With ex Google employees convicted under Italian law, school children chastised for sharing music and a “where there’s a blame there’s a claim” mentality, can the internet carry on with the tag of free speech for everyone or have we all woken up to the free lunch that never was?
The utopian dream
Like most academic inventions the internet and World Wide Web were conceived as a way of sharing ideas and information. From the very start it was constructed in a way that made it very difficult to ‘take back’ a document once it had been published.
For many years this was seen as a real strength as it meant ideas could no longer be suppressed. But there are two sides to every coin and it was not just the academics that saw its potential, organised crime took the potential and evolved it beyond recognition.
A country without borders
One of the biggest things the internet has been responsible for is the idea that the web has no borders, content belongs to no country. This is due in part to where information on the internet is stored and that as long as you have a connection you can view content stored anywhere in the world.
So in the case of uploading illegal material who do you sue?
Let’s take the case of a adult based in the UK, who’s ISP is American and downloading bootleg music from Russia. Who’s at fault? Can the user not argue that the American ISP is at fault for letting him do it, or even that in Russia it’s not a criminal act he is committing.
And up until a little while ago you would have not been prosecuted here in the UK for a criminal act you did in another country, this has and will continue to change.
Italy takes a stand
For the first time Italy has attempted to tackle other parts of this puzzle by take legal measures against ex Google employees responsible for the file sharing site YouTube.
In this recent case a video which contravened Italian law was uploaded to YouTube and although Google did remove the content, under the ruling the employees were held accountable for the content on their servers.
Google have made the case that it would be impossible for them to pre-screen uploads, but along with the Pirate Bay case does open a huge can of worms.
Breaking the law
Where does this ruling take us if its stance is adopted by other countries?
Would it be possible for UK individuals to be convicted in faraway lands for criticising those who hold power? Or could you get sued by putting information on Wikipedia that was later found to be wrong.
Although these things are unlikely they are not impossible, but it does allows us the chance to reflect on how we use the web. Perhaps the next time we are on Facebook or a forum we should take that second to reflect before hitting the post button.
Solutions are already available, but for those countries who have adopted this approach, they are often criticised for infringing on their citizens freedoms and privacy. But in a world where countries take action against those it seems fit that do not reside or have connections to that countries, ultimately are there many other options.
Freedom is dead, long live Paid for content
If other western countries were to take the stance of China and Italy, we could see a gradually walling up of the internet. Maybe you would only have access to content created in the country you were physically in.
Maybe we would end up paying for all vetted content.
Maybe you will need a licence or ID card to access content.
Perhaps George Orwell was never so right!