Regulating the internet: current trends – US

US Gov’t Thinks Censorship Is Bad, Unless It’s Paid For | Techdirt. 21 May 2012

Extract from the post (itself starting with an extract):

“Aaron DeOliveira sends over an amusing statement summarizing the US government’s views towards “censorship” on various issues:

Person: Hey, there are child porn sites everywhere!

Government: We are working on it.

Person: Hey, there’s these pro-anorexia sites telling young girls to starve themselves! Government: W/e. (editor’s note for the old people: this means “whatever”)

Person: Hey, registered hate groups like the KKK have websites!

Government: Well we can’t stop them.

Person: I downloaded a movie from ThePirateBay

Government: PIRATED MOVIES HARMING NOBODY? Time to censor the Internet!”

This extract from the post is a good summary of the current trends in the US, where piracy, or at least what is labelled piracy, seems more important than anything else. Hate speech, child pornography (which is really photographies of rape of children), can be accessible easily in the US. But everything linked with copyrights cannot be, at least not without paying. There are several ways to interpret this.

The post certainly shows the absurdity of labeling any copyright infringement and shifting civil penalties to the criminal law sphere. To take the stand to censor forbids the debate that is currently necessary about copyrights and their validity in a digital economy where infringement is massively done and by ordinary people. See Euractiv,  “Half of EU computer users admit they pirate software“, 15 May 2012. Yet, the debate will define our future in general, far beyond the small world of music and films. I think here about a post on libraries and how they should position themselves as maybe open-access ports of call.

One could be cynical and say that people can be free to think what they want as long as what they think does not come into the way of those making money. To be even more cynical, one can say that there is not necessarily a strong incentive to regulate/censor child porn given the money that quite a few people make out of distributing it.

It is also possible to add that the summary is only partially representing the trends to regulate the internet, given that it leaves aside all the cybersecurity, cyberwarfare discourse which promotes censorship of everything remotely endangering the US dominance and policies.

Moreover, this lobbying of the music industry to censor in order to fight what they see as piracy is completely oblivious of the impact their message sends to the rest of the world. Many non-US countries see the stand for censorship of copyrights’ infringement a validation of their own policies of censorship … for non-copyrights infringements. China for example is notorious for not fighthing piracy, but is also notorious for censoring everything else and is keen to point out that even the Western countries do censor. So maybe we should start thinking about the unintended consequences of our actions in an interconnected world?

Finally, the hype about copyrights echoes the hype about cybersecurity, cyberwarfare, both leading to censorship ultimately, and both needing to be thought through objectively. See “White House Cybersecurity Boss — Who Argued Against Overhyping Threats — Resigns“, TechDirt, 21 May 2012. But maybe for one (copyright) the task will be easier than the other if one compares the EU survey cited above with this US survey: “Fearmongering About Cyberwar And Cybersecurity Is Working: American Public Very, Very Afraid“, TechDirt, 15 May 2012. Or if we compare the responses against anti-piracy measures and those against cyberwar, cybersecurity (secret) measures: “Very Few Companies Fight Back Against Patriot Act Gag Orders” TechDirt 15 May 2012.

Now, one could say that filtering by individuals is a better system than censorship by States, but I am always warry of the involvement of private companies. How do we control the products they sell or give us? How do we know that the product has not hidden features that filters far more than it is meant or said to be? Are we not moving the goalposts from the States to the private sector? See those two articles “UK ISPs Are Already Planning To Offer Porn Filters — So Who Needs New Legislation?” TechDirt, 15 May 2012; Lizzy Davies, “Internet porn: Cameron plan for default block ‘unrealistic’, say experts“, The Guardian, 11 May 2012




About Audrey Guinchard

Senior Lecturer @ University of Essex (UK)
This entry was posted in censorship, Countries - US, Filtering, Offences - Child pornography, Offences - Piracy. Bookmark the permalink.

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