This morning I wrote an article on the new law proposal called Stop Online Piracy Act for Newsmill. You can read it here, but since it is in swedish I translated it to english below.
It is not exactly common that companies and nations scrutinize law proposals from the U.S. But in recent days, both the EU Parliament and media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google have openly and united stood up against the bill known as Stop Online Piracy Act. Together, the critics point to the major restrictions and changes to online freedom of expression that the bill would result in.
So what is it about? Basically, the proposal provides copyright holders (such as artists and large businesses) the opportunity and right to by various means stop sites that they believe infringe the copyrighted material, including contacting financial institutions that cooperate with the site and thus force them to stop operations connected to it. Services based on crowdfunding, such as Kickstarter, could be forced to close the service completely copyright holders believe any of the projects run by Kickstarter in any way intrude the protected material. Of course companies such as LinkedIn, eBay, Yahoo and Twitter react heavily on this. The whole point of for example Twitter is that the service is self-regulating. That’s the vitality. If the law proposal goes through,Twitter and Youtube, that today are services that promote freedom of information by allowing users to share even copyrighted material, will become even more self-censored and drop in viability. When freedom of information and copyright are discussed, it appears easy to end up in a polarized state between those who think copyright holders should get paid and those who doesn’t. I believe the bill’s hopes of existence rests upon the same simplified notion. It is cherished by the U.S. Senate and Congress concern for “intellectual property” and appears to be fairly one-dimensional.
The impact of market forces on parliamentary politics in the United States is well known. The political influence from financial elites remains today as a counterpart to the growing civil movement culture that questions the economic and political systems. The struggle between state and citizens is reflected today on people’s perception that their participation in democracy has been omitted in favor of the market’s economic tentacles. A notion that states that the capitalist social structure falls on its own absurdity in relation to fundamental human rights as freedom of expression, seems to emerge. I think it’s the same incentives that underlie the above bill. The impact affects not only copyright holders entitlement to compensation for property, but moving towards a clear restriction and control over people’s lives and needs, including the right to express themselves and create the counterweight and opposition in social, political, or for that matter artistic fields. In a society where the media in general and the Internet in particular, stands to be such an integral and major part of human life, legislative insitutions should take a startingpoint in contemporary communication cultures and patterns that, after all, says something about the society people want to achieve and work within. This does not mean to ignore the copyright holder’s privacy or right to compensation, on the contrary. But the political system is to have a different starting point in the political conduct and operations. The rhetoric is based a lot on how politicians are trying to protect people, protect the interests and promote personal creativity. But the result is the opposite. In structural terms, initiative, innovation and entrepreneurship are suffering. On an individual level the citizen’s participation in creative processes suffer and each individual’s constitutionally protected freedom of expression is decreased. The latter is something that over 100 U.S. law professors have come together and recently expressed in a letter to the U.S. Congress as a critique of the current proposal.
The bill seem to be a result of a very strange view of the media technology and people’s use of it. Of course, the proposal comes out of an interplay between political powers and economic interests and can not really be judged by normative ideals. But it is important to point out how a vision of the Internet as a force which cannot be imposed on citizens, but must be controlled from above, emerges and can be read between the lines. The starting point can not be more wrong. On the contrary, we should work towards the integration of technology, society and citizens and not divide the categories and distancing them from each other, which is what the bill might result in. Instead we are to work actively for solutions based on mutual use of the Internet, where interests are heard, entertainment and art forms can be distributed and where simultaneously the copyright holder receives compensation. The innovative spirit that pervades today’s media world need not only to move in opposition or outside the established system, but should be reasonably able to be used even more in areas such as the traditional political or even juridical sphere. Of course, innovations are challenging the status quo, but the Internet has contributed to an entrepreneurial talent of solutions, ideas and services that may be the key to avoid technology, society and citizens to be isolated from each other.