The end of the Web as we know it?

Faced with the new anti-piracy laws, people are holding massive demonstrations and hackers are "bombing" important institutions. The fight for the Internet has begun. The stakes are high because they include our freedom of speech, information and privacy rights. People of USA and EU won round one with bills being postponed... Will Serbia also prevail?

from Niš, SERBIA

SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and similar new words are lately seen everywhere and have given us the frights. All three words are proposed laws that are supposed to protect copyrights and put an end to the internet piracy. Although that was their intention, people around the globe were scared by the fact that those laws will allow authorities to monitor all internet traffic and seriously endanger people's privacy, freedom of speech and information.

Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA brings the idea that authorities will have power to cut you off the web. They would have the power to order internet providers to prohibit access to the websites which are associated with illegal file sharing, or any kind of copyright infringement. The law would also apply to online stream of protected material, and the punishment for the website owners could be up to five years in jail.

Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act aka PROTECT IP or short PIPA is in correlation with SOPA. The difference is that PIPA proposal demands from USA government big money funds for the expansion of the stuff which will deal with internet crimes, as well as for the training of the special agents whose job would be to locate and arrest people suspected to be involved with illegal internet activities.

SOPA and PIPA are seriously threatening to destroy the biggest advantage of the Internet - its freedom of speech. For centuries people around the world have fought against the censorship and for their right to publicly express opinion. In 1984 United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which includes freedoms of speech and information, and which prohibits any kind of media censorship. Internet is one of the shining examples of the Declaration being put into its practical use. Bunch of blogs, newspapers and websites freely share information, they educate people and most importantly each individual has a public space where he can express opinion on various subjects.

In the past, similar laws have tried to sneak up on us, but haven't been signed or ratified. Against the mentioned law proposals now stood up leading internet brands such as Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Mozilla etc. For one day Wikipedia shut down access to their whole content just to show to the world how would the net look after the signing of SOPA and PIPA. They showed us that it would be the end of the internet as we know it. Protests against these bills were held offline as well. In USA people started petitions and held massive demonstrations on the streets. The biggest blow was given by hacker group Anonymous which took down websites of important American institutions including FBI, CIA, White House and Interpol on the world wide scale. Some of these resistance movements, or maybe all of them, worked and the voting for the laws was postponed indefinitely.

Opponents of these bills have proposed the OPEN Act (Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade) as an alternative solution to the problem. OPEN act would not invade users privacy; it would just have the power to cut down findings of the pirate websites. All the power in this case would have the International Trading Committee instead of the Ministry of Justice. Copyright holders refused this deal.

ACTA: "While two dogs are fighting for a bone, a third runs away with it"

While media was casting the shadow with the images of the events occurring over the Atlantic, similar problem tried to sneak upon us.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement or ACTA was signed in 2011 by Japan, USA, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore. In January 2012, the European Commission signed it, but it still has to be ratified by the EU Parliament. This decision is scheduled for June.

ACTA is a modified version of SOPA and PIPA bills. It would monitor all internet traffic, including e-mails, in search of counterfeiting content. The law should prevent violation of author's rights and theft of copyrighted material. Alongside artistic content, it includes newspaper articles and medications. Looks like Creative Commons license isn't enough anymore, so it is necessary to invade privacy of your mail just in case you wanted to send your friend a copy of some text. One of the problems with this bill is that piracy isn't forgery because it provides identical copies of the material, which is supposed to be treated as unauthorized distribution instead of counterfeiting. Accused parties, if found guilty, could end up with no internet or in jail. On top of all that, the opposed side can prosecute you further and look for money compensation. Real question is how much of that money would go to the artists and not to the publishers or movie/record companies.

Similarly to USA, Europeans rose against the ACTA proposition and Anonymous lurks all over. They also acted upon Serbia, shutting down some of the domestic websites, mostly political parties' presentations. Serbia, although not part of the EU, declared that they will sign the bill. But Serbs also started with the demonstrations, and are putting pressure on the government. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Latvia suspended the ratification process, while Poland refused to ratify ACTA altogether. The ratification in EU was also postponed. The bill was sent to European Court of Justice to "clarify that the ACTA agreement and its implementation must be fully compatible with freedom of expression and freedom of the internet". This Court in the past shut down less harmless propositions, so ACTA doesn't stand much of a chance.

What if?

In case some of these laws do get passed by, what will the internet ecosystem look like? People won't be doing private and sensitive work via electronic mail, and will have to rely on traditional methods such as post office mail or phone conversations. Websites will be shut down on regular basis, and nobody can guarantee that this power won't be abused to censor content which are not in favor of the authorities, although they don't have anything to do with illegal file sharing or copyright infringements. Will the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be seriously endangered and will the United Nations allow that? Only time will tell...

(Published: 25.02.2012.)