May 25, 2011
Some Thoughts On Internet Regulation
The G8 is meeting in France this week. There is a two day eG8 summit in Paris prior to the main meeting, featuring corporate, Internet, and government elites doing what they always do, making business deals and jostling with conflicting positions on net regulation. The development getting the most attention is the speech given by French president Nicholas Sarkozy where he signalled his intention to "civilize" the Internet. He urged governments to take the lead in imposing regulation on the Internet. He noted "governments are the legitimate guardians of society" in calling for "a basic minimum of values and rules agreed at the world level."
Other participants took this as a lead to encourage stricter legal controls on intellectual property, digital rights management, and systems to control piracy. France is known for having one of the strictest legal regimes for addressing digital piracy, known as HADOPI. Under the system, illegal downloading is countered with two warnings followed by a possibility of web disconnection and fines. One possibly embarrassing glitch in the French system is that Trident Media Guard (TMG), the private company which was contracted to investigate and enforce the law, was breached. IP addresses and names of those under investigation were revealed. This lead to a temporary suspension of enforcement as TMG sorted out its lax security.
The United States, for its part, is quite in line with this line of thinking. It promotes the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) as a way of imposing DMCA-style rules on as much of the world as possible. It creates watch lists that identify countries which are not strong proponents of intellectual property controls. Canada made the yearly "Special 301" list compiled by the U.S. Trade Representative as that country does not have DRM anticircumvention laws, among other flaws in its copyright regime. The U.S. Senate is considering a bill, the PROTECT IP Act, that would give the Justice Department authority to bring suits against infringing websites and force search engines to delete their listings. DNS servers would be forbidden from resolving urls to connect to these sites, at least for U.S. residents. The general approach is to protect large content providers from piracy.
I'm not personally opposed to some form of regulation on the Internet. I have often said that I don't understand why some individuals believe that libel laws should not be applied to electronic communication. I also recognize that copyrights should be respected in order to foster a climate where creators and providers can exploit them financially. However, I question the level of respect necessary when Congress extends protection to copyright beyond the life expectancy of the IP creators and most consumers who use it. I also question it when IP products are encumbered with digital rights management controls that make them difficult to use practically. As such, I come to these discussions with mixed feelings. It's not so much that information wants to be free as much as it wants to be accessed and used without the paranoia of whether or not its ok.
For example, one of the most recent exemptions granted by the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office allows ripping of DVDs to extract video clips for use in an educational setting. The problem is that the DMCA prohibits the circulation of the tools that would do this. Not that they are hard to find, mind you. Only 15 lines of code were enough to break the copy protection on standard definition DVDs. Although more complex, it didn't take the technical community to do the same to high definition discs. There seems to be a contradiction between the law and the exemption. It's as if the government is saying I can rip in this context provided I hide how I do it.
I don't want to suggest that I'm encouraging piracy. The biggest problem I have with statements from Sarkozy about web regulation is the collateral effects that seem not to be considered in protecting business interest. These are things such as free speech, privacy, neutral access to legitimately available information, and other social considerations. Are governments the legitimate guardians of society only in the hands of western democracies, or are China and Iran included in his club. What about the effort of the Egyptian government to shut down the Internet there in what turned out to be a successful revolution?
Its almost as if protecting intellectual property is the ultimate goal of Internet regulation, where concepts such as fair use get the short shrift simply because technology allows it. I would prefer a discussion where control is balanced with reasonable use. There has to be a place in this debate on IP control that leads us to a point somewhere between the corporations and the pirates. It isn't coming from France (or Congress), that's for sure. [MG]
"There seems to be a contradiction between the law and the exemption. It's as if the government is saying I can rip in this context provided I hide how I do it."
Very much like the insanity of growing &/or obtaining medical marijuana?
Posted by: Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian | May 25, 2011 11:46:18 AM