23.12.11

irony and firewalls



“Scio me nihil scire” – Socrates


According to Plato, this is Socrates response to the claim by the Oracle of Delphi that ‘no human is wiser’ than he. “I know one thing, that I know nothing.” Rather than being Socrates denial of his knowledge, this was a claim that, to understand what one lacks is a true test of wisdom. This seems to have been the tack in the US senate of late, whose coverage was consistently and frustratingly interjected with phrases such as "I'm not a nerd" or "I'm no tech expert, but they tell me..."
The problem is that the issue in hand in the senate at the moment may very well dictate and shape the future of what is currently the single biggest technological advance connecting human beings the world over, the internet.


The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a bill hastily put through the US judicial system as another flailing limb of attack from the movie and music industry as they fail, once again, to understand and come to terms with the fact that their long held institutions no longer fit the modern world. The proposed bill will allow American courts to demand domain name registrars to take down a copyright infringing website and have ISP’s cut off subscriber access, it can also stop search engines from linking to a marked site and cut funding through online payments and advertisers. Essentially this would allow the entertainment industries rights to shut down websites, destroy incomes and enforce fines.

While this is currently a predominantly American affair, trends and legislation set to the internet in the US more often than not have a knock on effect as to how the rest of the western world works around the various pitfalls in the net. What is most frightening for those currently outside of American jurisdiction is that this bill is aimed at stopping "rogue websites that steal and sell American innovations [and] have operated with impunity." This sort of attitude to the internet is set to create a ‘great firewall’ around the USA similar to that in China, but as twitter user giorgiosironi noted (with no allusions to sincerity I’m sure)

If Internet censorship is so bad, why I don't hear any Chinese complaining about it on the Internet?”

Apart from the obvious irony of America being ‘the land of the free’, there has been heavy petitioning from those who not only openly claim to be the nerds and tech experts but also helped set up the protocols and scripts which allow the miracle that is the modern web as we know it to run. Many of these founding figures would have little chance at starting the many of the ‘American innovations’ that are to come under protection of the bill without fair use rights. This relaxation of copyright chokeholds has allowed for the mass content building of some of the best known and most successful websites including, youtube, twiter and reddit. In an open letter to congress a mass group of such innovators outlined how they each shaped the modern web and the damage the SOPA bill will cause to future startups. These are the people who should be allowed to make these kind of decisions, people of passion and knowledge who understand the connective and collective unspoken rules which govern the internet.


Combine the letter with the pleas of many others who use the internet and its freedom of information as part of their job and the newly set up iworkfortheinternet organization and it is easy to see who the bill will directly affect. I would sooner trust the future of the internet to their hands than those of Iowa representative Steve King who has caused a furor at his ignorance to irony.
During the hearings a tweet appears from the senator stating:

“We are debating the Stop Online Piracy Act and Shelia Jackson has so bored me that I’m killing time by surfing the Internet.”

The plain ignorance and lack of understanding as to how this bill will and would have affected the internet he was surfing and twitter to where he posted while paying no attention to something which could have grave consequences on the rest of modern society actually scares me.

I have spoken in the past about the necessity for physical media and the benefits of spending money on the creative industries you love but neither I nor this bill will change the way people consume media in the modern world. Piracy is something many industries deal with not just the music and movie industries, head of game development company Valve Gabe Newell had this to say on the subject earlier this year.

”In general, we think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy. Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem. For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable. Our goal is to create greater service value than pirates, and this has been successful enough for us that piracy is basically a non-issue for our company.”

Beyond this one of the most pirated industries in America, with takings of over $13 billion, the adult entertainment industry never makes a peep about the wealth of pornography pirated and hosted for free all over the web. It seems strange that the American senate would put more stock in the combined gripes of just two of its major entertainments while not only ignoring several others but putting the screws to the most thriving and innovative.

Of all the jibes of frivolity and childish nature which technology and the internet shoulder the outcome of this bill is not something to be taken lightly. The internet creates millions of jobs, spearheads innovation and technological advance and promotes the freedoms that America was built on across a global stage. Above all these things it does not belong to anyone, it is the digitally connected extension of ourselves, a community through technology. Applying knee-jerk rules and legislation to save a crumbling industry will do nothing more than withhold a thriving and ever evolving one. As it stands the SOPA bill is in an indeterminate state of deadlock, we can only hope that the voice of reason and knowledge can assuage the millions spent to lobby the bill and keep the internet as the free and open community we know and love. 

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