Why The Law And The Internet Need To Find Common Ground

The debate surrounding Internet piracy is one as old as content law itself. Truth be told, neither side is fully blameless. The pirates are guilty of justifying their activities using logic which is shaky, at best - whether it's theft or no, you're still committing an act which is both morally (and in most cases, legally) wrong, folks. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the organizations fighting against piracy are vomiting out draconian prevention strategies and spouting hyperbolic rhetoric about the trillions upon trillions of dollars piracy is costing the poor publishers, who will doubtless find themselves on the street because they're unable to afford their second home.

Both sides are somewhat represensible, but for markedly different reasons. What's more, the conflict between them underscores a far more serious, far more pressing concern. Simply put, society has changed. Social media and the Internet together have completely changed the way we connect with one another. They've changed the way we view the world. They've changed how we consume content, how we entertain ourselves, and how we work. They might even be effecting fundamental changes in the way we think and feel.

Society has changed, but its laws haven't. 

In spite of the world-shattering evolution inspired by this new technology, the law has remained relatively consistent. Very little has changed since the 90s, and some laws are still in place that were already dated a decade ago. The lack of an up-to-date legal backdrop impacts virtually every sector of our digital lives, from our devices and gadgets to our online content to our very privacy.

Websites mine our personal information and sell it to advertisers. Patent trolls run rampant through the tech industry, suing everyone they lay eyes on in hopes of making a quick buck. Pirates and content creators alike chime in that we need new methods of distribution, a new concept of what constitutes content ownershop, but no one quite knows what that might entail.

Something's gotta give...but what?

One of the primary issues, I think, is that we're in something of a transitional stage where lawmakers are concerned. In the United States, at least, the vast majority of them are essentially modern-day fossils. They either cannot understand the way modern technology works, or simply do not care enough to try. While we've certainly made some strides in updating and advancing the legality surrounding the online world - Europe, in particular, is excellent for this - we've still got a long, long way to go. 

The greater issue, though? It's the fact that technology is changing so rapidly.  Ten years ago, nobody would have known what Facebook was. Now, it's completely changed the landscape of the Internet. Same deal with cloud computing. Not even a decade ago, the notion that we could effortlessly share content and stream video over the Internet seemed absurd, if not completely impossible. We're living in entirely morphic, mutable times.

Not only that, the Internet is a global entity. It transcends nations and continents. It almost exists as an abstract entity, potentially available to anyone, in any developed segment of the world. As such, every nation has formulated its own set of laws regarding online content and social media - and these don't always mesh with those put forth by other nations. 

The problem with this should be clear - the law takes time to change. The Internet doesn't. Couple that with the inherent complexity of developing legislation that's compatible on a worldwide scale, and lawmakers appear to be fighting an uphill battle; one which they are slowly but surely losing. How can they keep up with something that can change virtually overnight? 

"The Internet? Is that not a series of tubes?""The Internet? Is that not a series of tubes?"

It's not fair to expect them to do so...but they should at least be expected to try. It's abundantly clear that they don't even care enough to do that. Instead, we see men such as Lamar Smith hopping blithely into the pockets of organizations which prefer bogus laws to new business models. They try to force through legislation that will hobble, or outright cripple the Internet and the online freedom of information, or else completely avoid updating current legislation. 

Naturally, if they succeed, everyone's going to feel the burn - inventors, innovators, and creators in particular. If copyright owners can cry foul at any content creator they like and have that content immediately taken down - without the creator even getting a chance to defend themself - how are we to foster innovation? How are we to create new things? How are we to invent? 

The simple answer is that we aren't. Think I'm joking? Consider that we've already seen certain organizations use copyright law to take down fair-use satirical videos. Then consider where we might well end up if something isn't done to prevent this - and prevent laws from passing that will make this sort of thing easier. 

I'd say you've suffered through enough rambling for now, so I'll leave you folks with a suggestion: visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Read the articles regularly. When you've a chance to participate, do so. Make it known to organizations, copyright owners, and lawmakers that they aren't the heart of the Internet - we are.

And we're tired of trying to beat to a rhythm that isn't ours.