For the half-year to 31 December 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Rebecca Gulbul, Lucas Michels and Marie-Andrée Weiss.

Regular round-ups of the previous week's blogposts are kindly compiled by Alberto Bellan.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Let there be light! Why this Kat will not be blacking out

Few folk who use the internet as a means of gathering news and information will have missed the news that the Wikipedia community has announced its intention to black out the English-language version of Wikipedia for a period of 24 hours in protest against proposed legislation in the United States: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the US House of Representatives and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the US Senate. Objection is taken that, if this legislation is passed, it will seriously damage the free and open internet which we have all come to love, including Wikipedia.

Many people have written to this Kat today to ask, since this is after all a copyright/freedom of expression issue, he will be blacking out in sympathy, as indeed many other websites and weblogs -- some of influence and eminence -- propose to do.

This Kat's position is as follows.

Without prejudice to the issue of whether SOPA/PIPA is the best piece of proposed legislation ever seen or the most vile manifestation of evil yet recorded, it is the product of a legislative process that is itself the product of  democratic will and which is the work of democratically elected legislators.

In this Kat's view, the way to engage with proposed legislation is to identify its faults, whether they are inherent in its principle or are merely by-products of its poor execution; to bring those faults to the attention of the legislators -- repeatedly if necessary -- and to challenge them through the lawful mechanisms provided by the system of democratic legislation.

Blacking out, whether for 24 hours or for any other arbitrary period of time, is not an argument.  In that respect, while it causes no immediate physical harm to anyone, it is no different to air traffic controllers going on strike because they want more pay or to people who have a grievance against a government's economic policy looting high-street electrical stores. In each of these cases what we have is not an embodiment of reasoning which can be tested out against logic, evidence and principle, but a reflection only upon the strength of feelings and the personal desires and preferences of those who carry out those activities.

If (as it indeed appears to a large number of people better qualified than this Kat to comment on matters of US legislation) the provisions of SOPA/PIPA are undesirable and/or defective in whole or in part, what is needed is education, explanation, persuasion.  Those are principles upon which this weblog was founded and upon which it stands today.  The net effect of a Wikipedia black-out is that, for a period of 24 hours, a number of people who call on its cooperatively-composed content for knowledge, enlightenment and understanding, will not find it there. The black-out will not hurt the supporters of SOPA/PIPA but just ordinary people whose collective will is the basis upon which democracy functions.

Many readers of this weblog will, in recent weeks, have seen a lot more comment concerning the proposed unitary patent system and unified patent court system for the European Union.  In the opinion of many people, including some members of this blogging team, these proposals are more deeply flawed and damaging to users of the patent system than Europe has ever previously experienced.

This blog has sought, through many long and passionate posts, to alert readers to these dangers. Some readers have agreed, while others have vigorously disputed the criticisms or have challenged their bases.  The result is that a larger number of people affected, as well as national legislators and EU decision-makers have become more aware and increasingly appreciative of many points which previously they either failed to understand or insufficiently understood. In result of this, it is hoped and believed that the proposals which will be adopted will be less harmful than those originally drafted -- and that those who work within the patent system will be better adjusted to life in a new world which is not of their choice.  This Kat believes that it is the educative power of not just blogs but all the social media which is its ultimate weapon, not blacking out and pulling the plug on what influence we have.

18 comments:

Cathy said...

With respect Jeremy, this:

"[I]t is the product of a legislative process that is itself the product of democratic will and which is the work of democratically elected legislators" is essentially untrue and THAT'S why SOPA/PIPA's critics are calling for the blackout. Because the people have NOT been heard.

SOPA and PIPA have been developed behind closed doors at the behest of particular interests. Many people are unaware that such a profound law is even being considered, which is one reason for the blackout: to cause such disruption that people will finally become aware.

Furthermore, those who were aware were largely not invited to participate in the legislative development process. Having been excluded from the proper channels, the people participating in the blackout are using this as their channel to finally be heard.

All that said, I'm probably not blacking out myself (I'm a scant enough blogger as it is, so who would notice the outage?), but I do support those who will do it. I also support those who will not do it (they may have perfectly sensible reasons), but I can't support this sort of criticism. Especially when protest itself is often such a necessary part of the democratic engine.

Anonymous said...

Very well said, but this is what monopoly looks like.

Dave said...

"...it is the product of a legislative process that is itself the product of democratic will and which is the work of democratically elected legislators."

Hahahahahaahahahahahahahahaha. Oh... man... hahahahaahahahahaahahahaha. Wow. You really aren't American are you?

If you *do* believe that this legislation was the product of the democratic process, I applaud your optimism. But by that same token, protests are a _part_ of the democratic process. They help bring attention to flaws that might not have been considered by everyone. The blackout might make some people who haven't given SOPA much thought realize that at the very least, they need to take a look at what the legislation could do--and if they don't approve, then contact their representatives to express their suport, or lack of.

Andrew Robinson said...

A fine and well reasoned post. I understand the IPKAT's position, and (because this is an awareness-raising campaign, and awareness of IP law is probably higher round there than nearly anywhere else on the net) I am inclined to agree that a blackout would not be appropriate for this site even if it did take an anti SOPA stance, but I must take issue with two points.

Firstly, there is a profound difference between deciding to change the content of a website and deciding to loot a shop. One is a legal protest an the other is an illegal protest.

Secondly, this isn't a plain 'turn everything off' blackout, it's an awareness raising campaign. Sites will be replaced with a message explaining the action, and urging visitors to do exactly what the IPKAT suggests, to "bring... faults to the attention of the legislators -- repeatedly if necessary -- and to challenge them through the lawful mechanisms provided by the system of democratic legislation."

Anonymous said...

More importantly though, it looks like most attorneys won't be doing much drafting that day. Wiki is the source of many a background section and definition.

Pedro Malaquias said...

"Blacking out, whether for 24 hours or for any other arbitrary period of time, is not an argument. In that respect, while it causes no immediate physical harm to anyone, it is no different to air traffic controllers going on strike because they want more pay (...). In each of these cases what we have is not an embodiment of reasoning which can be tested out against logic, evidence and principle, but a reflection only upon the strength of feelings and the personal desires and preferences of those who carry out those activities."

Strongly agree with your point

Rupert Goodwins said...

The sad fact is, well-funded and long-established corporations have much better access to lawmakers than individuals, start-ups and young outfits. Also, the primary movers behind SOPA et al have a very great financial interest in maintaining their business models, which are predicated on controlling distribution rather than innovating (IP is intended to support the latter, but has a very great affinity for the former). The lawmakers in this particular instance have demonstrated that they do not understand the consequences of their proposals, rely on their constituents also not having that understanding, and have been sponsored by rights owners who really do not care.

It is not particularly democratic. Look at the way that the Digital Economy Act was passed in the UK, the way ACTA has been promulgated through actively avoiding public scrutiny - and the way that regulatory capture has been a theme of technology-mediated content distribution since Sarnoff and the FCC broke Armstrong.

Education, explanation and persuasion are notably difficult in this environment, where the actors do not wish for education, gainsay explanation and have already been persuaded.

Hans Sachs said...

The time has come the Walrus said to speak of many things....

Including the darkening and even the potential killing of the internet by a handful of American lobbyists and lawyers who have partaken too much of their own Kool-aid....

See, of course, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kool-Aid

But, of course, you can't see it for now....

A day of darkness is a good idea.

(And may also enable many of us to deal with our clients' actual immediate needs a wee bit faster)

Hans Sachs said...

Rather than "Let there be light", wouldn't it be more accurate to say:

"Let there be blight"

or,

"Let there be fright"

or,

"Let there be night"

??????

Anonymous said...

Or as Leonars Cohen sings: "I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A."

Anonymous said...

It's more an awareness issue than an attempt to convince US politicians, I think. It is a good thing that Wikipedia warns its US users for the possibly destructive effects of SOPA. Then these users can activate the politicians they are represented by.

I think that most readers of this weblog are already familiar with most aspects of SOPA. Blacking out this weblog would be pointless.

JH said...

I'm a long-time contributor to WP (probably more than is good for me).

Losing the "safe harbour" provisions of the DMCA would cripple the site -- as it would cripple much of the "Web 2.0" part of the internet that is built from user contributions.

I think it is entirely appropriate for WP to go dark for a day, to make people aware of what might happen /permanently/ if legislation of this sort goes through.

WP isn't doing this lightly (as the long and heartfelt deliberations beforehand attest). But you have to make people aware of the dangers of legislation /before/ it's too late, while it's still possible to change it.

Anonymous said...

Fighting online piracy and protecting IP is a noble cause, and I agree with you that what is needed is "education, explanation, and persuasion."

This blackout, however, is more of an awareness campaign rather than a selfish protest to "get what I want" because SOPA and PIPA were not the product of a democratic, legislative process.

The House's SOPA hearing did not have a single technical expert on the panel. If the elected officials had consulted with internet engineers who helped create the web and companies who actually understand the technology, maybe the proposed laws wouldn't have caused such outrage.

You also can't ignore the fact that the sponsor of SOPA, Lamar Smith (aka "Hollywood's favorite republican"), receives much of his campaign funds from the entertainment industry, a staunch proponent of this bill.

The bill's co-sponsor has even announced today that he's no longer supporting/sponsoring the bill:

http://www.omaha.com/article/20120118/NEWS01/701189867

Obama has already said he would not support it. If the U.S. is actually serious about this, they would conduct more thorough consultations and simply start over.

Anonymous said...

FYI:

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1978989

Johnny said...

Society doesn't understand or get awareness, unfortunately, by the traditional methods anymore, although we must continue through them. Our survival as individuals depends on it.

Anonymous said...

There is a huge difference between The IPKat and WP and it is this: the IPKat didn't promise people to make their stuff available and WP did. IPKat has every right to black out, and explains powerfully why it chooses not to. WP made a commitment to promulgate information submitted by third parties and it is asserting that it can unilaterally break that commitment.

SMP said...

In response to that last Anonymous' comment (even if we accept his main proviso, which I don't), it should be noted that Wikipedia's articles were still available yesterday - all you had to do was to disable JavaScript in your browser. And yes, it was the Wikipedians themselves who taught how to do it in the black-out page: all you had to do was read it until the end. And they even said that circumventing the block-out in this way was more than OK: they just wanted to make sure the message was not missed.

Maxine Horn said...

Internet users need to understand the difference between free to access & view as distinct from free to download, copy, re-mix, re-use others copyright works.
The internet is a great resource for information and shared knowledge open and available to all people regardless of education and wealth.

Any Creator is at liberty to make their work available for free if it suits them - as much as any Creator whose usage of work requires permission, licensing or other form of remuneration has the right to that decision.

If the SOPA act is purely designed to make it the responsibility of ISP's and search engines to block pirate sites and copyright infringers that can only be a good thing as it prevents stealing from others - and stealing is not a good thing.

Both Creative Commons and Creative Barcode have sought to provide means for Creators to address copyright and innovation concept protection as well as communicate to internet users what is available for free and what requires permission for use or purchase.

Internet users arguing against SOPA on the basis that it restricts freedom and causes censorship predominently do so because they want access and use of Creators work for free for their own enjoyment and benefit. What gives them that right?

Do they apply the same rules to their own area of work where whatever expertise, products or services they or the business that employees them sells, is also available for free? l doubt it.

So why do they have such difficulty understanding that Creators works should not be considered 'free' or free to use without agreement just because the Creator makes works available to purchase on the internet or uses their work examples to market their skills to businesses to seek new business commissions?

It's not so much about censorship as it is about respect for the value of others work. Don't steal - ask permission to use or purchase, or in the case of published material, don't plagiarise but credit the source of the knowledge.

What's difficult about that? One wouldn't walk into a shop and walk out with a CD without paying for it or any other product without being arrested for shoplifting.

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