We are at war. The enemy is someone we know, someone we are told to trust. The very people we put in charge of our country have been fighting against us for the last year, and the lack of awareness about this issue is alarming.
I’m not talking about immigration, or health care, or any of those other hot-button topics. This is something more important to me than those issues. This is about our freedoms on the Internet.
It may not feel like a huge issue, the war our representatives are waging against the freedoms we all share and enjoy online. It has been consistently swept under the rug. The blackouts in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) were the most well-known events during this time, but sometimes even those went unnoticed or misunderstood. There is even a website devoted to people who didn’t know why Wikipedia was even down, or why it hated soap.
The blackout was the first rallying cry of the citizens of the Internet. They sat down, logged in, and collectively screamed “NO!” so loud it shook the halls of Congress, and they listened. For a short time.
Recently, Congressional staffer Stephanie Moore stated, “Netizens poisoned the well, and as a result the reliability of the internet is at risk.”
Take a deep breath and let that sink in for a moment. The protests, ones launched by Americans not in support of SOPA, “poisoned the well,” and “the internet is at risk.” What I consider a brilliant victory for democracy has now been compared to a vile act. An act that is, in essence, murder.
The people that write and vote on this important legislation, our elected officials and those that represent them, believe the protests were part of a greater misinformation campaign to leave the Internet open for attack.
What they don’t acknowledge, however, is the hand of the MPAA and the RIAA slowly guiding this bill as it gained support from our representatives. Yes, stealing is bad, but should the freedom of the Internet suffer because they refuse to drop their old business models and step into the future?
The attack didn’t end with the tabling of SOPA after the protests. The U.S. signed ACTA, or Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which is similar to SOPA, this time very much under the public radar. In order for it to be enforced, it must be ratified by at least six U.N. Nations, and only those that ratify it must enforce it.
Like the SOPA protests earlier this year, Europe has risen in protest against ACTA. They have helped the world recognize this as an issue, and ACTA has been voted down in Europe, but it isn’t quite dead yet.
ACTA has recently reappeared in CETA, the Canadian-EU Trade Agreement. It was tacked on in an attempt to sneak it past concerned citizens. The worst part of all of this is that most of the information discovered about this was from leaked documents reported by Tech Dirt.
Another act now threatens our freedoms on the World Wide Web. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011, or CISPA, is not meant to curb piracy and shut down websites like SOPA intended to.
No, this act would allow the government to spy on you and your trips online, then share that information with private organizations. All of this under the banner of “security.”
The worrying thing about this one is that it has already been passed in the House. It’s waiting on a vote in the Senate, and then our Internet habits can be viewed and shared, legally, by the government.
With such a loud voice rallying against SOPA, it would be hard to believe these acts could even be considered. But, like I said, we are at war. The other side will never give up until it gets what it wants. The enemy isn’t exactly our representatives, though. They’re just the smokescreen, a decoy to keep our minds off the true enemy of the Internet.
Organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America are the ones leading the charge against the online freedoms, under the guise of protecting copyright.
The real truth is, your activities on the web are already being monitored. Or at least, according to Ars Technica, it will start soon. ISPs have come to an agreement with the RIAA to monitor user downloads to help curb illegal activity.
They have been lobbying in the government for years, trying to present options to stop illegal downloads and protect their copyrights. What has come from this lobbying is heavy-handed legislation that seeks to shut down sites that violate a very vague set of rules.
Even a small complaint could result in a website being shut down until it is resolved in the legal system, which could take a very long time. Speech could be silenced, because almost everything is copyrighted, and you have to take it to court to prove Fair Use.
Piracy is an issue on the Internet, but it’s something that can’t be stopped. It has existed for hundreds of years. It’s piracy! It will exist, and methods to stop it will advance, as they always have, and piracy will always be one step ahead.
Piracy is not something I personally agree with, if only because the creator of the content deserves to be paid for what he or she has created. The problem is companies refuse to update their content delivery systems, sometimes taking steps backwards to protect their content.
HBO is a good example of this kind of strategy. Game of Thrones, an extremely popular show on HBO, has recently become one of the most pirated things on the Internet. HBO, in an effort to curb this piracy, started encoding their channel so no devices can record it, which has caused issues for people with older cable or satellite boxes, effectively cutting off their HBO service. This could cause paying HBO customers to their computers to download their favorite shows, even though they already pay.
It’s not an easy problem to fix, but people are beginning to speak out. Many customers have requested the ability to pay for HBO a-la-carte, in a fashion similar to that of Netflix, so they can watch these shows legally. People want to pay for this. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.
By “protecting” their copyrights, companies have made it harder for the consumer to get what they want. Much like iTunes changed the face of music, other industries need a way to get their product to the consumer in an easier, and possibly cheaper, way.
If people could get what they wanted easier in a legal manner, they probably would. Though some will still try to steal, because there are just some people out there who can justify theft, for the most part, people want to get what they want, and they would like to do it legally.
What needs to be done is not stopping piracy at its endpoint. It needs to be dealt with at the beginning. A change in the businesses that are “losing” all this money will start a change that could be positive. One that could encourage more people to buy, to make it easier to work with and to help the public put more trust in the companies and their products.
Our generation relies on the Internet. We are the ones who will suffer at the hands of the people who seek to shut down free speech online. Our voices and those of the future will be silenced if we don’t speak up now as loud as we can. We can’t allow organizations that operate on outdated business models to create Internet legislation. We have a voice. This is a democracy, and what we want should matter.
This isn’t something that should be ignored. We have to right to fight back against these attacks. Start by sharing what you know, strive to learn more about the attacks on the Internet, and get involved. It’s so easy to send your representative an e-mail letting them know what you want. They work for you, after all.