Two days ago, Wikipedia, along with a host of other influential online identities, such as Google, Wired, WordPress and Mozilla (responsible for the advent of Firefox), instated a 24 hour blackout in protest of the SOPA/PIPA bill currently making its way through the US legislature.
As of 4.25pm yesterday, authorities in New Zealand acted on warrants issued by the FBI to shutdown established file hosting service Megaupload and arrest its four owners.
As an Australian caught in the middle of this crossfire, I maybe inclined to simply duck my head and avoid getting caught up in all of it, especially after the infamous “Net Nanny” ISP level firewall failed to pass through Australian parliament last year, with resigned sighs.
However, the reality is, the internet is… the internet. While there are gateways through which most of the data coming into and out of a country do pass through, the sheer amount of information being shared globally, and the speed at which it can proliferate makes us all interconnected. An American online has no more a national identity than an Australian – in the realm of the virtual we are all global citizens (or netizen if you really want to be trendy). That is the very reason why, as a global citizen of the Internet, I should stand to attention.
Its not the fact that SOPA/PIPA is gaining political momentum (although its highly unpopular to the mainstream) that should worry us. And it is not the fact that the FBI’s recent coup of Megaupload being unrelated to the legislative movements in the US, that should lead us to apathy.
The thing that worries me is that this is the culmination of a concerted increase in the intensity of those stakeholders seeking to monetize the digital medium, particularly in the last decade, indicated by the increasingly difficult to distinguish separation of state and media interests.
Despite immediate retaliation by hacktivism a la Anonymous, with such an impending calamity it’s a wonder that we place our trust in an amorphous legion that is… anonymous. Either that, or we gravitate towards massive online entities that overshadow most governments, such as Google, Apple and Facebook. Where are the charismatic humanitarian leaders of yesteryear? All of the troubles, such as climate change and social inequality, and this, are man-made and, hence, inherently human.
The reason for this, and both the advent of SOPA/PIPA and the FBI involvement in Megaupload are indicative of the result of a paradigm that was first reared its head in the first empires of our species, with its current incarnation initiated by the political pairing of a British chemist and an American movie star. Their names were Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
the prevailing political and economic paradigm has always swung between laissez faire and centralised markets throughout history, however, for the first time in history we stood at the precipice of the economic exponential curve… And we just happened to take the wrong route at the right time.
In a quest to reach the top (or bottom as you would have it) as fast as possible, in our pursuit of satisfying certain economic indicators of growth, we ignored the underlying instabilities, until the entities racing became so large they became indiscernibly and inevitably entangled with the state, and the unstable foundation it grew on began to crumble with no person or group big enough to support it.
And so we come to the actions of the FBI and the legislature in the US. No person can truly say that the representatives of the mainstream public and their protectors are doing this for the public’s own good, nor can anyone truly say that media interests are clearly not involved. You can no longer accuse either party, because both parties have become so entangled. In a case like this, one does not have the democratic or social tools to negotiate this situation as all of them were originally designed with exclusivity in mind.
Yet we, as mainstream society are also not entirely without blame. In the prevailing economic paradigm, we collectively “poked the bees nest”. The reality is this is a circular and vicious cycle of class warfare, but with the demonisation of Marx’s principles, socialism and communism, one side of the conflict has become decidedly impotent. We have become too apathetic to stand up, we have become too scared of being labeled a hippie, a communist or socialist or anti-[insert nation] (dream (sic)), to strike out. It is not the reliance on these interests and the state that has made us unable to react, it is a social stigma.
One last thing. For those of you who quip and say that the actions of these open sharing avenues is stealing the intellectual property of the media, of not supporting the “struggling artist”, I say to you… You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about and are clearly disconnected from that industry in every way or are so disconnected to that “struggling artist” you can’t possible have a relevant opinion on the matter.
The reality is, as a media production professional, I partake in an industry that is, by far (and this is, in a massive way, due to the incessant deflation of culture as a currency of society due to the widespread paradigm outlined above) the most ridiculously stratified industry ever seen in the history of man, transferring human qualities such as passion, in monetized form, to a superior on the hierarchical chain of media production, leveraging it like slave labour, similar to multi-level marketing schemes (think about the language used when you are pitched to about career opportunities in this field and compare it to multi-level marketing seminars i.e. the all to often used line of “if you have the passion, you will succeed…”). I mean, seriously, how can you take an industry seriously when your success depends on getting a “break” rather than on the accords of your own merit (which, in so many cases, more than often, ignored), which can take up to 7 years.
Until cultural exploits come to the fore as a respected and reinforcing influence on society, until the generation of cultural capital is given the same weight in social currency as the finance and commodities sector, aiding the top-down nature of the industry (with SOPA/PIPA and Government agencies) won’t create jobs, won’t protect jobs, won’t spurn innovation, and certainly won’t aid the many thousands of professionals working under the selective echelon of recording and film industry elites (simply those with the financial capital to exploit cultural capital to further reinforce their own monetary situation).
The reality is, those pirating or stealing are stealing from those than can afford to be stolen from, and until the profits of our ventures (our refers to those who actually create – who write, who film, who perform, who record, not simply those who leverage off that creation and market, buy and sell) are more equally distributed, we simply do not care.
Also, we need to simply step back. There is something fundamentally wrong with the world we live in when someone convicted of negligent manslaughter can get 15 years, and the owner of an open hosting website (that actually tried to adhere to existing the DMCA Act) is looking at 55 years in prison.