Even the most erudite Digital professional may have missed something rather large looming on the web’s horizon. Legislations aiming to more tightly control and police the Internet are being debated, which would affect the Internet, and how information is shared, as we know it. What do these proposals mean for the Internet and the Digital Industry if they went through?
First came Protect IP in the US in May 2011. Protect IP or PIPA, which stands for Protect Intellectual Property Act rewrote an older online property rights infringement law by giving more power to policing online use. It was criticised for potentially infringing civil liberties, free speech and for posing a threat to user-generated sites and online communities. High-profile opponents such as American Express and Google argued that such legislation would suppress innovation and stall progress in the, still evolving, digital and Internet industry.
Then came SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the US in October 2011. It also proposed added empowerment for US law enforcement against piracy and copyright infringement. Again, it was opposed by the Internet community as being a potential threat to innovation, startups, smaller websites and freedom of speech. SOPA proposed giving the law the power to shut down Internet domains for “infringing content posted on a single blog or webpage”. It was feared this would threaten smaller companies, sites or blogs and make prosecution from accidental infringement rife amongst the digital industry.
On 18th January 2012 an online protest was spearheaded by Reddit, Wikipedia, Google, Mozilla and WordPress who displayed a ‘blackout’ on their homepages in protest of the proposed laws. It resulted in the proposed bills being shelved indefinitely.
However, while protests against SOPA and PIPA were gaining momentum a multinational treaty, ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), had been quietly under negotiation since June 2008 and was being signed by the US, the European Union, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea. Following this widespread protest erupted across several European cities and the European Parliament’s appointed chief investigator resigned. Germany and Poland subsequently distanced themselves from the treaty amid the protests.
The Digital Industry & Legislation
Large intellectual property-based companies support the agreement, as a response to an “increase in global trade of counterfeit goods and pirated copyright protected works” which many argue would safeguard jobs and industries that are being damaged by piracy. While Internet Lobbyists argue that digital industry prosperity would be endangered by legislation on the world’s most vibrant growing sector. Digital and web startups would be placed in uncertain terrain under the law thus threatening job creation and innovation and quelling startups while making the ‘web less stable.’
For example under ACTA a graphic designer flying internationally could have their laptop searched for copyright infringement and could be fined or imprisoned because a font or picture used in a client presentation made them liable for criminal charge. Web hosting providers would be forced to monitor what their customers were doing online and forced to report any customers who could then be imprisoned. Web hosting companies would also be liable if they linked to any sites that contained copyright-infringed material, not an easy thing to police. SEO would also be hugely affected by ACTA for smaller sites, almost wiping out their SEO ranking and a trademarked phrase, template, background, image or sound that wasn’t double checked for legalities could mean the end for a site as the hosting provider would have the responsibility and power to shut down your ISP. This would also hugely impact on Blogging sites, which essentially enable a free flow of information.
On 22nd February approval for ACTA was stalled when it was referred to the European Court of Justice and on the 28th petition signed by 2.4 million Internet users against ACTA was handed to parliament. Meanwhile Reddit crowd-sourced an alternative to official legislation releasing a first draft for a Free Internet Act (FIA) on the 27th February, which outlines aims to; “promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation online, while preventing censorship and allowing users to browse freely without accidentally breaking the law.”
The EU commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, Viviane Reding said “We need to find new, more modern and more effective ways in Europe to protect artistic creations that take account of technological developments and the freedoms of the internet.” Time will tell if a resolution can be met where both the Internet’s freedom can protected and piracy policed, either that or a new models for digital consumption created.
by Elle Holgate