Europe must take back the Web

In Damn the Constitution: Europe must take back the Web, Bill Thompson writes that he’s “had enough of US hegemony. It’s time for change – and a closed European network.” He thinks that the Net can’t remain unregulated, and that “if we don’t act we will still get a regulated network, because the commercial interests which dominate the US know that it is a prerequisite for a digital economy.”

I agree with this. What will happen is that organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) will both support TCPA initiatives and pay huge amounts of money to lobbyists to try to make new laws giving them full control over digital “content”.

Thompson writes that the US government can’t be trusted in this, and that Europe needs to play an active role in the evolution of the Net into a regulated one. He wants “a regulated network; an Internet where each country can set its own rules for how its citizens, companies, courts and government work with and manage those parts of the network that fall within its jurisdiction; [...] an Internet that is subject to political control instead of being an uncontrolled experiment in radical capitalism.”

Let the industry freely define the rules, and you get very strict DRM systems, where you can’t copy-and-paste text as you want, where you can’t lend the “content” to your friends, etc. Clearly, the network must allow what is legal in the country where you live. In Sweden, for example, it’s legal to make copies of CDs for your friends. According to a now offline article in DN, ripping and giving copies to friends is “private use” and completely legal – as long as you don’t make too many copies (there’s no clearly stated limit, but legal practice says the maximum is “about 20”).

Thompson sees Europe and the European Union as the best place to start this dethroning of the US from controlling the Internet. He’s very critical of the US and its, as he writes, “treating its Constitution as the only true source of wisdom”.

An important factor in Europe’s favour is that we retain a belief that governments are a good thing, that political control is both necessary and desirable, and that laws serve the people. These beliefs are now lacking in the United States, rendering it incapable of acting to create any sort of civic space online or allowing its government to intervene effectively to regulate the Net.

He envisions the European part of the Internet as a trusted space: “Data flows into and out of Europe would be properly regulated and controlled to ensure that neither spam nor viruses came in, and that no personal data went out without explicit consent.” I’m not sure this is a good idea, but then again, I don’t see any alternatives if the network should be regulated. It all ends up with a completely new architecture, from the computers to the network. If the digital content is to be controlled (balancing the rights of the public with those of the content producers), mustn’t it be controlled everywhere?

The above was posted to my personal weblog on August 22, 2002. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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