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 20.

    It's too easy to point to the music and film corporations as the bad guys whilst setting up Twitter and Google as defenders of freedom. They too are massive businesses but with much to lose financially. Do we have to take their platitudes about internet freedom at face value? Where's your reporting of Google's recent online pharmacy bust and record plea bargain? Don't leave it to Panorama.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The further apart rich and poor become, the greater the discontent and more 'illegal' practices will take place.

    The answer relates to all business activity.

    Put a cap on the excesses in life.

    Limit the sizes of corporations, bonuses, fees, personal fortunes, house prices etc.

    When 'wealth' ends up in the hands of a few, what do they expect will happen?

    The rest deserve some free enjoyment!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    EU Commission has not yet accepted ACTA text. If it does, it will then be considered by other EU governing bodies including the Council of Ministers & EU Parliament. Parliament adopted a resolution in November that called ACTA a "step in the right direction". Its resolution however for accordance with EU Law. Tests - impact on fundamental rights & data protection.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    "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"

    Pure poppycock! So far theirs has been almost the ONLY voice that's been heard in this debate. It is, after all, at their instigation that these laws are being put forward. It's only now that the rest of us are finally being heard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @ 11 _Ewan_

    Distributing a popular goods, on its release day to millions of people is hardly 'Sharing'. I've watched the speaches, but the analogy just doesnt translate to todays media.

    I believe current SOPA/PIPA/ACTA are not the way forward, Copywrite laws should be revisted - But *a good deal of* Piracy does take money out of someone's pocket. Just not those people are fighting against.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    ACTA was negotiated IN SECRET by govts of a collection of countries over past 3 years. Treaty is too favourable to rights holders at the expense of the users of goods or services. Academics from Germany, Spain, the UK, Holland & Australia claims that ACTA goes too far in strengthening rights holders' hand & parts of it break EU & international law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Wow. It seems that mainstream technology journalists are just as bemused about the matter of online piracy as the half-witted politicians that are trying to push through the changes.

    There never seems to be any discussion about the argument for piracy, other than people want to benefit from free, media. There is actually a huge army of pirates out there willing to pay for their stuff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Draconian anti-priacy initiatives tend to do more to harm legitimate consumers more than pirates. The proposed legislation is typically heavy-handed, assuming guilt first.
    As far as stealing is concerned, over the past fifty years content producers, like Disney, have stolen millions of items from the Public Domain with ever-expanding copyright duration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Content creators don't get paid for their work - record companies do. These are companies who break the law. These are companies who strong-arm artists and monopolize an industry. In fact, if antitrust laws were enforced on the entertainment industry as they are in other sectors those record and film companies would have to compete, driving down prices, thereby eliminating the value of piracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    "If recording-artists and film-makers cannot, at least, recover their costs and make a decent living on top"

    But they can, and clearly are doing. Hollywood keeps setting new box office records. Someone's managed to find $200 million for a movie based on the Battleship game.

    Sharing is killing Hollywood like home taping killed music - not at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    So the internet community is getting angry - few signs that it can challenge govts intentions to listen in, know where you are and what you are saying. We have seen an erosion of freedoms, especially in the US where the Constitution has been slowly shredded by such things as the Patriot Act. These are dangerous times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    We'd all be better off if governments unified and updated all our differing copyright laws. As a content creator, I do want to earn a living and not be ripped off. But my family retaining copyright for 70 years after my death is just silly. 10 years is enough, if they even want it. If they don't, my work should go into the public domain on my death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    While these acts are not currently suitable to fill the purpose, I can see the difficulty in legally seperating site which engage 'best efforts', without too many loop holes to the like of thepiratebay.
    Much of the opposition are now quoting items which have been changed in the adaptation (or never existed), but few bother to read the current acts, incorrect info is also fueling people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    > So will we see the internet community getting as angry about his
    > case as it has about Sopa and Acta?

    Of course not. They don't care about "freedoms", they just think they have a right to steal copyrighted material and don't want people stopping them. The brass neck of these people...demonstrating for the right to be a thief (PS I don't care what your definition of theft is...seriously)

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    The internet has facilitated the biggest orgy of theft in the history of the human race. And the thieves do real damage, forcing businesses to close and jobs to be lost.
    At long last the state seems to be doing something to restore some much needed justice to the system and the thieves are outraged.

    As has been noted above the thieves are stupid, they damage that which they love.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    How many from the young and brave Anonymous fighters can swear that they fight for freedom and do not periodically steal movies and music (and could not care less about the creators in this world)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Do the people who fight against copyright legislation ever consider the longer term effects of their position. If recording-artists and film-makers cannot, at least, recover their costs and make a decent living on top then why should they bother making music or films in the first place. Whatever these people think, NOTHING in life is actually free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Good article - number of issues to cover in short time. US has the 1st amendment so freedom of speech along with the DNS blocking concerns caused outrage (and rightly so). UK is looking at IWF style blocking for copyright & child safety. ACTA is not just about copyright & has a wider reach. Religion & free speech in MIddle East is deals w/ state mandate blocking & tracking. So many nuances!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Rory, you wrote:

    "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."

    I don't think that is the case at all - SOPA, PIPA and ACTA have all been created by entertainment lobbysists - many lawmakers didn't even bother to read them. If anything, their voice is too loud in this debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    "So will we see the internet community getting as angry about his case as it has about Sopa and Acta?" - hint of somebody trying to hijack a subject. The obvious answer is no. The anger against SOPA and ACTA had a direct target: national governments. Any anger directed against a foreign government won't have the same impact.


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