Saturday, 10 October 2009

Reading Your Mail

The case involving copyright infringement and iiNet will be worth following to see what the outcome will be. We are now in a digital age and digital economy, any sense of ownership of information is quickly fading with the ease of use of replicating technology. The same convenience that allows these companies and individuals to make a greater profit also relinquishes control of the source material.

What to do to stop copyright infringement in the digital age is no easy solution. Copy protection (especially in the case of games) only draws ire from the consumer, suing is bad publicity and not a way to coerce behaviour. As I've discussed before, while they are by no means perfect, products such as Steam or Netflix show that there are ways to run a viable business in this digital age.

In this case, there seems to be an implicit consequence of such behaviour. Now our internet traffic is being screened for any illegal material. By creating a download culture, we have lost our privacy. So while the net can be used for personal and intimate communication, we have given an excuse for corporations and government to look at the information coming in.

This should be very concerning. Consider the same situation only with physical means of distribution, that the post office should check what the contents of someone's mail every time they suspected it could be copyrighted or illegal material. I'm guessing that very few would be okay with such a practice in place.

This tactic is not really going to work without bringing in draconian measures, by making the potential consequences overtake the convenience of piracy. It's worth noting that even given such consequences for drug posession / use that a large portion of the population still chooses to use illicit substances. Does that mean that everyone should be forced to have police search their house in order to eradicate the problem?

In practice the two examples are unfeasable. It would take so much more resource power than it is worth. The digital age however removes that barrier - what can be checked can be done so without anything more than software. Like the information itself being easy to copy, so can anything you do on the internet.

Questions of practicality aside, what ethical considerations do we have when considering the question of allowing individuals to be free on the internet? In the same sense that I would feel uneasy about having my mail read or police searching my house, I feel uneasy about governments and corporations scanning the information flowing to my computer.

The response which seems to follow is that if you had nothing to hide then it wouldn't be a problem. But that misses what the objection is to. I don't want others going through my things regardless of whether there is something to hide. The fact that I don't have drugs in my house does not mean that it's okay for police to search my house for drugs.

The technology has the potential for Orwellian surveillance, so legislation needs to be put in place not to monitor but to protect the infrastructure from being used in such a way. As for illegal downloads, surely it's coming to the point where the focus should be on being innovative with the technology as opposed to trying to protect an archaic means of distribution.

It will take a new generation of businessmen to maximise the potential of the technology, it might mean a shift in what products make money and what it means to be a consumer, but these things will sort themselves out with time. The potential revenue loss gives them no more rights to check the internet than book companies have to monitor any interactions to make sure people aren't lending copyrighted books to others.

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