The Internet: Our Battle for a New Right

Posted: January 22, 2012 in Art, Freedom, Uncategorized
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We have recently defended metaphysical ground. An attack was made on the internet; our internet! This was received by an international outcry that didn’t just come from political activists, but was voiced by the visceral fingertips of meta-citizens. The encroachment of margins on our only free range, and freely accessible space by the SOPA and PIPA bills, became akin to molestation. We claimed the World Wide Web as autonomous and I think this expressed more than what Bill Maher snarked as our desire for “free shit.” While this might be true, what does such a wide spread reaction say about our feelings towards an inherent right to information? What will this mean for artists, musicians, writers, et al.? Why are we compelled to defend this space, a frontier unique to our generation, and grant it esteem greater than that of the physical world?

It’s no secret that many other countries live under the giant black rectangle of censorship. This seems both distant and foreign, but never the less abhorrent and a shame. The notion that there are legislated punishments for expressing oneself is worthy of rebellion, at least from the perspective of most westerners. Aside from the mysticism we attribute to the word freedom in the states, it’s the fruit that is borne from the truly free market exchange of ideas that serve as one of our most valuable resources. Most importantly, we value this exchange so much we sought to facilitate it in the most efficient way possible. This is why the internet is our crowning achievement.

Typically, the exchanging of resources result in a mean zero-sum game; you give me something, I give you something and we stand to gain from our trade, but we’re still giving something up, which balances our the trade. The free trade of information however, is a positive-sum game. Ideas can be replicated and spread without the loss of resources (an evolutionary context that I’ll get to in a minute). Historically speaking, ideas were only brought from one culture to another by warring civilizations. Things like mathematics, astronomy, navigation, and the portent of gun powder are just some of the examples of technologies that spread through the vein of violence. This meant that in order to gain more knowledge about this world, it was common for an individual in a society to undergo a significant amount, if not a lifetime, of hardship. The price of intercultural knowledge was sometimes death. It wasn’t until more civilized (term loosely used) means of trade began to develop that we became more aware of the ideas of other cultures. The printing press, a 15th century invention, allowed for the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries to widely spread emotional knowledge. With the popularity of the novel, came the understanding of hardships by people other than oneself. From Robinson Crusoe to Gulliver’s Travels, fear and love and the stresses of life became a universality amongst all people that was hitherto unknown.

The word meme often pops up in internet lingo to refer to trends that spread quickly throughout the online community. In its original scientific usage, meme was meant to describe an idea that is subject to evolutionary processes in terms of self replication, competition, adaptation, and natural selection. Some are large ideas, like Democracy, Religion, and Humanism. Other smaller memes might be like fishing is better with a net than a single line, or that based on evidence it is more prudent to believe the Earth is not the center of the universe. Our attitudes toward human rights have undergone major changes over time. We now have this idea that access to information is an inherent liberty. Whether or not we’re conscious of this feeling is insignificant, but the fact that there was such uproar against the infringement on our intellectual freedom to information made it apparent that we maintain this right as inherent.

The proponents of bills like SOPA and PIPA were made to defend the intellectual property rights of the people who create new ideas. For example: If I put up a billboard to market a new product, but I use a symbol or a phrase copyrighted by someone else, it is a sue-worthy offense. However, if I were to use a movie clip to sell a product on a private website, it seems to fall somewhere in the gray area of free usage of available resources. Once intellectual property, let’s say song lyrics, hit the internet, they’re apart of global consciousness that many people feel is available for personal use. How much of your ideas are your own? How much of your ideas are your own if you have access to the internet? Should we defend online property the same way we would if it were physical? Does a picture of a famous painting amount to the same as a physical copy of one? Who should be allowed to manage these transactions of intellectual property? Can we enforce it?

I’d like to think that the outrage against SOPA and PIPA derive from how close we are to a truly infinite space like the internet. While the rest of the world seems to be caving in on us, access to information could mean life or death in some countries, and in ours in particular it means constant free information. Artists, in the broad sense, now have to combat this metaphysical free market. Legislation has done little, from Napster to the more recent takedown of Megaupload, to protect the intellectual property of artists. Will artists have to adapt to a new paradigm for their work?

My prediction is based on things I already see happening. Artists have taken to an aspect of sociability to their body of work. Not only must artists create art, but they must be constantly in touch with their fan base to give updates on their intentionality. In other words, gone are the days where a stranger is introduced to art (be it visual, or written, or whatever) and an interpretation is made. The interaction cannot end there, because it can be made anywhere and completely anonymously. Now people follow their favorite artists and writers and movie makers and actors on sites like Twitter. It’s common to look behind the curtain of creation and inspiration and instead the artist has become the thing to marvel at. The artwork itself is just a unique byproduct for which we appreciate, but is not the source of our intrigue. We are more concerned by how and why the art is expressed, not just the expression itself. It’s now expected to receive some kind of exposure by the artist. Look up interview transcripts, videos on Youtube, or blogs and Tweets from your favorite personality and that is where the obsession lies. We are worshiping the insight of a different mind and its usage, instead of just the products.

The Internet has nearly reached the point of omnipresence. Damn near omniscience too. Wherever and however we might need to call upon its power, it is often there to do our bidding – providing that we could just get a good enough connection. Our slouched posture of servitude has very nearly mimicked the clasped hands of some other folksy traditions, especially when we clutch our handheld devices with bowed heads and frenetic thumbs. It is only natural that we should want to defend this space that has offered so much by the way of information as well as inspiration and empathy. I do not know what corner the internet will be legislated into, but it’s important that we defend this space with the vehemence I’ve seen so far. The internet is the great equalizer, turning everyone into an expert and eliminating much of the ignorant prejudices humanity has faced for thousands of years.

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Comments
  1. The Truth is that this bill did not really give any new power to the government to enforce it. It would, however, given more power to random corporate faces to do the same thing the government agencies can already do. It should not be up to the individual or company to enforce the law of copyright.

    You cannot go up to that billboard and rip it down yourself because the copy infringes something you own. You have to go through courts and agencies and prove such a thing, damages are decided results are made, but only if you can prove you are in the right. This bill would have put burden of proof on the defendant, and that is not what the spirit of our law is meant to say.

    This is why these bills needed to be killed.

    The megaupload case proves the current law works. The case was made, up over time, and the lives of several people most responsible in this situation will not be the same. THere will be lawsuits and money will get spread back around. The law is not made to be easy, its made to force you to be in the right.

    I do agree there are things that are overlooked, and that piracy can hurt the bottom line on many markets. However, internet piracy is a different beast then your physical world market. Your billboard example does not apply in the same situation. A billboard is a money investment, a small website does not have to be. A billboard requires a level of effort, money and, usually, a level of thought many of these “online infringers” do not possess. The law here applies to a conscious effort to make money by stealing ( infringing). And many corporations are as guilty in the physical world as anyone else. It is the market that is different and the market that will forever fall into a grey area.

    Downloading a movie, a song, a game, a comicbook, etc provides you with a product that is usually not free. On an individual level, you are in the wrong for attempting to gain something without actually providing the correct payment/goods in return. You have committed a crime, theft. Now where we hit the grey area, and where things like SOPA, PIPA and many other cases made by their supporters, is that you, as a thief, stole revenue from them. This is where the law throws its hands up and goes ” I have no idea what the fuck to do.” Stealing, is a crime, a punishable one, but if you steal a cd from a store, you are on the hook for stealing, the loss of a CD, not for hurting the entire revenue stream of the music industry.

    No one is coming to sue you for hurting the sales on 48 cents newest hit.

    However, steal that same cd online, and you are in for a world of hurt. Doing so online, the downloading end of it, providing end of it, this somehow leaves you more liable for the revenue stream of the industry effected. Street peddlers hardly ever get hit as hard as their internet counterparts, not to say they dont get hit.

    I dont believe in online piracy, i refrain from doing so as often as possible. I dont buy burned street copy movies, and i look for savings or free alternatives to many computer programs. This is far different then when i was in highschool. To some degree as you gain more money, you gain a more willingness to spend more money. But it think these industries, that history has proven ( and i say history but its only about 15 years long now) hate and despise the internet. Its been a long time removed since apple saved whats left of the music industry. I also do not believe these industries can truly place their lost revenue on piracy, as the economic woes continue, the revenue has decreased because the money isnt there to spend.

    How many people who have stolen your product would have ever seen it before it hit tv anyway?

    How many of these people are going to even see it on tv?

    Shame on them for stealing your product, shame on you for blaming all your well earned problems on other people.

    These industries need to step up and figure out a way to work with the internet, because as costs for your services go up, the money made from them will continue to evaporate.

    People, the mass general, need to learn to budget themselves too. Maybe if you quit smoking you could afford that game. Or buy coffee from the deli instead of starbucks. Whatever. Dont buy that 150 dollar sneakers and you can afford a year of netflix!

    There are decisions to make.

    There was a time when i used to be 30 comics a week. Those days are long gone though, I simple cant afford all of the things i wish to read. So now i grab a few things, some for the love of the character, others for the amazingness of the book. But you know what? Im spending the same amount of money. Its ridiculous, but its reality. Sometimes you just have to make a hard decision on what you want to be.

    I dont sympathize with thieves.
    But i feel more for individual creators then these big businesses and i do not think they deserve the powers SOPA and PIPA would have given them.

    I would love for people to spend more time on PCIP though. A bill under the guise of protecting children from pedophiles that would give the government the right to monitor the internet usage of anyone suspected of a crime.

    Keep an eye on that one.

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