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Just another ICM blog

Don’t fence me out

It’s a classic story of two wrongs don’t make a right.

On one side, we have the telecommunications companies who built the infrastructure of the Internet and are determined to scuttle all attempts to challenge their dominance to its access, as well as their profits. And on the other side are the folks who see the Internet as one big free market where everything should be shared, whether they created it or not.

Both are in polarized positions, dealing with their own ethical demons.

The corporations are fighting the threat of regulation that would force them to keep the Internet open and allow anyone to use it for art or commerce. But the other side also thinks that openness should extend to free distribution of copyrighted material.

In “Steal This Movie II,” after an interesting historical analysis of how people in power have attempted to control the message and its distribution over the years, the narrator goes off the rails with this statement:

“What this means is that, in fighting file sharing, the entertainment industry is fighting the fundamental structure of the Internet.”

Interesting logic there. I don’t believe the Internet was made to facilitate the unlawful transfer of copyrighted material. It’s availability for those kinds of purposes doesn’t make them right.

It made me think of this quote from “Speed”:

“A bomb is made to explode. That’s its meaning, its purpose. Your life is empty because you spend it trying to stop the bomb from becoming.”

Lloyd Morrisett makes a convincing argument that a free Internet is as fundamental as our rights to free speech. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski agrees:

I believe it will be essential to ensure that the Internet remains open — a vibrant platform for innovation and investment, creativity and speech, an enduring engine for job creation and economic growth.

With the FCC scheduled to vote on so-called Net Neutrality this month, the GOP and the telecoms are mounting a campaign against the rules.

Here’s how MSNBC.com explains it:

In 2005, the FCC adopted these “Net neutrality” principles as guidelines. The agency now wants to make them rules. If approved, consumers would have the right to:

1. Access lawful Internet content of their choice.

2. Run lawful applications and services of their choice.

3. Connect their choice of legal devices that don’t harm the network.

4. Competition among providers of Internet service, applications and content.

These additional principles were stated Sept. 21 by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski:

5. Broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications, and they cannot disfavor an Internet service because it competes with a similar service they themselves offer.

6. Providers of Internet access must be transparent about their network-management practices, giving consumers confidence they are getting what they pay for and leveling the playing field.

Wouldn’t discriminating against certain types of traffic on the Net be unethical? Even if the companies are footing the bill for creating the infrastructure of the Net, does it seem right to withhold that pathway into our homes and offices? Who could argue against a level playing field?

If the companies get their way, the makers of “Steal This Movie II” and “Humanity Lobotomy — Second Draft” say, the little guy will suffer and innovation will be damaged.

Little guys like you and me.

From January 2006 to December 2007, I produced a music podcast called the Welsford Road Project. On each of the 34 shows I did during that time, I used only “podsafe” music — pieces being uploaded by the original artists and distributed by Adam Curry‘s Podsafe Music Network (now called Music Alley from Mevio). No copyrights were violated in any of the segments.

With a small mixing board, a microphone and GarageBand, I became a DJ, featuring the works of unsigned or undiscovered artists. Each show also featured something from a Columbus, Ohio, band. It was all for fun, with the added benefit of maybe helping boost the careers of bands I thought were producing something of value.

Here’s one of the shows:

[podcast]http://www.welsfordroad.com/welsford021.mp3[/podcast]

What did I find out after two years of producing my own shows? Well, while I have a face for radio, I’m not much of a DJ. I had fun sorting through the thousands of songs and discovering new bands, but I’m sure the meager number of downloads of my podcast didn’t help take anyone’s career to the next level. You’ve probably still never heard of Natives of the New Dawn, Black Lab, Beth Thornley, The Offcuts, Company of Thieves, George Hrab, Earwig or Josh Woodward.

But their creative rights — and mine — need to be defended and preserved.

It’s possible those rights would be lost if companies turn the Internet into a one-way conversation with just their selected media coming down the pipes.

Still, the liberal fringe of the argument goes too far with the idea that distributing copyrighted material is OK. Some of the younger people in “Steal This Movie II” said they thought being a pirate was cool. It makes me think of how gangsters were idolized by the poor in the ’30s. People now are rebelling against $20 CDs and $10 films. But the fact remains that on an ethical level, they know what they’re doing is wrong and any argument to support that behavior is a rationalization.

Unfortunately, Net Neutrality would continue to give the pirates a platform from which to operate, but it also would make our free speech rights stronger and that is a concept that should win out in the end.

Category: Weekly Readings

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