Internet 2012: The Web vs The World

2012 has been a big year for the Internet and the legislation which governs it. In January, the Internet took a stand against SOPA and PIPA by striking, shutting down major websites including Reddit and Wikipedia in protest.

The issues have largely centred around the US where SOPA and PIPA were born, especially with this year’s elections taking place. However, Internet freedom has remained a popular political topic around the EU where similar legislation has been up for debate and protested. It’s now a hot topic again, with the ITU treaty proposal causing more controversy over the governance of the internet just as the year is winding down.

SOPA, PIPA and the Blackout

The most famous piece of legislation to come out this year is SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. This bill was highly controversial and, to paraphrase, allowed for a number of measures to protect US-produced content from being pirated outside the country by severing beneficial links to companies inside the US.

For example, a content creator in the US could try to have the legislation used to cut of search results from Google or finance from PayPal for that international pirate.

SOPA received a massive backlash. Most notably, sites including Reddit and Wikipedia closed their borders for a day in order to signal that they weren’t happy about the legislation. Petitions were signed en masse. It was abundantly clear that people were not happy about SOPA and PIPA.

A significant factor in the opposition was not really what SOPA was about, but rather how it handled cases. Politicians and writers of the bill were branded as a out-of-date with technology and subject to exploitation by the content industry. Controversy also lay as SOPA began to be interpreted as merely an effort by the content industry to ward off adoption of new mediums.

“The schism between content creators and platforms like Kickstarter, Tumblr and YouTube is generational,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It’s people who grew up on the Web versus people who still don’t use it. In Washington, they simply don’t see the way that the Web has completely reconfigured society across classes, education and race. The Internet isn’t real to them yet.” — Yancey Strickler, co-founder of Kickstarter, via the New York Times.

Internet 2012

The world of politics this year has also been defined by November’s elections in the US. In October, Alexis Ohanian, Erik Martin and a number of other Reddit staffers took a bus around the US in order to encourage campaigning for open Internet during the Presidential elections.

The Internet 2012 bus.

The impact of the Internet 2012 effort might not have been mindblowing outside of Reddit itself, but it’s one example of how new media activists have rallied in an effort to protect the future of governing the Internet.

Outside the US

SOPA and PIPA were proposed pieces of legislation in the US, and while their effects would’ve been evident around the world, countries outside of the US have had their own issues to deal with.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is a multinational treaty to establish the legal framework in regards to generic medicines, counterfeited goods and copyright infringement on the Internet. In the EU, ACTA was met with similar protest and, on July 4th this year, the European Parliament voted against the enacting the treaty.

ACTA protests in Europe (image by Tomasz G. Sienicki).

2012: The Year of The Internet?

Internet Freedom has certainly been a hot topic this year and rightfully so. There was significant controversy over proposed legislation in the US and internationally and, even with most of those shelved, the topic of Internet freedom and the process in which copyright infringement is handled remains a cause for concern.

As we reach 2013, it’s going to be interesting to see how the next year of government around the world deals with the Internet, especially as President Obama takes a second term in office.