Stop the Secrecy

Carpe Internet: creating the web we want

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 15:17 -- Meghan Sali

This June I joined the OpenMedia team as the Campaigns Coordinator for Free Expression. One of my first tasks was setting to work on the Our Digital Future report, a crowdsourced document for moving free expression forward in the 21st century. As the newest member of the troupe fighting Internet injustice, I was incredibly lucky to inherit a project with such amazing potential.

The Our Digital Future report comes straight from Internet users. It pulls together the input of over 40,000 people from 155 countries worldwide who told us they were concerned about both the future of how we share and collaborate online, and how everyday Internet users were being left out of the discussion.

In addition to being the largest crowdsourcing project we’re ever engaged in (if Finland can do it, why can’t we?) this report is also the culmination of over two years of blood, sweat and tears from the OpenMedia team - organizing distributed events with the Fair Deal Coalition, consulting with copyright experts, collecting citizen voices in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, bringing those voices to decision-makers, and finally - most importantly - putting you, our community, at the centre of the push for creating new rules for sharing and collaborating online, rules that we can all understand and follow.

For too long, Big Media gatekeepers and their lobbying organizations have been making the rules for us, leaving ordinary citizens without a voice in the discussion about how best to steward our Digital Future.

Inspired by your desire to create an alternative to laws shaped by powerful interests (think armies of lobbyists and unelected bureaucrats representing Big Telecom conglomerates), we saw an opportunity to craft copyright rules that can keep pace with our rapidly changing technology and culture, while still preserving the unique ability of the Internet to democratize knowledge and culture.

And what we found may surprise some people.

Everybody knows the Internet is about users everywhere collaborating freely, and new forms of compensation for artists, but our research confirms it: Internet users are very respectful of the unique needs of creators and knowledge producers in the digital world. They want fair compensation for artists and creators, and, in fact, want to see that creators receive more of the money made by their creations than is supported in our current systems.

We found that Internet users wanted rules that prioritize free expression online, above all other concerns, and rules that prevent the abuse of copyright laws in order to censor the content we post and view online. Because we know that the way that the rules are written now leaves them wide open to misuse.

Finally - and this was no surprise - that Internet users actually want a say in how these rules are created. Less than one percent of respondents to our drag-and-drop tool on copyright in the Digital age agreed with the the idea that their country should “design copyright laws by conforming to international trade agreements.” (I’m looking at you, Trans-Pacific Partnership.)

Weighing in at almost 70 pages - yowza! - the Our Digital Future report is a thorough examination of an issue that can be complicated at the best of times. We did our best to make it a resource that can bring even fledgling copyright-enthusiasts along with us on the journey to explain how these rules affect how we experience the web. You’ll be guided through the report by the whimsical illustrations of Priscilla Yu, who does a fantastic job of showing us exactly what Free Expression is all about.

Crowdsourced Free Expression

The crux of the matter is this: rules that determine how we share and collaborate online should be determined by all of us, not just a select few with legal expertise, who are overwhelmingly hired by large conglomerates with deeply entrenched interests. After all, the Internet is our shared public platform - all those who use it should be engaged in key decisions that will shape its future.

Throughout our consultation and report-writing process, we were motivated by the belief that copyright should be an everyday issue, one that can be understood based on its impact on our daily lived experiences with the Internet and other technologies. From this perspective, our report findings are particularly salient, and our report hits the ground running as countries around the world are engaging in processes that will alter their copyright and intellectual property laws without adequately engaging their citizens in the process.

Look out for the full online version of the report, coming next week.

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