Friday, April 16, 2010

An Inability to Consider Implications

"As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth's final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master."
- Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

As has been said in many places by many people, the most difficult part of creating science fiction is developing the future - and there's a reason for that. Science fiction is unnatural. Humans are not meant to think about the future. In the old days, speculation about tomorrow wasn't an absolute survival trait - every minute you spend thinking about what's to come is a minute you're not assuring your own survival in the present. Even when people are actively trying to project the course of the future, they're hamstrung by these limitations and end up creating worlds where everything is the same except for one shiny, new technological advance.

This is the sort of science fiction that's increasingly becoming associated with the modern intellectual property enforcement movement. The big corporate rightsholders push for more and more regulations, more and more restrictions_ under the guise of openness and economic freedom, but they do not appear to consider that they're not pushing in a vacuum. Witness the United Kingdom's Digital Economy Bill, a law that not only reflects the sheer detestability of a government rushing out a law without giving it proper debate - partially because, I believe, they wanted it to pass under Labour government and not die with the prorogation of parliament, but mostly because Big IP was pushing it forward with all the strength it could muster - but changes the game.

I believe that Cory Doctorow is right - the Digital Economy Bill represents a shift in the winds of the modern copyfight, that the idea of "a negotiated peace... between the thrashing entertainment giants and civil society" is more unlikely than ever, if not impossible - but with the controllers continually working to frame copyright infringement as "theft" when it is, in fact, copyright infringement (you see, we already have a perfectly good term for it, such a shame it's not as sexy), it may be a long time before we hear whispers of a cease-fire, let alone armistice.

The Digital Economy Bill was just the first shot in what will likely be a long war. If you listen carefully, you can already hear the rumble of artillery in the distance. The only problem is that they're being fired by people who can't conceive of the damage that may be wrought once their shells explode, the heirs of those who decided that bombarding Passchendaele until it was a quagmire of muck was a good idea well worth pursuing. The document that the people at the RIAA and MPAA, among others, presented recently to the office of the United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator is a case in point. I suggest you read it, and read the Electronic Frontier Foundation's commentary on it. Consider what they suggest could be useful in going after copyright infringement: "technologies to detect, monitor (and filter) traffic or specific files based on analysis of information such as protocols, file types, text description, metadata, file size and other "external" information" and "consumer tools for managing copyright infringement from the home."

Yeah. Because I would certainly love to download something that polices my own computer and "manages copyright infringement" - and what does that mean? Would it lock down the computer if it found something that was pirated? That it thought was pirated? If I have a legitimate file that sets off a false positive, would it react anyway? What if it's a legitimately scanned childhood photo that the software decides is an infringement?

These questions, and questions like them, are absolutely important questions. We cannot afford to not ask them. We need to consider the implications, because our governments are not willing to do so on our behalf. The big problem is that people, even the people behind ideas like these, aren't generally evil. That would at least make it easy. No, most times when you're dealing with issues like this, it's because the person or people promulgating them are just too stupid to look past the ends of their own noses. It's something I'd rather believe - I'd rather be dealing with people who are ignorant than those who are actually malicious.

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