Opinion editorial.

Answering Questions About the SOPA / E-PARASITE Bill.

real copyright educationjust because justice is blind doesn't mean the law has to be[Update 2011-12-06: Jennifer Novotny's article in the Stony Brook Press is now up.]

We got a question from Jennifer Novotny, a student at Stonybrook University in New York, about the slow-rolling disaster that is the E-PARASITE/SOPA bill in the U.S. Congress.  There are many bad things to say about this bill, most of which have already been said elsewhere (we give some links below).  But with Jennifer Novotny's permission, we're sharing her original question and our response, which focuses on the collateral damage this law would do to the Internet itself, and on the general impossibility of ever successfully implementing the kinds of restrictions Congress is attempting here.

Jennifer E Novotny writes:
>I'm writing an article for a journalism class on the subject of
>digital piracy in relation to the recently proposed Stop Online Piracy
>Act. I hoped you would be able to answer a couple of questions for me.
>For instance, do you believe the bill, if passed, would actually have
>any affect on piracy? I know there is a lot of debate and the idea
>that the bill would "break the internet" and I wondered what your
>specific opinions were on this matter.
>I look forward to your response,



Aaron Swartz Stole Nothing, But You Wouldn't Know That From the Coverage.

The arrest of Aaron Swartz is clearly uncalled for: he's guilty of nothing Aaron Swartzmore than downloading some files without permission, and we were pleased (though not surprised) to see QuestionCopyright.org board member James Jacobs quoted saying what needs to be said: "Aaron's prosecution undermines academic inquiry and democratic principles. It's incredible that the government would try to lock someone up for allegedly looking up articles at a library."

But beyond the disturbing fact of the arrest itself is a persistent problem in coverage of the case.  Venue after venue refers to Swartz being arrested for "theft" or "stealing", even though he didn't steal anything.  The bias isn't particularly subtle:

Aaron Swartz, the 24-year-old who went from helping to create Reddit to embracing a different brand of progressive activism, has been indicted on federal charges of breaking into MIT and stealing more than four million articles from an online database.

That's from Talking Points Memo, a political news site (boldface ours).  But often the bias starts in the headline:



Adapted from a talk and slide show I presented at the Open Knowledge Conference in Berlin on July 1, 2011. --NP
Crossposted from ninapaley.com

Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it means that the program's users have the four essential freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

-- The Free Software Definition

These are the Four Freedoms of Free Software. They are foundational principles, and they are exactly right. They have served and continue to serve the Free Software Movement very well. They place the user's freedom ahead of all other concerns. Free Software is a principled movement, but Free Culture is not – at least not so far. Why?



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