2012 was, without a doubt, the most intense year to date in the fight for civil liberties and against the copyright monopoly. While much work remains to be done, we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
While there have been nice flares of light in the past – every success of a Pirate Party comes to mind, where all other politicians suddenly compete in who’s the better critic of the copyright monopoly – those flares of 2009 and 2011 have still been flares of light, and not game-changing events. Not yet.
But 2012 saw two major such events, in addition to many minor ones. There was the SOPA defeat on January 18, and there was the ACTA defeat on July 4. These were slightly different in nature.
The SOPA defeat in the USA was caused by a purely grassroots effort to put pressure on the US Congress from the outside. The ACTA defeat in Europe, meanwhile, could not have succeeded without two-pronged pressure: where the SOPA battle mainly played out online and in phone calls in one-directional pressure against Congress, the ACTA battle was fought in the streets, with huge coordinated protests in 200-plus European cities.
Still, that would not have been enough if there hadn’t been people on the inside of the European Parliament to explain to other Members of Parliament why European people were protesting – so the Pirate Party presence in the European Parliament was pivotal, being one of many ingredients not sufficient on their own, but absolutely necessary for the whole of the ultimate success in defeating ACTA.
Regardless, these events were game-changers in that politicians have learned that when the internet raises its voice and tells them in no uncertain terms to STFU & STFD, their knees tremble. They do not understand yet what it is they do not understand. They do not understand the fundamentally bad assumptions about the copyright monopoly that still shape policy (faulty assumptions like the monopoly being incentivizing creativity, or worse, being related to property rights and a component of free trade).
For as we recall, both SOPA and ACTA were practically done deals. They were seen as completely uncontroversial by the politicians and were mere formalities, until the internet spoke up.
The next step, of course, would be to learn that it isn’t “the Internet” speaking up, but a whole generation of citizens – voters – that demand something as basic as their civil liberties to apply just as much online as they do offline.
For who was it that wanted ACTA and SOPA so badly? It was the copyright industry, in their long-running quest to have their business interests take legal precedence over fundamental civil liberties.
The copyright industry has long been a proponent for increased surveillance, particularly of the warrantless kind, as privacy and freedom of speech is fundamentally incompatible with enforcement of the copyright monopoly.
At the same time, the administrations around the world are cherishing the liberating aspects of the net with one voice – but only when it happens to other countries. In their own country, it is a threat to the status quo – meaning, to themselves.
In Sweden, for example, the administration is wasting no time in applauding the importance of the net in freeing dictatorships from oppression, all while the Swedish so-called FRA law has changed the rules of privacy from being a fundamental right to the axiom “you are always wiretapped”, effectively negating any whistleblower protections and other freedoms of the press.
Other countries see similar patterns.
Overall, net liberty seems to consistently be near the top of the foreign policy agenda for every country, but never anywhere on the domestic policy agenda. This exact relation needs to reverse.
So what would be things to look out for in 2013?
Things should be quietening down somewhat in the European bureaucracy, as the election cycle comes to a close. Still, there are many bilateral so-called “free trade” agreements that try to lock in monopolies at the cost of civil liberties, and these happen in just as much secrecy as ACTA did.
Speaking of monopoly agreements, the TPP – Trans-Pacific Partnership – should be a major cause for concern.
But if all of these are causes for concern – and they are, as laws are still being made the wrong way – I’m still very optimistic.
While the laws being made on net liberty and monopolies are still bad – we have not managed as activists to cause any good things to happen, merely managed to prevent some bad things from happening – understanding of net liberty principles are rapidly increasing, and may be hitting a tipping point.
More and more people realize, against the tenacious deceptive talking points of the copyright industry, that the copyright monopoly is not related to property rights at all but is a governmentally-sanctioned private monopoly that limits property rights and free trade.
So what do I predict for 2013?
I predict that more politicians will realize the shameless abyss of lies coming from the copyright industry, and that civil liberties should be as readily defended online as offline – that there should be no legal or practical difference in civil liberties whether you communicate with an analog letter or a digital one.
I predict that there will be at least one game-changing event which could not have been predicted beforehand, which shifts the playing field heavily against the copyright industry and in favor of civil liberties.
I predict that the laws being made will continue to be bad, and that surveillance will continue to increase, but that more people will start to question that – perhaps approaching, but not yet arriving at a tipping point where good policy starts being made instead.
Above all, I predict that we have much hard work still ahead of us, but that it will all be worth our while in the end.
So for 2013, remember two soundbites on making good policy:
Sharing is caring, and prosperity begins at a hundred megabit.
Happy new year!
About The Author
Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. He is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at falkvinge.net focuses on information policy.