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The fight to keep the Internet free

by Archives March 25, 2008

Ever downloaded a song for free? Should you go to jail for that?
Last December, an uproar started among a group of people usually known for their calm, cerebral temperament: computer geeks. The uproar was in response to reports that the Conservative party was getting ready to introduce Bill C-60 to Parliament, commonly known as the Canadian Copyright Act.
Bill C-60 is effectively the Canadian counterpart to America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This act effectively enabled record companies, movie studios and other groups to sue thousands of individuals in the States, including a low-income single mother and most often, university students.
These companies also used the DMCA to pry into people’s personal information, to snoop on millions of Internet users and even to go so far as to plant viruses capable of totally disabling users’ computers.
In the past, Canadian judges and activists have kept north-of-the-border downloaders safe from harassment and threats from huge media conglomerates. That may not be the case for long – now the Conservatives want to introduce the same sort of legislation in Canada.
It is my opinion that Bill C-60 ought to be removed from the legislative agenda, permanently.
Parliament should also take steps against private sector companies to curb harmful practices like “traffic shaping” and breaking into people’s computers (I’m lookin’ at you, Rogers).
Though it’s unlikely, the Conservatives really should try and educate themselves before blindly following the whims and desires of the notoriously crooked telecom giants. I’d recommend Prime Minister Harper pick up a copy of Goldsmith and Wu’s Who Controls the Internet? or barring that, Terminator 2 before he and his party try to dick around with technology again.
Countries like China and Saudi Arabia have tried their best to restrict their citizens’ Internet access. These countries impose “firewalls” on Internet usage, censoring politically-sensitive and “morally offensive” websites. Judging by these regimes’ policies in non-Internet related matters (see the current events in Tibet and the tragic case of Mohamed Kohail), does Canada really want to lump itself in with these kinds of repressive regimes?
To some, the net is like the Wild West, anarchic and with precious little regulation or supervision. The reality is that huge swaths of cyberspace remain dedicated to spam, Trojan horses, identity theft, money scams and of course, a helluva lot of porn.
On the other hand, it is this very freedom and benevolent anarchy that has allowed the Internet to thrive and evolve into the world’s most vital and important communications medium. The ability for anyone, anywhere, with access to easily publish their thoughts and work contains an incredible potential for the future of democracy.
University students these days are somewhat split between those who remember what life was like before the Web and those who’ve pretty much grown up with it. For many, the web is like any other utility or public service, like television or tap water; it’s just always there. Because of its “newness” (less than 15 years old), the Internet remains vulnerable to forces seeking to restrict and control it.
Websites like savetheinternet.com and cippic.ca (Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic), as well as tech companies like Google, are part of what participants refer to as the Net Neutrality movement. Though the movement encompasses millions of people, there remains a serious lack of awareness about the impending conflict.
The Facebook group “Fair Copyright For Canada” is fighting against that lack of awareness. Its 40,000 members espouse the belief that the Internet does not – and should not – belong to any one person, company, group or nation.
Still, the issue of copyright does need to be confronted. Musicians, filmmakers, authors and other artists deserve a viable way to earn income and royalties from their work. That does not mean that we should declare war against the very people who buy CDs and DVDs, attend concerts and go the movies. The thought of these multi-billion dollar, multinational companies forcing indebted university students and law-abiding citizens to pay them thousands in lawsuit settlements is outrageous.

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