Teachable Moment

For those who’ve missed all the shouting in certain circles of the web, today is the day the web goes on strike. At least here in the US, where our congress critters are considering two bills that, quite frankly, should scare everyone who publishes content online.

The proposed laws, as do many these days, have somewhat Orwellian names: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). I mean, who wouldn’t want to join either of those worthy causes?

Well, take a few minutes to watch this video about the many unintended consequences that are likely to come with the vaguely written, open-ended PIPA (SOPA is only slightly different in language but not in the mechanics), primarily written by representatives of the big content producers, the MPAA and RIAA.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

All that, and neither will stop people who really want to illegally distribute copyrighted content.

In addition to violating any number of Constitutional rights, these laws would have an enormous chilling effect on legitimate fair use of copyrighted material as well as the diversity of speech so badly needed in the world today.

Both laws also start with some very false premises (such as piracy is costing the US billions of dollars and millions of jobs), as explained by Tim O’Reilly.

Take a look around the web today and you’ll find many sites have gone dark in opposition to SOPA and PIPA (including Wikipedia, Reddit, Mozilla, WordPress, and several thousand others). I’m sure many people who have never heard of SOPA or PIPA will notice as they try to go about their normal web surfing.

However, although I thought about doing the same – taking this site dark (despite being a very, very small corner of the web) – I’m an educator and it seems to me that helping anyone who arrives here, by design or accident, understand the issues is a more effective way of making the point. Same idea, different style. Thus this post you are now reading (thank you!).

However, no matter which process makes you aware of the situation, as a web user, and probably a web content creator, it’s important to understand just how dangerous this kind of legislation is and why it’s in your best interest to actively oppose it.

Take a few more minutes today to contact your congress critter. Tell them to throw out this crap (be nice :-) and instead work on rules that support genuine net neutrality and fair use.

Then spend a few dollars and join the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization that has been a leader in the fight against this and other attempts to censor voices and ideas around the world.

Linking Liabilities

If you post a link to an article found to be libelous (on Twitter, your blog, Facebook, wherever), could you also be guilty of libel?

That’s the question the Canadian Supreme Court heard last week, and just imagine if they rule that it is, how that could change the way we use social media.

The opening segment on a recent edition of the CBC radio show Spark was a very interesting discussion with David Fewer, director of CIPPIC: The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic on the implications.

Here’s the essence of the case:

[Vancouver businessman Wayne] Crooke is suing the publisher of a site called p2pnet for a post about free speech in Canada, written in response to a libel lawsuit brought by Crooke. In the post, publisher Jon Newton linked to the allegedly libelous articles. Crooke asked him to remove the links, but Newton refused, so Crooke accused him of defamation.

The case has been kicking around the Canadian legal system since 2006 and Crooke lost in two lower court rulings.  But the fact that their Supreme Court agreed to hear the case gives anyone linking in that country a degree of uncertainty in their writing.

All this legal wrangling up north reminded me of an article I wrote for our state technology organization’s journal a little over ten years ago* about several lawsuits over “deep linking”, the practice of hyperlinking directly to a page within a web site instead of going through the front door.

Those cases were settled after many years in court (and the exchange of big money), and a decade later no one thinks twice about linking to any page on the web.

If someone decides to import the concept of links possibly being libelous, all of that could change. At least for the very long time it takes for issues like this to wind their way through the American judicial system.

By the way, as long as you’re visiting the site for this episode of Spark, take a listen to the third segment as well.

Since this month is the 20th anniversary of the web, the producers asked another 20 year old, a college student, to parallel her life events with the major milestones of the web.  A very clever way to show just how far the web has come in a short period of time.

Hopefully, it won’t all get derailed by a large pile of legal crap, not to mention political infighting and corporate greed.


*As far as I know, no one has wasted their time to digitize the issue for the web.

Everything You Need to Know About the Internet (abridged)

A British “professor of the public understanding of technology” writing in The Guardian offers nine things everyone needs to know about the internet.

For anyone who’s been connected and paying attention, which I suspect includes many people who read blogs like this one, this is a review of what you already know.

However, it’s still a great read, detailing some important concepts about the web that many people still don’t get.

Three of them stand out for me as an educator.

DISRUPTION IS A FEATURE, NOT A BUG

One of the things that most baffles (and troubles) people about the net is its capacity for disruption. One moment you’ve got a stable, profitable business — say, as the CEO of a music label; the next minute your industry is struggling for survival, and you’re paying a king’s ransom to intellectual property lawyers in a losing struggle to stem the tide. Or you’re a newspaper group, wondering how a solid revenue stream from classified ads could suddenly have vaporised; or a university librarian wondering why students use only Google nowadays. How can this stuff happen? And how does it happen so fast?

Or you’re an educational institution and the traditional structure where all information flows through one teacher makes no sense in this age of instant connection to many teachers.

THE NETWORK IS NOW THE COMPUTER

For baby-boomers, a computer was a standalone PC running Microsoft software. Eventually, these devices were networked, first locally (via office networks) and then globally (via the internet). But as broadband connections to the net became commonplace, something strange happened: if you had a fast enough connection to the network, you became less concerned about the precise location of either your stored data or the processor that was performing computational tasks for you.

We in the education business also need to recognize that the network is also the classroom. And vice versa.

OUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY REGIME IS NO LONGER FIT FOR PURPOSE

Since our current intellectual property regime was conceived in an era when copying was difficult and imperfect, it’s not surprising that it seems increasingly out of sync with the networked world. To make matters worse (or better, depending on your point of view), digital technology has provided internet users with software tools which make it trivially easy to copy, edit, remix and publish anything that is available in digital form — which means nearly everything, nowadays. As a result, millions of people have become “publishers” in the sense that their creations are globally published on platforms such as Blogger, Flickr and YouTube. So everywhere one looks, one finds things that infringe copyright in one way or another.

Which has incredible implications for teaching and learning.  We need to spend more time teaching kids how to be responsible producers as well as smart consumers.

In the end the writer notes that it “would be ridiculous to pretend that these nine ideas encapsulate everything that there is to be known about the net”.

Still his excellent points are well worth the read.

Fair Rules of the Road

This could be a very good thing.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski delivered a major address today in which he offered a strong case for net neutrality.

It could be a lot of talk but at least he seems to have a good grasp of the situation and the problems that need fixing.

This is not about government regulation of the Internet. It’s about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the Internet. We will do as much as we need to do, and no more, to ensure that the Internet remains an unfettered platform for competition, creativity, and entrepreneurial activity.

This is not about protecting the Internet against imaginary dangers. We’re seeing the breaks and cracks emerge, and they threaten to change the Internet’s fundamental architecture of openness. This would shrink opportunities for innovators, content creators, and small businesses around the country, and limit the full and free expression the Internet promises. This is about preserving and maintaining something profoundly successful and ensuring that it’s not distorted or undermined. If we wait too long to preserve a free and open Internet, it will be too late.

Making this the default policy of the Commission won’t be easy, as clearly illustrated by one proposed amendment to an unrelated appropriations bill that would forbid the FCC from even considering net neutrality rules.

The big telecoms are not happy with the idea of them not being allowed to control (and make bigger profits from) the web and are already making down payments on the Congress critters they need to stop it from happening.

Subscription Search

Last year, the Encyclopaedia Britannica offered “Web publishers” a free one year subscription to their online research tool, normally costing $70.

I guess I didn’t get much value out of that offer since it was a surprise to get this in the mail today.

You have only 60 more days until your Encyclopaedia Britannica Online subscription will expire, and we’d regret to see you go back to the time consuming chase of ordinary internet searches.

I wonder how many of the bloggers EB originally targeted are willing to pay that kind of money to avoid “ordinary internet searches”.