Copying Rights: Legislation and Internet Freedom

Copy Left

Internet freedom as a global standard to ensure freedom of expression worldwide has received a rising amount of attention in the media. US leadership has come out in strong support for internet freedom as a continuation of democratic principles necessary to maintain the internet's openness. The Council of Europe has also recognized the importance of principles to protect an open internet, and EU parliamentarians have supported initiatives to make internet freedom a tenet of foreign policy.

In an era where the opportunities that the internet provides its users are seemingly endless, numerous fears about the capabilities of bad actors to do nefarious actions have grown wildly. Measures to protect against these risks have emerged over the years, ranging from protecting against child pornography to stopping piracy. One recent example of this taking place in the House of Representatives is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and its companion legislation in the Senate known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

The proposed legislation, in the briefest terms, seeks to shut down websites that take part in copyright infringement. However, I encourage readers to review the full text of SOPA and PIPA, available at OpenCongress. These bills have been hotly contested, with a Congressional hearing on SOPA last week being widely covered by those on both sides of the issue.

At NDI, we believe that freedom of speech for all internet users should be protected. Our programs seek to implement the appropriate technology for positive democratic development - with safety as a first priority and knowing the potential harm of vulnerabilities in tech-centered projects. However, legislation from democratic countries that could be interpreted as a means to undermine freedom of expression online, sets a dangerous precedent for countries with weaker records of free speech protections. A hearing held last week by the CECC contained panelists declaring that trade regulations must require transparency on censorship decisions, and news coming out of Turkey indicates that internet filtering will be established tomorrow despite widespread protests. We will continue to watch these debates unfold, and look forward to having the decision processes for such legislation continue in an open, transparent manner, with independent media and citizen participation continuing to play an active role.