Copyright as part of a debate on eastern vs western censorship?

Last week I was interviewed by a reporter from ZeroPaid, a website started in 2000 dedicated to digital music that very quickly got on the P2P music sharing bandwagon. When interviewed I offer my honest opinions of things, even when I’m sure the audience won’t like it. I expect feedback to that article to be interesting given I don’t believe that unauthorized P2P filesharing should be carved out of copyright.

It is common that people don’t like what I have to say, although different people dislike entirely different things. The fact that everyone seems to see something they like and something they really dislike in what I think and write about copyright suggests that I must be doing something right *smile*

As someone active on the Internet I often bump into people who think copyright itself is an antiquated concept that should simply be abolished, or should never have existed in the first place (See a BLOG comment from yesterday).

On the other side of the debate are the various people I interact with who believe the copyright system could be improved by making it regulate more activities, last longer, and be far more strongly enforced. While there is no end of pseudonymous organizations (CRIA, CAAST, CMPDA) and ivory tower special interest group representatives that appear to have this view, it is when this view is expressed by an accessible person that I consider it interesting.

One of the first people I met in this context was Susan Crean who is an author and currently the co-president of the Creators’ Rights Alliance. Susan is very accessible in person, and always interested to talk/write about authors’ rights. For those who want to have an online conversation with someone from that particular community, the site to go to is the personal site of Canadian novelist John Degen, executive directory of the Professional Writers Association of Canada.

If you are interested in this subject matter, and want to talk to a diversity of people with viewpoints on copyright all over the map, you may want to head to Toronto for CopyCamp 2, scheduled for April 29 and 30, 2008.

Eastern/Southern vs Western/Northern Censorship?

A recent conversation on John’s BLOG involved the nature of censorship. John believes that if someone edits creativity on behalf of an audience member, that this is censorship. The example given was a video rental company which offered rentals of movies with the naughty bits edited out.

While there may be interesting contractual and copyright issues that are worthy of debate, I believe this is the furthest thing from censorship or even a freedom of expression issue.

I don’t see censorship as a matter of content reaching an audience member in an identical form to how it was sent. Telling me that it is wrong for me to skip paragraphs in a book, or skip parts of a movie that I don’t want to see (including being allowed to hire someone to do that work for me), is as much a matter of censorship in my mind as not allowing me to view something that I do want to view. Opposition to censorship is primarily a matter of protecting the rights of audiences.

To me it is a simple matter of control, and whether we as citizens have our communications rights protected: both our right to communicate what we want, as well as our right to access (or not access) what we want, without excessive third party intervention.

Last week was the Freedom to Read week – not the Freedom to Write week 🙂

The idea that the control I want is good, and the control someone else wants is bad, is extremely common.

Last week the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) ordered the country’s ISPs to block access to YouTube because of an alleged anti-Islamic video that was hosted on the site. They did this by configuring the routing protocol on the Internet (BGP) to not route packets destined to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses owned by YouTube. While this deliberately incorrect routing information was inadvertently leaked out of Pakistan, causing many people outside of Pakistan to not be able to access YouTube.

It is interesting to see how westerners respond to this. There is discussion of how people feel this is a totalitarian and disgusting regime for ordering such a thing. There are various discussions about how there is a technical flaw in the Internet’s design that needs to be fixed to “solve” this problem.

The irony of all this is that the technique being used by Pakistan is the identical technique recommended and advocated for in western countries to stop copyright infringement or other things westerners don’t like. Unlike Pakistan where the notice-and-terminate of YouTube was intended to only take effect in Pakistan, westerners believe that their rules should apply worldwide and they are pushing this through United Nations agencies such as WIPO.

Whether you agree or disagree with the given controversial communication shouldn’t blind you to asking an important question: Is it really all that different if the control is being exerted to protect a political system (China), a religion (Pakistan) or a business model (G8 countries, including Canada)?

Groups allegedly representing creators in Canada have made numerous proposals over the years that are indistinguishable from being a “Great firewall of Canada”.

This should cause two different thoughts: one is to become a little more forgiving of other countries who control communications for purposes different than our own. The other is to question our blind push to protect business models at nearly any expense, and to ask whether the ends justify the means, and whether there are alternatives?

I’m not calling for an abolishing of copyright, but I am calling to ensure that expansion and enforcement of this globally controversial policy doesn’t continue to be decreasingly indistinguishable from what westerners would consider censorship.

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