), where for example links to infringing material can be removed. This power has also been said by some to be abused, with:
- journalists being sued
- YouTube videos being removed, example
- suing families and children for infringement
- and seemingly excessive royalties being demanded for use of content, thus inhibiting creative cultural documenting or expression.
In fact, this final point touches on the essence of ‘Bound by Law?‘ about the use of media in documentary filmmaking.
The powerful rightsowners will be protected by this legislation, but innovation, creativity and cultural expression might well be the biggest sufferers.
I’ll have to see how this story plays out in the coming weeks.