On Wednesday the 18th, Wikipedia is going dark globally to protest against the latest ham-fisted intellectual property laws.
I've put a banner up for the duration, so every page on this website will have an anti-SOPA statement. I don't see a need for a full blackout - and I don't want to turn away those that may need vCardSplit, which accounts for most of my visits.
But I do see a need to protest.
Increasingly, we are heading towards a world with very heavy-handed laws about intellectual property. And that's fine, in principle. I have no problems with it.
I'm the kind of guy who buys his music, films, software and books. I've never liked ripping people off, and if I can get it legally for a reasonable price, I will.
There really should be a rant here about how many companies then won't sell you something and complain that people went and got it illegally anyway. Which is usually the driver for most copyright infringement. But that really is a rant for another day...
If I'm for decent laws about intellectual property, why am I against legislation such as SOPA, PIPA and the UK's Digital Economy Act 2010?
Because they don't get the balance right.
Generally, all IP law being proposed these days has three major faults:
- It lacks an assumption of innocence
- It lacks due process
- It lacks suitable penalties for misuse
It lacks an assumption of innocence
Plain and simple enough - any accusation is assumed to be true, and action taken immediately. Which brings us nicely to the second fault...
It lacks due process
I like to think that when someone is accused of a crime, we still follow due process. If you're accused of a crime in a civilised country, you are assumed innocent - but will be asked to help the police. If you refuse, then you are detained. The interviews must be recorded. You are allowed legal representation. You cannot be detained indefinitely, unless you represent a danger to the community.
The list of important things that happen as part of "due process" goes on and on. All of that due process is there to ensure that the enforcement of law gives the minimum opportunity for the law to be used to harass or for mistakes to be made. It attempts to protect both the accused and the accuser(s), keeping everyone as safe as possible.
The removal of this due process when trying to make a civil matter (copyright infringement) into a criminal one is worrying.
It lacks suitable penalties for misuse
America's DMCA law has due process, and whilst it acts as though it assumes guilt it (by requiring immediate takedown) it at least allows for some kind of establishment of innocence.
But a quick search on Youtube for "false DMCA claim" will show that people acting in bad faith can and do abuse the DMCA to attempt to censor other people's videos.
Whilst the DMCA technically leaves them liable for perjury for such a false claim, it seems that very few false claimants are prosecuted for this.
This means that existing laws already have chilling effects on free speech. Proposing stronger laws without fixing these flaws first is not the right action.
I have other concerns too - these laws seem biased towards being used (and abused) by corporations, they have punishments that are out of proportion to the offence, and they often try to evade oversight.
But really, it boils down to one simple sentence:
Making it easier and more effective to silence speech under the false flag of copyright is not a good idea.
Hence me writing this.
For quite some time, I've been a bit too silent about these kinds of things.
That ends now.