Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Subtle, poorly drafted Government Regulation aims to police a free Internet

From October 2011 we have seen attempts by various governments to impose some form of regulation on online content. These regulations focus on copyright violation and obscene content. While there may not be too much ambiguity on the definition of copyright, we know that many countries turn a blind eye to piracy. In case of obscene content the definition varies by country based on local laws and people’s sentiment.
Changing government sentiment may see a restructuring of the Internet and the imposition of technical controls to subdivide the Internet and regulate its use. This will have an impact on online businesses, law enforcement, investments in web firms and the business models of Internet firms. Access to the Internet is virtually ruled by Search Engines and any move to bar a website from search results can have a dramatic result on the firm’s business. Most of the confusion also arises from the drafting of such bills which generally aim to be so broad that they confer sweeping powers to the government. In case of SOPA any US consumer who uses a website overseas immediately gives the US jurisdiction the power to potentially take action against it.
I have highlighted two examples which depict the changing times:
Obscene Content
This week a court in India has summoned over 20 websites to face trial for criminal conspiracy for selling and publicly exhibiting antisocial and antireligious content contained obscene picture and derogatory articles pertaining to Prophet Mohammad, Jesus Christ and various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The court felt that these contents were disrespectful to the religious sentiments and faith and seem to be intended to outrage the feelings of religious people whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian. In the last few months there has been an attempt by the Indian Government to regulate online content which is defamatory and antisocial which led to a widespread public outcry. The UK government too tried to introduce similar regulation which was also met by a similar public outcry.

Read More: TOI 24 Dec 11 Court summons Facebook, others for ‘obscene content’

According to Wikipedia “In a bill brought out in the US called SOPA or Stop Online Piracy Act, the US Government wants to in act a law on October 26, 2011 that expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.
 The bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who requests the court orders, the actions could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a felony. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement”
Related Reads:

Censoring the India Web ! Why shoot Kapil Sibal?

Cry over Censorship is Simply an Attempt to Evade Regulation by large online businesses

 Eight Political Issues around Security and Privacy in Cyberspace

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