The internet is angry - is it winning?

Anti-piracy law protest in US

The internet community - if there is such a thing - has risen up in anger over recent weeks. The main cause of its concerns have been perceived attempts to curtail online freedom by governments and corporations. So what makes the internet angry - and when does that anger have any impact?

In the United States there was outrage over proposed anti-piracy legislation, Pipa and Sopa, which culminated in a concerted global campaign to highlight the issues by blacking out sites like Wikipedia for 24 hours. And it worked - American politicians who seemed to have assumed that this was a somewhat obscure and uncontroversial issue took fright, and the new laws have been put on the back-burner.

Now it's Europe's turn, with demonstrations over the weekend against another piece of anti-piracy legislation Acta, the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement. (By the way, there is a good explanation of all of the various anti-piracy measures here.) Now, for all the online anger, this is not an issue that has really caught the public imagination in the UK. The crowd at London's anti-Acta demo numbered no more than a few hundred.

But in Eastern Europe, where internet freedoms are perhaps valued more highly, tens of thousands have taken to the streets. And again, politicians who were quietly proceeding with what they thought was an uncontroversial move to standardise copyright laws have been forced to respond. In three countries, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, they have halted the implementation of the treaty, and the European Parliament now appears less than eager to ratify it.

So, internet 2, governments 0, with online democracy proving its worth? Maybe - although supporters of the various anti-piracy laws would argue that the voices of those who create content which others take for nothing are not being heard in this debate.

And while these online campaigns are proving that they can sway democratic politicians, how powerful will they be against more authoritarian governments?

Consider the case of the Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari. After using Twitter to express some thoughts about the Prophet Muhammad which some considered blasphemous, he fled to Malaysia, apparently fearing for his life. Over the weekend the Malaysian government put him on a plane back to Saudi Arabia, ignoring the pleas of liberal Muslims in their own country.

We don't know what will happen now to Hamza Kashgari. But his case, on the face of it, looks like a more immediate threat to internet freedom than any anti-piracy laws. So will we see the internet community getting as angry about his case as it has about Sopa and Acta? And if it does will it have any impact on the Saudi authorities?

Looking at Twitter over the last 24 hours, there are signs of a surge of anger against Malaysia, for deporting Hamza Kashgari, and against the Saudi authorities. Some are linking the case to the recent purchase of a stake in Twitter by a Saudi billionaire and asking whether that will affect the social network's view of the affair. But, compared to the rage against anti-piracy measures, this is a fairly muted protest so far.

An angry internet community has discovered its strength over the last year, but there have been few signs that it can challenge governments that are determined not to listen. The fate of Hamza Kashgari could reveal some uncomfortable truths about the battle for online freedom.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Internet users should stand up against rights holders and protest by refusing to purchase the very same content legitimately that they constantly suggest most of us are downloading for free. It would be really interesting to see how long it would take before greedy, hard done by rights holders who deliberately ignore the call to offer content with sensible pricing models take notice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    @Aidy #118:
    Not sure what to say there, apart from is that a reflection on the sort of people you hang around with?. *shrug*. or do you believe stealing App's is less of a crime than stealing Music & Films. Like I said MOST people haven't jailbroken there iDevices. And even then there's a good percentage who do so NOT to steal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    @Keith #117 - I don't know anyone with an iPhone that hasn't jailbroken it so that they can steal apps *shrug*

    @Some Lingering Fog #115 - that's a new attempt at justifying theft. So there is a limit on what people can earn and after that they should work for nothing? Of course you don't include yourself in, like most people who think others should work for free, *you* still want paid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    @Aidy #112

    Do you mean like me complaining about Apps on Apple's AppStore been 69p?. Well I've not complained so far!!, so that's your theory out the window. Apple's AppStore is a fantastic example of fair price, and I believe one of the reasons that most iDevice users don't Jailbreak. If the Music/Film industry took the same approach it would have my vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    As someone who has had major publishing and recording deals in the past.I can tell you that it is only a minute portion of artists who make money from selling their wares through the big corporate companies.
    They are held in debt through advances and expenses.


Comments 5 of 120



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