Anticipating the Political Consequences of the Internet: It's All about Power*

People took to the streets. Some heavy players in the digital economy flexed their muscle. The press covered the event. Even the United Nations directed its attention to the issue. Frank LaRue, Special Rapporteur, submitted a report on the “promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” Recently, ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) was stopped in its tracks because Germany, alerted by public demonstrations, changed its mind, after it had already endorsed the dubious document (like the 22 other country members of the EU).

This is a story of how economic interests in exploiting innovative technology collide with political goals. Not surprisingly, the USA leads the movement to protect the interests of business. Incompetent politicians, bought with the money of wealthy lobbies, broadcast slogans from the past: Intellectual property rights must be protected!

In reality, this is the last thing on the mind of the American government. The profit motive alone drives the effort to control the Internet. And the American courts are imposing fines, and even jail sentences, upon the persons who, in the spirit of a globally networked world, support peer-to-peer communication. Politicians and lawyers do not understand that selling a record or CD is fundamentally different from digital interactions that produce value in a new way. Neither do they understand that digital interactions affect the many opportunities associated with the networked world. Viral dissemination makes a song offered for free download the best argument for attending the artist’s concert. Artists understood this new development, and know its real advantages.

In Europe, sometimes under pressure from the USA, France and the UK came up with rules for policing copyright. No effort was made to understand that to copy in the digital age is quite different from copying in the age of industrial capitalism. Let’s face it: counterfeiting sneakers or designer handbags is different from “copying” what is on the Web. In addition, no effort has been made to understand that rights—political rights in the first place—cannot be forever suppressed in order to please those who want to control the Internet-based economy for their own benefit. Copying and disseminating images critical to national security is a political statement. But those who oppose this form of reporting pursue the authors for economic crimes. As imperfect as WikiLeaks was, it was a political action concern, not another eBay auction.

Mihai NADIN — Institute for Research in Anticipatory Systems —
ante University of Texas at Dallas

* Originally at:

№3(64), 2012