A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a YouTube vide of USA “patriot” (ie nationalist), right-wing christian, and talk radio host Alex Jones, claiming that corporate ISPs including Comcast and AOL/ TimeWarner are censoring his conspiracy journalism websites.

My reply to my friend went roughly as follows:

The problem I have with this video is it comes across as amateur, paranoid, and USA-centric. Jones offers us no independent evidence of his claims that his websites and YouTube videos are being censored. He offers no details of the various schemes (see below) that are being cooked up at the international level to cripple the internet as we know it. Worst of all, he offers us nothing practical we can do to defend the internet except to spam our friends with links to his YouTube videos.

A harsher critic might say the motivation of this video is to promote Jones and his radio show, films, and publishing projects, rather than a genuine concern with the very real post 9/11 power creep by governments and corporations. I wouldn’t go that far. I am willing to believe that Jones is sincere in his desires to preserve the independence of the internet, and the freedom it enables to communicate and organize autonomously, despite the fact that he holds a very different view of the world from mine. It also seems plausible that this video is an amateur effort rather than an official video released by Jones himself, one put together by fans in an attempt to follow his one piece of practical advice - to spread the word.

The risk is that videos like this might actually have the opposite effect from that intended - resulting in any expression of concerns about the freedom and openness of the internet being viewed as paranoid and extremist, ignoring the very real schemes to control, limit, and regulate the net that can be proved to exist. See, Jones isn’t wrong - the use of the internet by independent journalists and activists has been a thorn in the side of the establishment over the last 10-20 years, and there are plenty of examples of initiatives to clamp down on digital freedom, and herd internet users into corporate-controlled, proprietary data silos. Just one example, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which was recently the subject of negotiations right here in Wellington,  negotiations being conducted in secret by an elite of rich world governments, including ours.

From an Aotearoa perspective, I have been attempting to document these attacks on digital freedom, and the organizations and projects which aspire to keep the internet “free and uncapturable” (to quote InternetNZ). From the creep of state powers exemplified by the Terrorism Suppression Act, and the current Search and Surveillance Bill, to the creep of “intellectual property” monopoly protections, some of which were successfully fought by the recent campaigns around the Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act and new Patents Bill, still before parliament. Most recently I’ve been watching at the fast-growing public campaign against the secrecy of the ACTA treaty, and discussing the motivations behind it and some of the issues it raises for the people as internet users, and cultural participants.

For more information on these issues, read the rest of this blog, and the accompanying wikipages. Even better, if you care about these issues, join the team and help me build this site as a campaigning resource.

Filed April 29th, 2010 under independent media

Jane from CreativeCommons Aotearoa has brought to my attention that it is “World Intellectual Property Day” on Mon April 26. This event, sponsored by the World Intellectual Property (sic) Organization to push the fudging of copyrights, trademarks and patents into one kind of ‘property’, is like the opposite of Software Freedom Day.

I think it would be a great opportunity to do some public outreach on the issues around ACTA. The easiest thing would be to run a stall(s) in town somewhere, hand out copies of the Wellington Declaration from the PublicACTA meeting (see below) and encourage people to sign it. Maybe also a leaflet or brochure explaining a bit more about ACTA - eg the basic information in the FAQ on the PublicACTA site. This would be a chance for us to contribute to the longer term work of educating the public about information freedoms, and how tools like ACTA threaten them, and a reality check for us about what (if anything) the public know about these issues outside of the free culture bubble.

If we can think of something a bit more ambitious, that would look quirky or interesting on tv (some kind of art, street theatre etc), there might be an opportunity to get some media coverage of the Declaration and the issues is raises.

If I was organizing this as a Disintermedia action, I would include a rejection of the whole notion of “intellectual property”, a brief summary of the origins of and purpose of copyright, patents and trademarks (for example see the Free Software Foundation‘ materials on this), and some commentary about how these origins and purposes are being subverted by the big-money interests who lump them together as “intellectual property”, and work to continually expand their scope, duration etc. Ideally I would have someone in a unicorn suit, with a big Miss World sash saying “intellectual property” ;)

However, I am happy to leave this aside, and focus on the more immediate concerns around ACTA if others who don’t share this view would like to work with me on this action. I hope you wouldn’t mind me having some Disintermedia leaflets on the table that raise those issues though.

Anyway, if anyone would like to contribute to this effort, email me: strypey - at - gmail.com (must get Disintermedia email addresses organized)

Filed April 13th, 2010 under Uncategorized

[Update:  I attended the full day’s meetings on Sat. The Wellington Declaration that we collaborated is up on the PublicACTA website, and has already attracted nearly 8000 signatories.]

First off, apologies to anyone expecting me to be on the ball with getting information onto this blog in a timely fashion at the moment. Hopefully the details below - ruthlessly pirated from the PublicACTA website - have already reached you by some other means. That’s the beauty of the internet as we know and love it - many-to-many communication, many different services and channels by which important information can get from those who know, to those who need to know. On the internet, information acts like water - it flows as directly as it can downhill from ’speaker’ to ‘listener’, when it comes up against blockage (whether legal or technological) it just flows around. This can be seen at the technical level in the way ‘packets’ of data bounce from host to host, and in the way musical and video works flow around the dams put up by entertainment corporations, through peer-to-peer sharing systems like BitTorrent.

This freedom and transparency implicit in the design of the internet protocols has served the public well. For example, whereas freedom of the press once belonged to those who owned printing presses, the proliferation of open-publishing websites (following the pioneering work of collaborations like Indymedia) offers anyone who can afford to type up an article at an internet cafe the ability to publish to a global audience. This democratization of publishing has got to be a good thing in a society that claims all its members have equal rights to freedom of speech, but there’s a catch. These same freedoms have been a persistent nuisance to governments, whose backscratching backroom deals and authoritarian ambitions can now be publicly exposed without the flattering lighting their PR machines would prefer. It’s also been a pain in the proverbial to corporations, many of whose unsavoury business practices have been exposed resulting in loss of public goodwill and reduced profits. The same government and corporate elites have looked on in horror as online culture evolved models for open governance, and participatory culture, that threaten to put an end to nation-state monopolies on public decision-making and management of common goods; and multinational corporate monopolies on the provision of goods and services as profitable commodities.

 

I have no doubt that the potential transitions of power over decision-making and resource distribution to decentralized, community-centred institutions - like the transition from control of energy by fossil fuel corporations to community-scale renewable energy; or the transition from industrial farming of food and textiles as global commodities, to local, organic supply chains - will be better for humanity, for the myriad other species and natural services our existence depends on, and for the sustainability of the biosphere as a whole.  It’s just a matter of convincing the state-corporate dinosaurs that the internet asteroid has arrived, their time as lords of the Earth is over, and no amount of  anti-democratic legislation or heavy-handed enforcement is going to prevent their eventual demise.

If you can make it to the PublicACTA meeting in Te Whanganui-a-Tara this Saturday, or participate over the net, here are the details:

“What is ACTA?

ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement or ACTA) is a controversial international treaty being negotiated in a series of secret meetings.

ACTA is proposed as a plurilateral trade agreement for establishing international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement. It is being negotiated between the US, Canada, Japan, the European Union, South Korea, Mexico, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. Unfortunately, the negotiations have extended beyond trade and physical counterfeiting to potentially cover non-commercial infringement of copyright material by ordinary citizens and issues of digital rights management.

What is PublicACTA?

PublicACTA has been organised by InternetNZ so that the public can critique the known and likely content of ACTA proposals.  It will be held on Saturday, 10 April 2010, two days ahead of Round 8 of the ACTA negotiations on 12-16 April in Wellington.

The aim of PublicACTA is to seek improvements to the Agreement and enable people to connect and discuss the issues. At PublicACTA an agreed statement will be produced that the public and interested organisations can sign up to, to be delivered to New Zealand Government negotiators and politicians

Who should attend?

Anyone concerned with rights on the Internet and potential of new technologies, and the risks in trading these away in international negotiations.”

Filed April 8th, 2010 under Uncategorized
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