this is a pretty good essay by John Perry Barlow about censorship on the
internet. He spends a good proportion of it talking about intellectual
property law being used for censorship.
"...the Armageddon of digital control, the real
death match between the Party of the Past and Party of the Future, will be
fought over copyright."
Steev Hise, Automagickal Adept
"I declare a permanent state of happiness"
-Grafitti, Paris 1968
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2000 12:35:20 -0700
From: John Perry Barlow <barlowATeff.org>
Subject: <nettime> CENSORSHIP 2000
A few month's back my old White House sparring partner and pal Mike Nelson
asked me to write a general overview of global efforts to censor the
Internet for the Internet Society's publication On The Internet. Agreeable
naif that I am, I said "sure" before I realized that this was like being
asked to describe the universe, give two examples, and keep in under 5000
As soon as I started trying to write, I realized that even from the most
stratospheric perspective, such a piece could easily require a lot more
words than I was allowed.
Nevertheless, I gave it a try, and I'm passing on what I wrote that you
might be have more motivation to uncorked your passions on the Usual
Suspects who, now that discovered the Internet, regard it far more threat
Here is that piece:
"The Internet treats censorship as though it were a malfunction and
routes around it."
When Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) co-founder John Gilmore stood
before the Second Conference on Computers, Privacy, and Freedom and
uttered those brave words, I believed them. I'm not certain I still do.
Of course, they remain true-to the extent that cyberspace exists in an
end-to-end data cloud through which any packet may travel to its address
by multiple, unfiltered routes. But increasingly, those routes are being
channeled and filtered, while their origins and ends get monitored and
placed under legal constraint.
That the Internet's original absence of predetermined information circuits
and central switches had political implications was, for some of its many
fathers, a feature with intended social consequences. I once asked one of
them if he had simply been thinking of designing a system that couldn't be
decapitated by nuclear attack. "I can't speak for the others," he said,
"but I was thinking of a system that didn't have a head." He knew, as
Mitch Kapor subsequently and succinctly put it, that "architecture is
Despite concerns over the combination of governmental zeal and
cluelessness that led to the founding of EFF in 1990, I was a strong
believer in the notion that the architecture of the Internet would always
resist censorial control.
But of course, any sensible person knew even then that the great Powers
That Were-meaning, the dominant forces of the industrial era-were not
likely to stand idly by while their ability to control information within
their areas of authority melted in the Net-borne solvent of anarchic
packets. Too much was at stake.
It is true that information is power. But, more to the point, power is
information. For most of the history of humanity, the primary method of
asserting power, aside from force of arms, has been by the control of
information. Of the many revolutions to be wrought by the Internet, the
most profound lies in its long-term capacity to degauss all of the local
reality distortion fields the mighty have spun among their subjects.
Now, all over the planet, the mighty have awakened to the threat the
Internet poses to their traditional capacities for information control. As
a consequence, even a thin summary of the institutions currently
struggling to control online information distribution-as well as the
nature of their specific immune responses-would fill a thick book. There
is suddenly a global epidemic of virtual censorship.
The Censors and Their Excuses
Generally, the entities that currently aspire to edit collective human
consciousness fall into the following broad categories.
. Local governments
. Cultural groups
. One-to-many information distributors and other legacy media
. Individual information "owners"
This would seem to be a diverse list, but my own sense-developed out of
years of battling various aspiring Net censors-is that once one has
stripped away the superficial particularities of each censorial
initiative, there remains one motivation: the retention of power and
wealth by the traditionally rich and powerful.
It is also seems that efforts to suppress material on the Internet come
from without-largely on the part of institutions and constituencies that
formed before the creation of cyberspace-and have little direct experience
in the virtual environment. With one notable exception-those who would ban
electronic junk mail-"indigenous" digital culture seems to have a
naturally libertarian disposition.
Examination of the various pretexts for proscribing information shows that
they fall into several broad categories, most of them intentionally
difficult to defend against. They are:
. Protection of children from exposure to sexual or violent material
. Prevention of the exploitation of children in the production of child
pornography by banning its distribution
. Political suppression of marginal groups-whether they be neo-Nazis in
Germany or women in Saudi Arabia
. Defense of national or commercial security-by preventing distribution of
encryption, decryption, or hacking software
. Protection of governments, corporations, and religions from
destabilizing, inflammatory, or embarrassing expressions by dissidents,
whistle-blowers, and turncoat insiders
. Limiting of the exposure of a certain culture to the expressions of
another it finds offensive, as well as access to those organizations that
defend such expressions
. Disarming of terrorists by preventing online distribution of information
about explosives or weapons manufacture and acquisition
. Reduction of the flow and consumption of illegal drugs by banning
information regarding their production or by banning positive statements
about their effects
. Prevention of communication among criminals, particularly hackers,
terrorists, and drug distributors
. Protection of governments and companies from the damaging revelation of
state or trade secrets
. Protection of privacy by regulating the exchange of personal information
. Restraint on the distribution of unsolicited solicitations, or spam
. Prevention of the noncommercial distribution of copyrighted material, or
what used to be called fair use
As I say, most of these goals have broad popular appeal, whether
universally or locally. Almost no one on the planet is going to gladly
proclaim the rights of kiddy pornographers, terrorists, neo-Nazis, drug
lords, spammers, or hackers. Within narrower contexts, suppressing the
expressions of gays, women, heretics, traitors, and troublemakers is
Indeed, despite the lip service that is paid to freedom of expression in
most parts of the world, people are generally inclined to defend only the
expressions of others like themselves, failing to recognize that, in the
words of John Stuart Mill, "Liberty resides in the rights of that person
whose views you find most odious."
There has also been, in recent years, a widespread conceptual-and often
legal-conflation of images with acts, depictions with deeds. For many, it
is not sufficient that misuse of children is illegal. They contend that
graphic expressions of such misuse must also be prohibited, including
those artificially generated images that involve no actual children at
all. By the same token, describing how to make a bomb is seen to be the
same as detonating one, detailing the weaknesses of a computer system is
as heinous as breaking into one, and so forth.
Furthermore, very few policymakers are sufficiently Internet savvy to
recognize that when they attempt to regulate what may be expressed online,
they are "thinking locally and acting globally," imposing their legal will
on people far beyond their jurisdictions. Often, their own constituents
are as unaware of the online world as they are. Thus, for example, the
wildly unconstitutional Communications Decency Act (CDA) was able to be
enacted by the U.S. Congress by a lopsided margin-to the apparent
satisfaction of an electorate that was still largely offline.
While it is unlikely that a similar bill could be passed by Congress today
without an outcry from a much more wired public, there are many parts of
the world where the online communities constitute as small a percentage of
the population as obtained in the U.S. when the CDA passed.
In technologically sophisticated areas, censorial legislators are now
using speed, stealth, and obfuscation to pass suppressive laws that would
probably encounter stiffer opposition were the public aware of their
implications. As I write these words, Congress is rushing to pass
something called the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act. This bill
would not only ban any online discussion of methamphetamine manufacture
but also would criminalize positive statements about the use of
methamphetamine and many other drugs, including marijuana. Few are aware
of this bill, fewer are aware of its provisions, and, with a name like
that, very few indeed are likely to publicly oppose it.
There have been a number of laws recently passed to serve the interests of
institutional copyright holders. These laws have, in my opinion, grave
consequences for the free flow of ideas. Very few citizens are aware of
the chilling implications of, say, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,
which essentially eliminates fair use in digital media.
Other, related laws-in the U.S. and elsewhere-turn copyright violations
into criminal acts, greatly lengthen the term of copyright, and generally
extend to institutions of various sorts the ability to censor by asserting
ownership. For example, Microsoft Corporation is currently forcing the
removal from Slashdot.com of embarrassing revelations about the security
weaknesses of its software on the grounds that some of these postings
quote internal documents that Microsoft owns.
This is but the latest in a series of cases in which an institution has
used intellectual property law to censor material it finds offensive, but
I will defer for a moment a discussion of the larger relationship between
current developments in copyright law and digital freedom of expression.
THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLUES
I would continue to be sanguine about this global outbreak of legislative
and regulatory bit-blockage, maintaining my faith in the ability of the
Net to route around it-and, more important, in the persistent cluelessness
of the oppressive-but I find that the forces of control have become more
sophisticated. No longer can we assume that we will be spared their
tyranny by their incompetence. They're getting smarter, and, moreover,
they are being aided by various forces that, while they may be motivated
more by commerce than morality, are creating systems that can serve either
agenda equally well.
Currently successful or promising methods of censorship, whether by
governments, organizations, or cultural zones, include the following.
BLOCKING OF ACCESS.
According to a recent report by Leonard R. Sussman, senior scholar at
Freedom House, a New York-based human rights organization, at least 20
countries- including Cuba, Iraq, Myanmar, and North Korea-thoroughly
restrict their citizens' access to the Internet. While this will likely
change as satellites make the Internet available to anyone with a small
dish in the attic, many of these same governments also restrict access to
digital hardware in general.
In Myanmar, merely having possession of an unregistered computer can draw
a 20-year jail sentence. Meanwhile, the government of Kazakhstan is
studying Myanmar's laws and is expected to emulate them.
Many countries are also seeking to turn telecommunication carriers and
Internet service providers (ISPs) into the content cops of the Internet.
For example, the Swiss Federal Police Bureau recently proposed setting
rules aimed at controlling racist and pornographic material on the
Internet as well as at keeping organized crime and white-collar crime
offline. Under the proposed rules, Swiss Internet service providers would
be required to block their customers from accessing any sites proscribed
by Swiss authorities.
Even placing the telecoms and ISPs in charge of controlling access may not
be terribly effective, since proscribed material may be easily transferred
to new sites-in a digital shell game that is faster than the observational
capacities of the censors. Consider, for example, the explosive
proliferation of international sites carrying the German magazine Radikal
after the German government prohibited it on any site within Germany's
borders. No German ISP could have kept up with the growth of new-and often
disguised-repositories of Radikal.
GLOBAL CYBERCRIME ACCORDS.
In the Radikal case, freedom was preserved by the inability of the
German government to effectively extend its authority beyond its borders.
This seems about to change. Using the recent outbreak of the love bug
virus as their justification, the Group of Eight industrial nations
convened a mid-May conference in Paris to create, according to French
interior minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement, "a world convention on
cybercrime and to harmonize their laws to crack down on hackers, virus
writers, software pirates, and other Internet fraudsters."
Chevenement and others attending the three-day conference called for an
international cyberregime, consisting of governmental and corporate
institutions that would prevent the creation of safe zones for "illicit
content or criminal activities" on the Internet.
"It is time," said Chevenement-in a phrase that should quicken aging
hearts everywhere-"to restrain the excesses of an unfettered freedom" in
cyberspace. G8 leaders are expected to take up the conference's
recommendations at their annual meeting in July in Okinawa, Japan.
But of course, the love bug was especially frustrating because it
originated in the Philippines, a country that has no laws covering illicit
computer behavior. Thus, the industrial powers are suddenly eager that the
authorities in technologically unsophisticated nations put into place
laws, enforcement systems, and information prohibitions that those
authorities themselves may not understand.
I have heard numerous reports recently from developing nations that the G8
nations- most notably the United States-are pushing hard for the passage
of stern cybercrime laws as well as for the installation of radical new
surveillance technologies. One of these, recently seen on sale at a
cybercrime meeting in Norway, would enable law enforcement officials to
implant undetectable Trojan horses in e-mail attachments that, once in
place, could scan for any proscribed activity and make clandestine reports
to the authorities every time the user went online.
Of course, once a government has put such granular cybercrime detection
systems into place, the systems may be easily put to the task of looking
for any material that might be deemed offensive. Worse, if the American
government prevails in its efforts, it will install a global system for
censorship so that no country could provide safe haven for any kind of
information that discomforts certain stiff old men in Washington.
It is a great irony that the Platform for Internet Content Selection
(PICS) standard, upon which most filtering is based, was originally
devised to ward off government censorship by enabling families to filter
out material they deemed inappropriate for their children. It was not
anticipated that such "families" as the People's Republic of China, large
corporations, or embattled public libraries would find it equally useful.
In any instance in which Internet traffic into and out of an area can be
constrained to one channel, that channel can be filtered to pass only
expressions considered inoffensive by those who control the channel.
Often, the determination of what is appropriate is made not by the
authority imposing the filter but by the commercial creator of the
filtering software. Most of the providers of such software don't reveal
what sites are actually being blocked by their filters, thereby
proscribing more than their customers may wish. In addition to blocking
pornography, for example, many commercial filters also block access to Web
sites that promote free expression.
Ratings systems. A particularly insidious new form of censorship is being
developed in Europe in the form of a system that would classify and rate
Web sites according to whether or not they contain potentially offensive
sexual, political, or violent material. The rating initiative is being
driven by the Bertelsmann Group with legal assistance from Yale Law
School. According to its proponents, the ratings system would ward off
official censorship by setting up a system of "voluntary" standards for
evaluating the material Web publishers may place on their sites, in much
the same way that film ratings by the Motion Picture Association of
America have prevented government censorship of American movies.
The analogy is unfortunate. While it may be possible to set standards for
American movies within the cultural standards of the United States, the
Internet is a global communications environment. What might be an
offensively explicit sexual site under American or Saudi Arabian standards
might be considered quite tame in Sweden. By the same token, Americans are
quite comfortable with depictions of violence that would be considered
excessive almost everywhere else in the world.
Furthermore, once sites have begun to rate themselves, it is a simple
matter for censors of whatever sort to make compulsory what might remain
voluntary elsewhere. The well-intentioned designers of the proposed
ratings systems would do well to study the lessons of PICS in this regard.
Finally, in accordance with the ever-useful follow-the-money rule, I think
it worth nothing what entities are driving the filtering initiative. They
are the major old media, Eurocrats, Yale, and other artifacts of the
industrial period. Whether wittingly or not, they may be using ratings as
a means of prolonging their attenuating longevities. That is, the use of
ratings systems naturally drives expression toward traditional forms that
fit easily into the categories being designed by those who are paying for
their development. CNN.com is easy to rate. But what about Slashdot.com?
ALTERATION OF THE ARCHITECTURE.
Back in the days when the technical architecture of the Internet was being
designed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), we could take
comfort in the essentially libertarian culture of that "technarchy." Their
decisions, motivated by a sense of engineering elegance as well as by a
desire to see that packets flowed as freely and swiftly across cyberspace
as possible, resulted in the end-to-end system that has so successfully
resisted censorial control to this point. Most of them were academics and
were thus free to serve their personal consciences rather than the
economic goals of their employers.
This is now changing. Increasingly, the members of the IETF, of the World
Wide Web Consortium, of the newly formed Internet Corporation of Assigned
Names and Numbers (ICANN), and of other standards-setting bodies represent
so-called stakeholders-corporate entities from the Internet
industry-rather than individual Netizens or objective engineers and
In their quest for market share, corporations are naturally motivated to
pursue standards that will direct traffic through their networks, servers,
or operating systems. In each of these areas, troubling monopolies have
formed. More than 80 percent of all of the routers in the world are made
by Cisco Systems. Nearly half of all the servers on the Internet run
Microsoft NT. A very high percentage of all packets travel through
networks owned by WorldCom/MCI or AT&T. Despite the emergence of ICANN,
Network Solutions continues to dominate top-level domain-name
Any one of those companies is now in a position to unilaterally redefine
the underlying elements of Internet architecture to its own commercial
advantage. For example, if Microsoft decided to "extend and improve" the
TCP/IP protocol so that Microsoft-"flavored" packets flowed more swiftly
through NT servers, the resulting commercial advantage would eventually
put Bill Gates in a position of control over the flow of information.
Given Microsoft's current efforts to censor expression on Slashdot.com,
this is not a power I would care to entrust to him.
Meanwhile, pioneer Internet architect David Reed recently brought to my
attention a Wall Street Journal article describing a new Internet
consortium composed of Nortel Networks, AT&T, Qwest Communications
International, Sun Microsystems, BT, and NBC that is setting standards for
broadband networks. According to the article, "Part of the group's planned
technology would enable high-bandwidth networks to identify the Web user."
The resulting opportunities for censoring the expressions of such users
This is only one of many initiatives that would move us away from the
end-to-end, packet-switched model-the model to which John Gilmore referred
in his quote at the beginning of this article-and toward a
circuit-switched network rather like the phone system the Internet is
While the goals of these initiatives may be well-intentioned-real-time
video interactions, reductions in latency to serve voice-over Internet
protocol-the eventual effect likely could be the conversion of the data
cloud into a complex of predetermined routes that would be easily
monitored and censored either by those who operated them or by the
governments within whose jurisdictions they operated.
The problem is that all of these potential threats are of a highly
technical nature and are being discussed in forums and formats that may be
inaccessible to those most concerned with protecting their future
liberties. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on those of us who want to pass
on to our descendants a free cyberspace that we maintain an awareness of
the decisions being made by these new corporate Internet architects.
SURVEILLANCE AND FEAR.
It is often unnecessary to restrict access to the Net or to filter it in
order to suppress both free expression and contact with it. There are
innumerable current examples of efforts-official and private-to monitor
Internet traffic. These include everything from the National Security
Administration's Echelon project to current efforts by Britain's MI5 and
Home Office to monitor all e-mail in the United Kingdom, to Metallica's
compiling a list of all Napster users who have digitized copies of its
songs. While the Internet greatly enables private communications, the fact
that all of cyberspace is subject to automatic and rapid search makes it
one of the most easily surveilled environments humans have ever inhabited.
It might be argued that surveillance and censorship are separate matters,
but they are not. As Louis Brandeis pointed out in his historic dissent in
U.S. v. Olmstead, the case that enabled wiretapping in the United States,
the ability to communicate privately and without fear is essential to
ensure freedom of expression. The mere possibility that one's words are
being secretly monitored by censorial authorities produces a climate of
The area in which this form of censorship is used most often and
effectively is in the workplace. Slightly over half of American companies
now routinely monitor their employees' e-mail, Web surfing, or both. One
might argue that observing the sites they visit is not censorship, but I
would strongly disagree. Freedom depends not only on the ability to speak
but also on the ability to be heard. When employees of an organization-or
citizens of a country-believe that accessing certain material may endanger
either their livelihoods or their lives, the creators of that material are
effectively censored. Indeed, it often seems the case that the best way to
silence expression is to deafen the potential audience.
Of course, if censorship is related to the visibility of communications,
to browsing behavior, or to the files one stores on one's own computer,
then official policies regarding cryptography also play a key role in
censorship. The current global situation regarding official policies
toward encryption is now extremely confusing.
In December 1998, the Clinton Administration managed to bully the 33
member nations of the Wassenaar Arrangement into signing an agreement that
bound them all to uphold the same strict (and unenforceable) embargo on
the export of strong encryption technology that had dominated U.S.
encryption policy since the height of the Cold War. This was particularly
surprising, since several of the Wassenaar countries, notably Germany, had
vowed publicly that they would not place any restrictions on encryption.
Shortly following this agreement, America's own ban on encryption export
was overruled in federal court and then formally rescinded by the Clinton
Administration this past spring after many years of battle between civil
libertarians and both the National Security Administration and the FBI. On
the other hand, the Wassenaar Agreement remains apparently in effect,
leaving open the question of what principles the U.S. government will
uphold in this area, as well as of what it expects of the other member
Meanwhile, the governments of France and numerous other nations maintain
an outright ban on the use or possession of strong encryption. Whether
this applies to proprietary media players is not known.
Weirder yet, the United Kingdom has proposed the Regulation of
Investigatory Powers statute, which would compel citizens to decrypt any
file that a law enforcement official believes to contain data needed for
an investigation. Those who failed to do so and could not prove that they
had lost, forgotten, or destroyed the presumed key could face two years in
Even while the authorities in some areas are attempting to prevent the
hiding of offensive materials through the use of encryption, another form
of encryption-related censorship has arisen in the United States: the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA not only encourages
entertainment companies to use strong encryption in the protection of
their copyrighted products but also criminalizes efforts to break these
codes as well as the possession of any tools designed for that purpose.
Last year a young Norwegian programmer created a program, DeCSS, that
broke the copy protection code used on digital video disks (DVDs). His
purpose was not to make possible the wholesale piracy of DVD-stored films
but rather to address the fact that the members of the DVD Copy Control
Association-an entertainment industry cooperative loosely affiliated with
the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)-had failed to provide
drivers that would make it possible to play DVDs on Linux systems. Only by
breaking the protection code could such a driver be written.
In the fashion of the open-source community, DeCSS was widely distributed
on the Internet. Shortly following this, every site where it could be
found in the United States was ferreted out by the MPAA and charged with
criminal violation of the DMCA. That proscribing this code might be an
unconstitutional violation of expression apparently never occurred to
Congress or the MPAA. But there are now several court battles under way
to demonstrate legally that DeCSS is a form of speech and that efforts to
prohibit it as a criminal instrument should be struck down.
Despite the disparate legal horsepower of the contesting parties-Congress,
the MPAA, and the record industry against the EFF, 2600 magazine, and a
disparate group of Linux weenies-it may be that being right still counts
for something. As this is being written, the EFF has succeeded in
overcoming an MPAA motion to censor publicity about the New York trial
itself. Showing astonishingly low regard for free expression, the MPAA had
attempted to bar the press from reporting on the proceedings and to
require the participants to refrain from public discussion of them.
THE ULTIMATE CENSORSHIP
The DeCSS case is almost certainly a harbinger of what I would consider to
be the defining battle of censorship in cyberspace. In my opinion, this
will not be fought over pornography, neo-Nazism, bomb design, blasphemy,
or political dissent. Instead, the Armageddon of digital control, the real
death match between the Party of the Past and Party of the Future, will be
fought over copyright.
The Party of the Past seeks to turn all existing human creation into mere
property. Not only does this debase human creativity; it is also
economically inefficient, it diminishes the fertility of the creative
ecosystem, and, finally, it can be done only by fundamentally curtailing
freedom of expression. But you cannot own free speech.
During the time since Gutenberg made possible the industrialized
distribution of information, a large number of powerful institutions have
arisen worldwide to serve that purpose. And they have served it well. From
1500 to 1969, they provided almost the only media by which individuals
could transmit their beliefs, expressions, and creative works to the
masses, in whose minds they desired to plant the seeds of new thought.
Indeed, most creators were so desirous of proliferating their works that
they were willing to convey the ownership of those works to the
distributors. Originally, what was being conveyed was not considered
property but rather the exclusive right to undertake commercial
distribution of an expression for a limited period of time.
Interestingly, during the brief period since the Internet began empowering
individuals with the ability to spread their works over a broad area of
mind without using the traditional intermediaries, there has been a
dramatic increase in the terms of copyright licenses worldwide, and the
expression intellectual property has become popular.
Practically every piece of commercially valuable art, literature, music,
and scientific discovery that has been created during the past century or
so is now owned by those traditional distribution institutions-publishers,
record companies, entertainment conglomerates, broadcasters, film studios,
universities, scientific journals, and a host of other entities whose
primary creative talents reside in their accounting and legal departments.
All of those institutions properly regard the Internet as their eventual
undoing. There is almost no service of value that any of them provide that
cannot be performed over the Internet more efficiently, more rapidly, and
with far greater profit and control extended to the actually creative.
Knowing this, they are clutching ever more tightly their only remaining
assets: the expressions of millions who no longer own their own creations.
As I write this, a debate is raging over Napster.com, a pioneering site
that indexes the music files on millions of personal hard disks so
subscribers can exchange music directly. Of course, much of this music is
copyrighted, and the music industry (and a few actual musicians) are
extremely distressed at the potential loss. The industry is working on
shutting Napster down despite the fact that there is no copyrighted
material being stored on its site, and the industry will probably prevail
by sheer legal force.
The legal community has so far failed to address what is most fundamental
here, namely, that there has arisen a profound disparity between accepted
social practice-the behavior of millions of people who made Napster one of
the fastest-growing phenomena in the history of the Internet-and a body of
law that would declare all of them criminals.
Only the most brutal autarchies are capable of enforcing laws that almost
none of their constituents instinctively support, and, in the long run, it
will be no different here. The ethical standards emerging in cyberspace
support the widespread, noncommercial sharing of copyrighted expression,
and both the law and the economic models that support creative work will
eventually adapt to that reality. Furthermore, the traditional
distribution institutions will almost certainly either die or be
transformed into entities that actually promote the spread of expression
rather than constrain it.
Nevertheless, they could cause great harm on their way down. They may be
capable of imposing the ultimate censorship, denying posterity most of the
important works of the past 150 years. In their increasingly draconian
efforts to prevent the wildfire digital reproduction of their property,
they will likely ensure that the works they now own are not converted into
open digital form and that those works that have been digitized are
removed from cyberspace. Meanwhile, the traditional physical media in
which those works are currently embedded will deteriorate, become lost, or
run out of still-operating devices capable of extracting their contents.
By these means, the media giants might well go to their graves with all
that they still own forever embedded in the corpses and lost to future
generations. This process has already begun. Every day thousands of people
decide not to risk digitizing and making works generally available because
of the fear they may draw the attention of the copyright police. Given the
immense amount of material in question, the conversion process will
require the collective endeavors of everyone who is interested in
preserving particular works. If the public is legally dissuaded from
lending its efforts to the task, only those works already in the public
domain will be digitized.
But works from the more recent past will be lost. Books and journals will
forever go out of print and be forgotten. Music will remain imprisoned on
LPs that no one can play. Filmstrips will rot into brittle shards of
celluloid. In a hundred years, no one will know that much of the work we
now treasure ever existed.
Of all the censorship efforts undertaken by the various institutions
mentioned earlier, it is this last example-censorship to protect the
property rights of the moribund-that I fear the most. It must not be
allowed to take place.
Ultimately, I'm optimistic. I have believed, since I first came upon the
Internet, that one day it would enable any people, anywhere, to express
whatever they wished-distributing their expressions to all who were
interested and ensuring their posterity-without fear of punishment or
censure. I have believed that the Internet promises humanity more freedom
of expression than we have ever experienced and that the fruits of that
freedom will transform our species into one great and God-like Mind. I
have realistic hope for a future in which economic productivity is vastly
amplified by knowledge, in which inequities in distribution are leveled,
and in which the meek might outthink the mighty.
I still believe in that future despite all of the efforts to forestall it
that I've touched on here. I believe in it because I believe that the ripe
force of unconstrained creativity is already working on methods to
preserve itself. Even though Napster will probably be crushed, there are
already new methods for storing and sharing proscribed materials, such as
Gnutella and Freenet, that have no centralized servers or legally
vulnerable entities to shut down. Moreover, there are already data havens
springing up where rogue governments are defying the G8 and allowing
servers within their boundaries to contain any information the users wish
to place on it.
Mostly, I believe in that future because I fully expect most of the human
species to have Internet access within the next decade. Once that has
happened, the Party of the Past will lose its currently unwired
constituencies, and there will be few left who believe the excuses it
still uses to mute the human spirit.
Indeed, I believe that eventually the truth really will set us free.
John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident
Co-Founder & Vice Chairman, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Berkman Fellow, Harvard Law School
Home(stead) Page: http://www.eff.org/~barlow
Call me anywhere: 800/654-4322
Fax me anywhere: 603/215-1529
Current FistFone: 917/349-7083
Barlow in Meatspace Now: San Francisco 415/431-4664
Coming soon to: Zagreb, Croatia 7/13-15 Dubrovnik,Croatia 7/15-17 ->
Amsterdam 7/17-20 -> New York City 7/20-22 -> Newport, RI 7/22-23 ->
New York City 7/23-26 -> LA 7/26-30 -> San Francisco 7/30-31 -> Salt
Lake City 8/1-2 -> Pinedale, Wyoming 8/2-11 -> Telluride, Colorado
8/11-14 -> San Francisco...
How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?
-- Satchel Paige
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