Your freedom (online) is in peril, defend it with all your might

Eventually the structure and governance of the Internet will be planned and managed centrally by the government. Hayek warned us about this and we all know how that worked out

Are we moving toward central planning?
Dominique Lazanski
On 24 November 2011 13:18

Over the next few weeks Ministers Ed Vaizey and Jeremy Hunt will convene closed door sessions on the future of copyright measures.

Major rights holders, search engines, Internet Services Providers (ISPs) and a few civil society groups will sit around a table to seriously discuss proposals by rights holders on how to prevent copyright infringement online.

All of their proposals are alternatives to the disconnection clause yet to be implemented from the Digital Economy Act. However the proposals are concerning for freedom online.

Rights holders propose a variety of options for preventing copyright infringement online. A search engine standards board would approve appropriate search results, related searches, and key word search results which did not have copyright infringing websites or links in the text. Oh yes, that’s right – copyright holders want a non-judicial board to manage search engine results.

But that is not the only idea, rights holders wants Internet Service Providers to block websites outside due process. One suggestion by the Premier League is to block a series of IP addresses over the period of time that a game is being played.

Sounds like a good idea, but how can Internet Service Providers ensure that they are blocking the right sites on the fly for a short period of time? Why don’t rights holders invest in search engine optimisation instead or provide several legal, paid for play options on live game streaming?

All of these proposals, just like those in the Digital Economy Act, require primary legislation to be enacted if they are to go outside of the court process. And in the case of website blocking they will require a legislative change to the Data Protection Act for ISPs will have to use Deep Packet Inspection – or look at all the traffic in greater detail that passes through their network – in order to enable blocking.

The EU Data Protection Commissioner has already stated that this is illegal under the Privacy and Data Protection act as information that individual users send securely online will be reviewed.

The solution to this is easy. BT and others say that they will only block sites if the court orders it. The BT Newzbin2 judgement this summer was the first in hopefully a developing group of case law on this matter. But there are other solutions.

First, enacting the Hargreaves copyright review recommendations before 2015 would create a copyright regime fit for the digital age. Copyright law was originally created to allow for free flow of content and information, but copyright law is now acting as much as a roadblock.

In conjunction with that, allowing for an accelerated and affordable court process like the Patent Courts system today would enable claims to be brought against infringers, by rights holders, in an expedited manner.

And of course enabling and encouraging new online content products through a competitive tax regime and low business rates is always an effective solution.

So why is our freedom in peril? The meetings that Ministers Vaizey and Hunt are holding discuss the options that the government has to allow us freedom from illegal copyrighted material. However, we need to ensure that we have freedom to buy, communicate, and act online.

Website blocking doesn’t technically work, there are many unintended consequences like overblocking, and any extra-judicial standards organisations not only create more regulation, but more government control over the Internet. We may not see this in our day to day, but slowly, and quietly, we will give up our freedom and privacy online if we let these proposals happen.

Eventually the structure and governance of the Internet will be planned and managed centrally by the government. Hayek warned us about this and we all know how that worked out. 

Dominique Lazanski spent over 10 years in the Internet industry in Silicon Valley and works for the Tax Payers' Alliance in the United Kingdom. She tweets at @dml

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