Wednesday 18th January 2012 will go down in history as the day Wikipedia and many other websites pages went black intentionally to protest against two bills in the USA, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).
Wikipedia says that be bills are problematic because:
- Among other serious problems in the current draft of the bills, the requirement exists for US-based sites to actively police links to purported infringing sites.
- These kinds of self-policing activities are non-sustainable for large, global sites – including ones like Wikipedia.
- The legislative language is ambiguous and overly broad, even though it touches on protected speech.
- Congress says it’s trying to protect the rights of copyright owners, but the “cure” that SOPA and PIPA represent is worse than the disease.”
Wikipedia was launched in 2001 as a free encyclopedia edited by thousands of volunteers across the world. It is one of the sites with most traffic on the Internet. If they were to police links, we would not get the amount of information we do today.
This reminds me of my favorite poem By Rabindranath Tagore:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
Ironically SOPA and PIPA are actually well intentioned causes. They are intended to protect the rights and freedom of creators of content, the copyright owners. But the larger question is how are we to control the dissemination of information? Technology allows us freedom that was not available to us previously. Who will police this deluge of information and in what manner? Is it even possible to police such large content? At what point do we need self-regulation vs government threat?
India is also asking websites to police the content. In December 2010, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal asked social websites like Google and Facebook to ensure that uploading of derogatory material online is stopped. Sibal has said that the content posted on some of the sites was so offensive that it would hurt the religious sentiments of a large section of communities in the country. In that sense Kapil Sibal is being called the human SOPA of India, but SOPA and SIBAL stand for different things.
SOPA wants to protect the rights of content creators but by telling everyone to keep a watch on every link. Sibal on the other hand wants to impose his diktat on what should be our freedom of speech.
Everyone has the freedom voice their concern, debate on what someone said, including Mr. Vinay Rai who has gone to the courts alleging criminal negligence by Google, Facebook and other companies for not removing objectionable material from their sites. (more about him here).
We are dangerously close to losing our sensibilities as to how hurt we should be if someone writes inflammatory content. When should your freedom to get offended subdue my freedom of speech? When should my endeavor to stop copyright violation become my responsibility that will be a punishable offense?
These are very human questions and not as much legal. There will be courts and laws to guide but they will not settle the disputes. This must emerge as an issue that gets resolved sensibly by a mature society. Without such sensibility all Internet will be just illegal content full of venom and all of us will be up in arms against each other.
A healthy self regulation like that adopted by the Advertisement Industry is the need of the hour.
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has adopted a Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising. It is a commitment to honest advertising and to fair competition in the market-place. It stands for the protection of the legitimate interests of consumers and all concerned with advertising – advertisers, media, advertising agencies and others who help in the creation or placement of advertisements.
This is something the SMS industry in India has failed to do and has done too little too late. I recently changed my mobile operator and my number. Even before I could share my new number with my friends and family I was inundated with spam SMSes. The Do-not-Disturb registry kicked in only after 7 days and till then I continued to receive Spam. How is that remotely sensible?
Is it any wonder that SMS as a channel in all probability will show signs of slowdown?
I am a digital marketer and know the power of email marketing. However I know how bad everyone thinks email marketing is. I work with the team at www.juvlon.com and we have been making several attempts to bring the big email marketers together for a common cause – to self regulate and wage war on SPAM.
India has no SPAM laws. A report published recently cited India amongst the top destinations in the world where SPAM originates. (Read AFP: Spammers propel India to junk-mail top spot ). The situation may get worse before it improves. There are “email lists” up for sale everywhere, the same list are sold by agencies to multiple clients. I have heard stories of harassed customers receiving many emails on the same day from different companies. His name was perhaps on such list which was sold over and over to many companies.
Email is not invasive. At least not as much as SMS is. Plus Email providers sort out the junk email cleverly so the average reader does not feel the impact of the problem. When someone like Kapil Sibal becomes a victim of some clever phishing scam or becomes fed up with incessant emails, Marketers might suddenly find themselves scrambling for cover. This has severe implications for legitimate email marketing service providers and Email Marketers. It won’t be long before a DND like situation emerges in the Email Industry and the government turns around and puts demands that may not be well thought out on marketers as well as service providers.
Sure, we will find ways to delay and muddle any anti-spam laws, but prevention is better than cure.
So be it SOPA SMS or SPAM the answer to a sensible system of policing is to have laws that give overall guidelines and are supported by self-regulation by the industry leaders.
What’s your opinion?
[Guest article by Geetanjali Dighe, part of Juvlon team.]