Last Wednesday’s blackout protest against SOPA/PIPA can be seen as something of a coming of age for Internet activism. Unlike traditional forms political action on the Internet, sometimes derisively called clicktivism, blacking out major services for 24 hours represents a genuinely disruptive form of protest more akin to a general strike. There’s little question of which kind of action is more effective in spreading a message: according to the Wikimedia Foundation, a total of 162 million users saw the blacked out front-page of Wikipedia during the day, and some 7 million signed the petition set up by Google. What’s even more remarkable is that the protest seems to have actually had an effect on the legislators with support for PIPA collapsing in the Senate. There now seems to be a good chance that the laws actually won’t pass. That would truly be a landmark in the history of the global Internet community, showing that with collective action battles can be won even within the legislative sphere.
In less encouraging news, US federal prosecutors shut down the popular cyberlocker service MegaUpload on Thursday, arresting seven of its employees, none of which are US citizens. Charges include racketeering and money laundering, as well as copyright infringement. This comes just days after a UK court allowed the extradition of UK citizen Richard O’Dwyer, former administrator of TVShack, to the US to face copyright infringement charges (I blogged about O’Dwyer earlier here). These cases show how even in its current form the copyright legislation of the US combined with its military-political clout can be used to terrorise people anywhere in the world.
This is why the fight against the copyright regime cannot be limited to opposing specific laws, but needs to attack the regime as a whole. As long as copyright exists, the copyright industry will find ways, legal or quasi-legal, to extend its reach to gain total control over how people create and share information. Copyright is like cancer: unless completely destroyed, it will keep spreading by metastasis, with new tumors emerging in unexpected parts of the body (politic). As Dan Gillmor points out:
“The lawmakers and Murdochs and Hollywood types and others who are trying to lock down this emerging ecosystem are fully aware of how things work. They have what they consider good reasons for their efforts. But if they succeed, they will destroy most of what I and many others have been working toward. They will create an information monoculture where regimes work with corporations to control more than what we can read, hear and watch, because they will control how we can speak beyond the room we’re in at the moment.”
This is what is ultimately at stake. And the war has only just begun.