Friday, 29 June 2012

Net Neutrality: Why We Need It Now!

We need to get our lawmakers to understand the importance of net neutrality and the benefits to our economies if they pass laws that guarantee and ring fence it. We need every government to understand that you can't troll your way out of a recession. Will you help us?

If you want to get our economies moving again it'll have to be with the freedom we need to innovate. That means

  • No patents on software. Ever.

  • No censorship or blocking of websites

  • No domain seizures without due process

  • No chucking people off the internet for infringement

  • End copyright monopolies on distribution and shorten terms

  • No geographical restrictions

  • No data throttling

  • No DRM

  • No surveillance without probable cause and a warrant

  • No data retention

  • No IPR trolling/speculative invoicing

  • Reform intellectual property rights law immediately

We need to get our lawmakers to understand the importance of net neutrality and the benefits to our economies if they pass laws that guarantee and ring fence it. At this point I'm going to explain each point in the list and why it's so important to sign them into law.

1. No patents on software. Ever.

The Unitary Patents proposals, which are going to be debated in the European Parliament next week, include an attempt to permit patents on software. Thankfully, Eva Lichtenberger and Christian Engström have got our backs and have proposed this amendment:

Article 3b
1. European patents with unitary effect shall be granted for any inventions, in all fields of technology, provided that they are new, involve an inventive step and are susceptible of industrial application.
2. The following in particular shall not be regarded as inventions within the meaning of paragraph 1:
(a) discoveries, scientific theories and mathematical methods;
(b) aesthetic creations;
(c) schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers;
(d) presentations of information.

The European Patent Office (EPO) - which is not an EU body - has been merrily issuing software patents despite the fact that in 2005 a measure to introduce them was defeated. This can only mean that the failure to bring them in then was considered a temporaty setback and that the European Commission is determined to bring them back to the table and impose them on us whether we like it or not.

Why the tech firms want them

The big tech firms favour patents on software so they can restrict innovation to themselves or to those people who are willing to pay for a license. They're not obliged to grant them, so they're unlikely to actually use them as an income stream except in cases where they imagine that someone is innovating on their ideas; it's cheaper to settle than to defend a lawsuit. Think about it: people with "intellectual property rights" on innovation own it and decide what can or can't be done with a specific idea — with horrific results.

How we benefit from not having patents on software

As a web designer, I benefit from open source CMS, e.g. b2evolution, which I'm using for this blog. I don't have to pay for it and can make any changes to it that I want to. Usually, I build websites in WordPress, and again, I can make any changes to it that I want to and it's free. I make money from providing services in front-end development in WordPress, and developers make money by providing premium development services for plugins and features, etc.

Having a free platform keeps our overheads down and we're allowed to charge for the services we render; I'm obliged to credit WordPress for using their CMS and that's fine. It's not mine to sell, but the web design I do to the themes is. Therefore, any notions that you can't make money on open source are automatically false. You can, but on the work you do, not on licensing fees. CMS Wire has a comprehensive list of ways of making money from Open Source. The point is, you can. I haven't even started on the fact that many of our governments are turning to open source to keep their costs down by escaping vendor lock-in. Let patents on software in and it's back to the drawing board as vendors hike prices to pay for the lawsuits that will inevitably ensue.

No censorship or blocking of websites

There's a public consultation for opting in to a non-censored web service. If the plans go ahead, anyone who opts in is basically labeling themselves as perverts, and that's not fair because it's not true. The most famous blocking case is The Pirate Bay, which is playing whack-a-mole with the law enforcement agencies attempting to stop people from reaching it by blocking its IP address. The Pirate Bay gets around it by adding new IP addresses and providing them to their supporters. Basically, it's backfiring spectacularly. It's all being done at the behest of the music and movie industries and at the expense of the public, via their internet service providers.

Specious, unfounded arguments underpin the copyright holders' demands for blocking websites that provide links to copyright material, but the bottom line is, it's not about making money because they could use technology to do that if it was only about making money. It's not. It's about owning and controlling a top-down, vertically integrated monopoly where even the perception of the company and its product is enforced by our law enforcement agencies.

Ah, but think of the children! The trouble with censorship is it removes evidence, hampers investigation into law-breaking and blocks can be extended from dodgy porn to this blog in the name or protecting the kids. Over-blocking is what happens when the powers that be "interpret" the law to enable the censorship to spread. Besides, it's a con: the most vocal supporters of anti-porn censorship are, you guessed corrrectly, the copyrights holders' groups.

No domain seizures without due process

The way things are at the moment, websites are being shut down and domains seized first, and questions asked later, usually at the behest of the usual suspects, the MPAA/RIAA. And there have been some egregious errors both in judgement and in law. It's what happens when you let industry hawks use our law enforcement agencies as muscle. These are people who have no time for pesky ol' democracy and due process; they're all about control and they will give campaign donations to those politicians they think will work the hardest for them. It shouldn't surprise people, then, when we laugh at their spectacular failures.

If you're going to seize domains and shut down websites, at least let there be a court case and appeal BEFORE the site is shut down. The way things are now, it's ridiculous.

No chucking people off the internet for infringement

The copyright lobbyists have persuaded some of our governments to implement a three strikes plan to chuck people off the internet for infringement of copyright, even though they're massive hypocrites and do it themselves often enough. In the UK the Digital Economy Act, one of the main reasons I will never vote Labour, is the law that brings this in. First of all, the bar for evidence is low; people with open WiFi could end up being blamed for other people's infringement. On which planet is that fair? Secondly, the law is being shuffled all the time to accommodate ever more ridiculous demands from the copyight lobbyists. If that law is properly implemented, failure to pay license fees for quoting text or embedding videos could get a person stuck off. The fact that it's quite perfectly legal over here doesn't seem to matter because our government won't stand up for its citizens.

End copyright monopolies on distribution and shorten terms

The various Pirate Parties differ on copyright terms but basically they believe it should be anything between ten and twenty years from the date of creation. While the concept of paternity — the right of the author to be associated with the works they produce — is non-negotiable, the restriction of the rights to distribution and display to copyright holders in the name of their ownership rights defies common sense. The way they tell it, there's no way at all to make money except by these means and piracy is killing them. That is simply not true. The truth is that by providing a superior service at prices people can afford you can compete against the file sharing services.

Filesharing can be managed and as long as "Your money is no good here" reigns supreme, there will be piracy. Solve the service problem and provide an opportunity for people to pay for services they want, and the money will follow. If the MPAA/RIAA had made a deal with MegaUpload to get a share of their income from the copyright materials they hosted, wouldn't everyone have been better off? But they didn't want the money. They wanted control.

No geographical restrictions

One of the biggest drivers of piracy and circumvention is geographical restrictions. They're pathetically easy to circumvent with VPNs, so why bother with them? We actually want to pay, but HULU et al won't accept our money because of some licensing arrangement. It's anti-competitive and logically indefensible. It's the collections agencies that enforce them when there's no good reason to.

No data throttling

Claims that data usage needs to be capped have been proven to be bogus but some companies have gone ahead and done it anyway, apparently to gratify the content rightsholders. Actually, it turns out it's also a scam to squeeze app makers. There is no good reason for this.


DRM, or digital rights management, is a sort of software lock that permits copyright holders to continue to exert control over items that the public buy and pay for. It's the reason we can't fast-forward past the ads any more. It also restricts which devices you can use to view or listen to content. It basically says, "You only own the one way of watching or listening to this that we permit you. This is actually our item." It's ridiculous and as I've pointed out already many times, it's more about control than making money. It's also anti-competitive by restricting competition to fewer devices, which leads to vendor lock-in.

No surveillance without probable cause and a warrant

While it is entirely reasonable to desire to protect the public from the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse: terrorists, drug dealers, pedophiles, and organized crime, putting us all under general surveillance is merely creating more haystacks to hide needles in and it's not even efficient. Most of the defenses put forward by proponents are based on FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt), ignorance, and utter stupidity. They honestly want us to believe that when they scan our snail mail they're only looking for who it's from and who it's for. But not everyone puts the "from" information on the envelope. I don't. So what happens then if they really want to know who I'm receiving private letters from? There's nothing in the bill to prevent deep packet inspection and little in the way of privacy safeguards. They haven't even explained how they're going to cope with all the information they're going to be flooded with.

Apparently, warrants would still be required for some searches, but that's just a plaster on a gunshot wound; we need solid safeguards that restrict police powers to chasing criminals, not looking for excuses to come after ordinary citizens for minor infractions because we're easier targets.

No data retention

Our internet service providers give us IP (internet protocol) addresses that enable us to get online. They sometimes change. This is why my ISP "places" me in Uttoxeter one day and Macclesfield the next. I live in Manchester. Those governments who want data retention demand that our ISPs retain information on communications via Internet or phone, the length of the exchange, and the users’ location. This requires that your IP address be collected and retained for every step you make online so they can build up a picture of your activities. I'm a digital rights activist. I'm critical of the regime, though I use only legal means to oppose those laws I object to. Given that some people consider this "terrorism," can you see what the problem is yet?

No IPR trolling/speculative invoicing

The cost to the economy and to individuals and businesses of IPR trolling is ridiculous. Since it's easier and cheaper to settle, those companies engaged in speculative invoicing usually get away with what is essentially a protection racket. Their scattergun techniques (IP address trawling is a favourite) often nets them old grannies, children, and dead people. They bully and intimidate to set an example and their claims for damages rarely match the actual "harm" done.

Reform intellectual property rights law immediately

All of this boils down to a desperate need to reform our intellectual property rights laws immediately and ring fence net neutrality. If we can get that sorted so that the rights of creators and innovators are balanced with the rights of the people to freedom of expression, freedom to communicate and the dissemination of culture unfettered by licensing restrictions, we can look forward to a bright and happy future where we can all be part of an inclusive society instead of having to tiptoe around the arbitrary restrictions imposed by the various licensing authorities.

What you can do

First we need to strike down any treaty or law that permits any of the conditions listed above. The Internet Freedom Movement is working with The Pirate Party and other digital rights groups on a campaign to contact our representatives and persuade them to reject ACTA when it comes up in the plenary vote on 4th July. On the same day, they're voting on proposals that might introduce patents on software. We're campaigning against that too. After that, we want to set in motion plans for a law that enshrines and ring fences net neutrality to prevent this stuff from coming up again.

Join the Internet Freedom Movement (circle, follow, or friend us) and take part in our campaigns by using the contact details and email templates we provide so that you can be part of the change we're trying to bring about. Ultimately, our biggest enemy isn't the giant corporations that are working to erode our digital and civil rights, it's the complacency that stops us from getting more involved in the political process to stop this stuff when it comes up. Pressure works.

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