“The fate of all of us here has been to know that we are prisoners of power. No one knows why us in particular, but what a great fortune!”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

A War for Internet Freedom

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While it is obvious to me and many others in my online world, I still find that many of my acquaintances in the physical world are not yet familiar with the war that is raging on keeping the Internet free. This short post is for them.

First I want to make clear by what I mean free. Free is not Facebook or Google who do not charge you money for using their services. Free is the fact that Facebook, Google and this, my personal website, are allowed to exist. I need no one’s permission to create this website (it isn’t free in the monetary sense, I pay a monthly fee to make it available on the Internet) and publish whatever I want on it (legal or illegal … with consequences) and you need no one’s permission to visit my website.

It’s easy to make a mistake and assume that this freedom is obvious. It is so easy to do because that is how and why the Internet was created. However this freedom turned out to be a huge disruptive force. It enables direct contact between people without having to go through middlemen. In many cases “people” means content creators and consumers, or service providers and consumers. This means that many businesses (from small local ones to huge international ones) that occupied and benefitted from middlemen positions have been and continue to be cut out of many business-loops.

Maybe the most prominent example is the old music industry which is being annihilated. Actually, it is being re-formed (=taking on new shape). Once huge record companies funded almost every aspect of music creation (recording, marketing, selling, etc.) and therefore owned most of the rights to published music. This resulted in what is historically often viewed as abusive relationships with artists. The inherent Internet freedoms changed almost everything about this industry. Recording technology make possible home-studios. Websites, social-media and online outlets where an artist can self-publish content make possible independent marketing. Online payments and online outlets where single tracks can be purchased make possible direct and/or better mediated sales.

Similar changes are taking place in many industries. Media and journalism are in dire straits. The movie industry is also shifting and evolving. Remember this is also happening to many small and local businesses too. Small and local businesses are forced to either evolve or die. However large international companies are digging in their heels, pouring huge amounts of money into corrupt lobbying and aggressive lawyers and protecting their historical assets at any price because (a) they can afford to (funded by decades of artist abuse) and (b) they have nothing to lose since they may be facing what seems like complete annihilation.

So what does all this have to do with Internet freedom? Their legislative efforts (the artifacts of aggressive lobbying) are resulting in sweeping legislation which gives them the legal right and power to control, moderate and attack Internet activity they perceive to be threatening. Which brings me to this following example (brought to me by Raymond) which prompted me to write this post. 1.5 million teacher and student blogs (aggregated in one service) were taken down in one swift blow because of one infringement in which a 38-year-old questionnaire (with active copyrights valued at $120 owned by a large and active publisher) were published by one teacher in 2007. The creative work and expression of millions struck down for something valued at $120. To make it even more interesting, the offending content was immediately removed when a take-down notice (a request by a copyright holder to remove content that violates copyrights) was issued.

This is pure violence … a behavior one can expect of a cornered animal fighting for its life. It seems that during our recent history we have created many vicious animals that are finding themselves cornered and becoming extremely violent. They are not part of our changing society. They are predators on society who have enjoyed a good run. We, as a society, created these monsters and it is now our job to either put them back in cages or put them down. That is the war that is raging behind the scenes of the Internet freedom you take for granted.

Every time you witness something like this ask yourself what you can do. In the example cited above, if you have a choice … choose not to purchase or use something published by textbook pulisher Pearson. Their about-us page starts (as of writing this post) a quote: “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” by Alexander Pope … I can only hope this case creates enough bad publicity for them to create more then “a little learning” for them. If you have a voice on the Internet (a blog, Facebook, Twitter …whatever) … use that voice to spread your own thoughts on this. If you, like me pay for hosting services then write to ServerBeach (the hosting company that took down the servers of those 1.5 million blogs without notification) and get their response … and if need be take your business away from them.

To me the Internet represents  the most advanced form of freedom mankind has ever created or witnessed. A freedom to express and to share intellect. It isn’t obvious and should not be taken for granted. It is changing the world we live in in more ways than I care to seek out in my mind or express in this post (though naturally it is also being used in abusive ways). Protecting it is a worthy effort.

Update: October 18, 2012

ServerBeach hosting offers apology, Pearson offers bullshit

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