It is not a Mexican counterpart of SOPA, as we’ve covered here previously, but the piece of legislation known worldwide as the “Döring bill” or Ley Döring remains as much a hot topic throughout Latin America as SOPA was in the U.S. It is an anti-piracy bill, though rather than blocking access to websites at the ISP level, it would have ISPs shut off Web access from users found to be repeatedly trafficking in illicit, copyrighted material.
The largely unpopular bill re-entered the news this past Friday in Mexico City, where a public discussion on the bill and on anti-piracy legislation worldwide – the very type of discussion this issue has demanded – ended with the principal invited guest, Sen. Federico Döring Casar, not showing up.
As it happened, according to El Economista, the event ended up being something of a rally against anti-piracy legislation of all forms. The president of the Mexican Internet Association, for example, stated the Döring bill put undue obligations on the digital publishing industry to police its own readers, arguing that (translating from Spanish) “we should not criminalize the publishers to protect the authors.”
Sen. Döring had spoken out against SOPA prior to his introduction of the bill (which is still under consideration), so many have characterized the senator has somewhat hypocritical. As he explains it, anti-piracy legislation is necessary, but not in a form that endangers a publisher’s right to free expression. From his vantage point, his bill would not shut off the faucet when illicit material is discovered to spew out of it. Rather, it would tap users on the shoulder and remind them not to drink from that faucet – and then take them away from the sink once they’ve shown that they’re not listening.
As Mónica Fonseca from Colombia’s NTN24 asked me this morning for an interview slated to appear on her “C.S.T.” program this week, how do we get to a perfect balance between protecting copyright and enabling the freedom of individuals to post what they want, where they wish?
I had to answer her, when and if we do reach a balancing point, it won’t look like the right for individuals to post whatever they want. For decades, copyright law protected artists from having their works presented to a broad audience by some unaffiliated individual looking to make a buck. While in retrospect, it seems silly to imagine someone pitching a tent in his backyard, putting on a couple of LPs, and charging a thousand people 10 bucks admission to hear them, this was a legitimate fear once the fidelity of recorded works reached such a high level, and not everyone had access to such quality.
The Internet has turned everything upside down. It effectively gives every individual the power of a broadcaster. I took a gamble that Mónica would agree with me that I would not have the right to rebroadcast an episode of Project Runway Latin America (the other show she’s known for) with someone else’s advertising attached. The Web might give me the means, but means and rights are two different things. (If you search YouTube for videos of PRLA, you’ll find the producer has issued takedown notices on several.)
The balance she’s hoping for, I argued, can only be achieved if the two important factors in this argument (let’s leave out the pirates altogether) agreed to meet each other halfway. First, content creators and the lawmakers who act in their interests must resolve to stop being so skeptical about the motives of everyday individuals. They just want the means to use the media they download fairly, and technology is often so convoluted that they must resort to unusual means to accomplish it – and sometimes, yes, that does mean copying discs.
But individuals must learn not to be so hypocritical themselves. We talk a lot about how a third-party monitoring system, like the one the Döring law proposes, could conceivably be used to infringe upon individual liberties, and would be an invasion of individuals’ rights to anonymity. We say this while we’re updating our status on Facebook, we’re broadcasting our GPS location to “the community,” we’re telling the world when we’ve left home and when we’ve come home from work, and we’re sharing every last thought in 140 characters or less. Obviously there are some third parties we’re willing to trust without a second thought; we’re just skeptical of those that actively advertise themselves as monitors of Web behavior. We’re more skeptical of systems that are at least being honest than of the thousands or more that are inherently dishonest.
Maybe most importantly of all, though, is that we need to show up and have this discussion. Our absence does far more damage than our participation ever could.