Web Neutrality

Alright, I admit I'm a little biased on this subject. But as a child of the internet age, I've got used to many personal freedoms that are afforded to the users of the internet. One of them is this blog, after all.

Of course, as a political student, I also have a big opinion on the politics of the internet. And there is one key political discussion that the internet has been waiting to have an argument about for ten years or so now. That issue is Web Neutrality.

Web Neutrality is a policy that many users would like to see become a legal requirement for an ISP to operate. Essentially, it is the legal right to not limit a user's internet access, no matter what. You might be wondering what the point of that is, but to make it clear, imagine the internet as a country. Web Neutrality would be the bill of rights for that country - the right to be a member of a political party, the right to education, or the right to housing. In this case, it would be the following:

1) The right to free access to all content on the internet by your ISP
2) The right to not be snooped on by your ISP

We're already breaking rule 2, and we're beginning to morally justify breaking rule 1. So let's remove the moral implications - yes, the restrictions of content that society deems to be unacceptable are exempt - and concentrate on the core facts. An ISP should never be able to say what you can and cannot access. An ISP could offer their own content that would be only accessible by their own customers, but they can't infringe on the core right of freedom of information. But, even if the battle is being lost here, the second rule - the freedom of privacy - cannot be ignored. What happens on the internet should stay on the internet.

My personal opinions of the politics of the internet go further than that. Copyright law, for example. This is going to get me into morally muddy water, but here's my core belief -

If you can't protect it well enough, it's your own stupid fault.

Copy write Theft is not, despite the title, theft. Theft is stealing something. Theft means that the former owner does not have access to the object that has been stolen. When you endlessly duplicate something and share it across the internet, you're not denying anybody anything. Obviously, the copy write holders - usually faceless conglomerates - are slightly ticked off at this. "What," they cry, "that's millions of potential customers!" But that's not the reality. The reality is that these pirates will never actually buy the product in question - why bother with the hassle of scouting out the files on the internet when it's down at the shop for £10? Instead they just want to enjoy it. We have radios. We have public libraries. We have the internet. It isn’t as if the publishers are defenceless, because copy protection is becoming more and more advanced. If you cannot defend something well enough, you are doomed to use it. That is a core human value, and one that must apply to the internet.

And yes, as I said before, I’m biased.


Hywel said...

(1) Does also pose some problems. Should ISPs be allowed to block content which is clearly illegal - by which I mean regarded as such on a wide international basis and under treaties.

Two such aspects would be child pornography and access to stolen bank/credit card details.

You can I suppose draw a very narrow distinction between requiring hosts to take down such material and blocking access to it but that would be an illogical distinction.

The copyright issue is muddied by the way in which the internet has made lots of things available for free that previously cost money. However many of those still cost to produce.

If you think of copyright as the entitlement to be paid for the work that you do then it puts it in a different context.

Libraries and Radio are "free" at the point of use, however both have recognised mechanisms for payments to copyright holders.

There is an extent to which copyright "theft" has always gone on, for example taping music off the radio or copying albums for friends. What the internet has brought is (1) scale and (2) people profiting from it. Eg YouTube - look at the number of copyright titles hardcoded into their search engine.

Costigan Quist said...

I wrote a piece on copyright last month at http://himmelgartencafe.blogspot.com/2008/10/sometimes-its-ok-to-steal-music.html . Short answer: I disagree with you :-)