200903281552.jpgThroughout the Global North there are discussions on the table for introducing what are called ‘three-strikes’ rules that are designed to cut or, or hinder, people’s access to the Internet should they be caught infringing on copyright. In the EU, the big content cartel is trying to get ISPs to inspect consumer data flows and, when copywritten content is identified, ‘punish’ the individual in some fashion. Fortunately, it is looking that at least the EU Parliament is against imposing such rules on the basis that disconnecting individuals from the Internet would infringe on EU citizens’ basic rights. In an era where we are increasingly digitizing our records and basic communications infrastructure, it’s delightful to see a body in a major world power recognize the incredibly detrimental and over-reactionary behavior that the copyright cartel is calling for. Copyright infringement does not trump basic civil liberties.

Now, I expect that many readers would say something along this line: I don’t live in the EU, and the EU Parliament has incredibly limited powers. Who cares, this: (a) doesn’t affect me; (b) is unlikely to have a real impact on EU policy.

To group (a), I would note that AT&T, Comcast, and Cox are now sending out notices to individuals who are alleged by content cartel agents of infringing on copyright. America: this problem is now officially on your shores, and while neither AT&T or Comcast are admitting to having cut people off from the telco networks because of a three-strikes rule, it has been noted that this is likely only because three notices haven’t been sent to any one household. Yet. Worse, unless someone in the Senate or Congress takes issue with this (and that’s unlikely, given how much money the copyright cartel pumps into senate and congressional races) it’s unlikely that a response similar to that of the EU Parliament will be forthcoming.

To group (b), I would want to maintain there there is real symbolic value in the parliament denouncing a three-strikes rule, though I would tend to agree that if this issue is placed on the third pillar that the parliament (as I understand it) will be relatively impotent. Still, their words carry some value.

Three-strikes rules are a danger to the development and regeneration of culture, as it establishes the ‘net as a space of chilling speech that discourages political, cultural and communicative exchanges. Can I combine some music and political slogans to make a political comments? What are the implications of sharing a piece of my culture (e.g. a few seconds from the Simpson’s) or using it in a satirical fashion? What do I do when I have to assume that telecommunications companies are now in the business of surveying all of my data flows to service the copyright cartel? What are the implications of such gross invasions of our basic human and constitutional rights to privacy and autonomy?

Three-strikes laws are the tip of a particularly nasty iceberg that we’ve been cruising towards for the past few years, and like the one that ‘met’ the Titanic, we won’t realize the magnitude of the catastrophe unless we get serious about copyright and IP law before it’s too late.