Stop the Secrecy

Mythbusters: Internet Censorship edition

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 11:04 -- Thanh Lam

Photo by Ged Carroll via Flickr

Back in the 1980s, there was a huge fear that video would kill the radio star - a sentiment most shockingly expressed by Jack Valenti, former President of the MPAA (Movie Picture American Association) when sounding the alarm about the arrival of the VCR:

"I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone."

This was, of course, in 1982. Over thirty years later, it's safe to assume that the VCR has not led to the untimely demise of American film producers. The opposite holds true -- we're chortling away at how ridiculous and outdated VCRs now seem (remember having to actually rewind those tapes?). Nostalgia aside, we should take a second to realize that while the technological landscape has changed, the myth that new technology will be the ruin of creativity and our cultural richness still very much persists.

Aggressive lobbying by giant conglomerates has led to the inclusion of a much-discussed and hugely controversial Internet censorship chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive international deal between 12 nations, including the U.S., Canada, and Japan.

The impact of this lobbying is particularly clear when you consider that Robert Holleyman, a key lobbyist behind reckless, anti-Internet SOPA proposals, was appointed by President Obama earlier this year as a U.S. TPP negotiator. So it comes as no surprise that experts say the TPP has the potential to crush the free and open Internet in one fell swoop with restrictive, outdated and overly aggressive censorship provisions.

For example, U.S. TPP negotiators are attempting to close off our public domain by proposing that copyright be extended for up to 100 years past the death of a creator. Furthermore, they're trying to ram through an extreme Internet censorship plan that would force ISPs to act as ‘Internet police’, blocking and filtering content, and even kicking entire families off the Internet for mere accusations of small-scale copyright infringement - all without due process. This all amounts to a "censor first, ask questions later" approach that puts lobbyists first and citizens last.

If you think these proposals are unwieldy and extreme, then you've more or less grasped the gist of the TPP's Internet censorship chapter. This blind and irrational crusade by powerful lobbyists and giant conglomerates begs the question: "Is new technology really about to ruin the entertainment industry? After all, on what possible grounds can these lobbyists propose such extreme Internet censorship proposals?

In the 1990s, the sudden shift to the MP3 digital format left little time or room for research on the impacts of digital technology on the entertainment industry. Nonetheless, record companies did not hesitate to point the finger at the Internet and those who use and rely on it: us. However, now that more than a decade has passed, studies have emerged debunking these claims and proving that digital innovation did not “kill” the music industry and that the negative impacts reported are either unfounded or exaggerated.

A study conducted by researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE) argues that “the entertainment industry isn’t devastated by piracy, and that sharing of culture has several benefits.” Further, when it comes to harsh and punitive measures, the report states that “the experiences of other countries that have implemented punitive measures against individual online copyright infringers indicate that the approach does not have the impacts claimed by some”.

This report, and others like it, thoroughly debunks arguments for the kind of extreme Internet censorship proposals contained in the TPP.

Clearly it’s time to stand up to unelected lobbyists and bureaucrats - and make sure that the Internet’s future is shaped by Internet users. We all need sensible, balanced rules that respect creators while enabling sharing and collaboration online. Help us shape a new era of openness, transparency, and collaboration online - take part in our groundbreaking initiative to build new rules for sharing that work for all of us.

Remember - there are only a few days left to make your voice heard. Be sure to speak out today.