Column: Geek So Cool

Geekery may be about to shift from bits and bytes to legal codification and everyone is affected. We are talking the hottest kids on the block – namely Copyright, Piracy and Privacy.

Recently Vice Magazine – the Hoxton/Silverlake hipster of alt-cool, covered the story of Canipre, a Canadian company currently involved in a case against ISPs in Canada.

Canipre, which offers to track down people who are illegally downloading copyrighted material from record companies and film studios, was caught red handed with copyright protected images on their company webpage.

No hanging offence, sure. But the point is this Vice Magazine is covering one of the least sexy topics of the net, not skateboarding dogs or memes of the day.

So Transparency and clarity statements are all the rage. When Microsoft failed with their “Scroogled” anti-Google shopping awareness campaign, they took a more direct approach with a full on privacy policy pledge – painting the company as the “good guy”. Oh how the tables are turning for the once denigrated Seattle behemoth.

Just take a look at Google trends for the terms “online privacy”, “online piracy” and “copyright reform” over the past few years to witness the upsurge in coverage and interest in these parallel terms within their own wee data privacy ontology.

The triumvirate are a basis for the future of the net.

Privacy: The EU Data protection reforms set for 2014 will see the widening of data protection obligations for companies to offer some form of “right to be forgotten”. Google has already found itself bootstrapped by the EU Commission in regards to anti-competition. German courts ruled Google must offer a process to remove autocomplete entries from its search bar in Germany if they are defamatory or impinging on privacy. The EU Cookie Directive is another such layer of legislation designed to offer transparency and protection to Internet users.

Copyright: Since 1998, the cornerstone of internet IP protection has been the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – The DMCA is something of the granddaddy of online copyright legislation. In 2014, The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), is a multinational treaty set to garner further international support and infamy among opposition supporters such as the Pirate Party, Electronic Frontier Federation as well as a number of MEPs.

Piracy: Digital Economy Act 2010 is a UK bill tasked with taking on the Pirates. It is at present partly under review. In USA two bills SOPA and PIPA were defeated. These acts however, while not currently statute, are likely to resurface in some form or another in the future.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was defeated in the US House of Representatives following an effective “black out” campaign by, among others, Wikipedia. Meanwhile a similar senate bill, Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), also failed to materialise.

In broad these bills were aimed at publishing overseas’ hosts of films or copyrighted media, and sought to legislate imprisonment of up to five years for persons reported ten or more times for illegal streaming within a six month period. Similarly, the bill proposed a right to close down any website linking to pirated material.

Draconian? Perhaps, however despite widespread opposition to these bills there is also a growing support among artists and rights’ holders for action against piracy.

Established musician David Lowery turned anti-piracy blogger points to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 27, paragraph 2, which states; “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author”. In other words, downloading, remixing, streaming or using creative work without payment is theft. Using this definition, most piracy is theft.

The case in point is only furthered when news that Netflix analyses the piracy download charts to decide which releases to promote on the service.

If trends are to be observed we may have seen internet public policy go mainstream and reach beyond the cool few. It’s time to check your zeitgeist barometer and brush up on the new cool.

Rhoda Crocket
Rhoda Crocket is Netopia’s undercover hacking and spamming expert. The name is fake (like with any spammer), but Netopia knows her real identity.