The Internet was developed by Tim Berners-Lee end of the 80s, beginning of the 90s as a means of digital communication, out of previous models to share scarce computing resources. The ever since virtually unchanged technical basis is an open transfer of data via decentralized servers. This because shared data traffic proves more stable as well as decentralized procession was more effective.
Economic use of the internet came later, not before the mid 90s, when the first web browser ever – Mosaic – introduced the net to a broader range of people by translating it’s commands into graphic displays and made it operable via buttons instead of command lines. Various businesses worked hard to hack the internet in order to implement their services to this infrastructure.
The Internet – in political and economic contexts – is often referred to as a legal vacuum, since national laws are difficult to enforce in an ‘international’ that means geographic-less structure of the network, because of the anonymity of it’s users as well as most usage happens within constitutionally protected privacy.
Private and public collide online like it is not possible in the real world. Not at least, because in the real world, making privacy public mostly is an active decision, like taking a leak or shagging in public, or buying stuff with a loyalty card. Otherwise neighbors or surveillance cameras have nothing to peek or they have to use illegal methods reserved for intelligence services or perverts.
Now the internet is completely different. No matter if I take a photo of my kids, of my girlfriend in hot drag, buy stuff at amazon or simply write an email to a friend – any resulting data are put under surveillance on a broad scale by businesses, governments and others. At least those are calling to be allowed to observe such privacy in order to check wether there are economic claims or security issues they can enforce.
The problem is bigger than a hard drive full of ripped songs, movies and games. The necessary debate how authors rights can be adjusted to the internet in order to protect intellectual property changed into how the internet can be adjusted to copyrights (for all of those who want to avoid looking up the basics – authors rights protect intellectual property of individuals and copy rights organize claims in a market of physical goods).
But that is nonsense – dangerous nonsense.
My hard drive is my castle, and only of my concern, like my bedroom or my diary. I would definitely not allow anyone to rifle through my bedroom cupboard just because I once was in his shop, or if he only thinks I was there, or simply wants to make sure I didn’t steal from him no matter if I ever was in his sop or not. Maybe if he shows up with a prosecutor waving a search warrant but that’s not very likely.
This comparison is yet not even exaggerated. And as I say this, I’m fully aware of how authors and content industries suffer from piracy. I cannot emphasize this often enough – this stupidity of polarizing internet participants into good legal and greedy rippers seeking only free content. There are loads of studies indicating that this is not true. Online behavior of consumers is similar to their offline habits. They listen to the radio, they pass on music, books, DVDs to friends and they expand their collection with purchases of items they really fancy.
No one buys a ticket to a concert of past winners of Americas Idol even if they saw every episode on TV. And if you watched it on TV – and already got your doses of advertisement, why is it illegal to download it to watch it again? Would the companies that paid for the show mind if you see their ads a second time? Or if you listen to radio – you do it online, too. Why and how can I as a consumer judge if the service is illegal, if often enough even the lawyers involved are not sure? What is the difference of a mix tape that I get from a friend and a torrent file I upload for him? Isn’t the code of the sharing tool a hacker writes under protection of authors rights too?
What happened is that the responsibility to constantly learn about the legality of his actions has been pushed to the consumer. I just think of the famous London pirate radio stations for an example – you couldn’t get sued for enjoying some nice tunes back then – even if authors rights and copyrights were exactly the same as today.
If you speak up against this – please point out the exact difference between an illegal download of a movie and a stream I watch (which is at least for a short time somewhere on some cache or other drive on my computer as well) in 3 short sentences.
We must not make the mistake of underestimating the complexity by understanding the internet as a sheer marketplace – economy is part of it, as economy partly was involved in it’s development and infrastructure – but only among many others. Just as the romanticized space of free information and equality hackers do often stress is bullshit. The internet has become a social space. A common social space.
So we must agree that like any social space, even the largest and most frequented one needs better rules but adjusted laws that were formulated for a completely different environment.
The user has not become illegal but his everyday media practice which in return was not driven by him but has been created by businesses, that now delegitimize him in the very moment their economic subjects are no longer under their control.
To me this is a problem between competing businesses (content and online media) rather than mine.
A new legal frame requires that neither I myself become a criminal by simply doing what I always did (listening, sharing, lending, …) nor the cultural industry castrating the internet down to a market shelf, nor authors losing their income for good.