Friday, February 02, 2007

Internet Jurisdiction and Creating a Copyright-Free Nation...

Internet activists, including myself, have been arguing for a while now that copyright laws need to be updated to meet the challenges of digital technology. Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, which encrypts music and video files to protect the interests of copyright holders and the music and movie industries, has simultaneously stripped away the traditional rights of consumers over products that they buy. This is the reason why if you buy a song on iTunes, you'll never be able to play it on anything but an iPod even though you legally purchased it.

Now comes an announcement that a group called the Free Nation Foundation has actually formed in order to create a new copyright-free nation.

This is activist zealotry taken to the extreme, and will actually do more to hurt its cause than to help it. There are serious arguments that support the notion that copyright laws need to be updated - including the protection of EXISTING consumer rights and the need to legally clarify conceptions of personal property and the meaning of ownership in the Digital Age. However, rather than pursue rational discourse, the Free Nation Foundation and its parent organization, the Pirate Bay, are basically throwing a tantrum and have decided to simply withdraw from the rest of the world and start their own country where they can pass whichever laws they want.

There are a whole slew of problems with this plan, but I'll focus on one for now - internet jurisdiction. Free Nation Foundation activists believe they have discovered a loophole in global copyright laws - the tiny island of Sealand (really, little more than an offshore platform) is technically outside the jurisdiction of any one sovereign state. Therefore, Sealand, they argue, should be able to create its own laws and not be subject to the shackles of DRM and other aggressive copyright measures (not to mention be exempt from the legal penalties for violating them). People across the internet could upload, share, and download files hosted on Sealand servers and not be violating any copyright laws.

But internet jurisdiction is far more complicated. Jurisdiction can be, and has been, asserted by local, state, and national governments, in addition to international forums as a result of treaties and groups such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) - an offshoot of the United Nations. Contrary to what they think, Sealand or whichever other island these nation-builders ultimately select will not be outside the jurisdiction of the rest of planet Earth, particularly if most of its file sharers and content originate in other real-world jurisdictions.

I am all in favor of revising copyright laws to protect consumers from Draconian policies. But just because you get frustrated with the slowness of policy change does not justify running away and starting your own new country. Rather than advocating for what's right, these people are de-legitimizing the issue by making proponents of copyright reform seem like nutcases.

Besides, if we were really going to start a new nation "based on the ideals of freedom, equality and sustainable growth - a nation where important ideals and not wealth accumulation rule the day" - would copyright law, of all things, really be the central issue?


At 3:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suggest you actually read through the wiki and forum offered at the FNF website. Many of your comments and concerns are either based on falsities or on a general misunderstand of the purpose of the FNF.

Not only is the FNF not officially affiliated with The Pirate Bay (though TPB wishes to remain active in FNF's growth), but Sealand is no longer a potential target for the foundation. In addition, if you read through the FNF forums you'll see that copyright and intellectual property issues are actually not nearly as prominent as you make them out to be. The FNF doesn't just want a server farm to host torrents as TPB did. They are actually intent on creating a new nation where people will live and a free society is created. Copyright/intellectual property is just one issue among many that are being brought up among the early members of the foundation.

I hope you see that this isn't just a "tantrum" and is instead an attempt at creating a better future.

At 4:11 AM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

So, Anonymous, basically you have two problems with my post. First, you point out that the FNF is not officially affiliated with TPB, however I'll respond by pointing out that 1) TPB "wishes to remain active in FNF's growth", as you yourself describe, and 2) the FNF website itself traces its history back to being a "project started as an effort by torrent tracker The Pirate Bay to purchase the man-made island of Sealand", and that the FNF "branched" from this community. I hardly think I was misleading in my description.

Second, you suggest "that copyright and intellectual property issues are actually not nearly as prominent as [I] make them out to be". Perhaps. However, based on the headlines of articles on Digg, Boing Boing, and others (ex. - "Free Nation Foundation trying to found copyright-free nation"), I think that my analysis is not too far off.

And P.S. - the actual point of my post was that you don't create a better future by withdrawing from the world.

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob domanski.

No only are you blogging incorrect information, you're also blogging other peoples incorrect information.

And I don't know which is worse.

At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob thanks for bringing us to the attention of many. The first person was correct in what they said. Almost all the headlines had it wrong. Bad publicity is better then no publicity I guess.

All of us who joined and became the FNF have no affiliation with TPB. They aparked a flame that was too big for them to hold. Most of us could care less about servers. It was a chance to start a seed of a good idea. That idea is freedom Rob, pure and simple. It is a sad day when the idea of freedom is a radical concept. Whether you would like to listen to our ideas, that is up to you. However, the information you were given was just plain wrong.
TPB is a completely separate entity and have no members in our organization and no communication with the FNF. We have no particular stance on copyrights and the such at this time.

member FNF

At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A breakaway organisation the Nanos Debate Threaded Research Alliance recently split off from FNF due to a lack of good management and censorship issues. We aim to maintain copyright, and look towards a more realistic approach to forming a new community to help the poor of the world have a better place to live in.

At 2:08 PM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

In response to the last few comments...

I have acknowledged that FNF is not affiliated with TPB in an official way, however it is undeniable that the group has its roots there, as the FNF website itself proudly declares. The headlines I had read all emphasized, perhaps wrongly, that copyright was the driving force behind the group. Again, I do not believe I was misleading.

But more to the point. Democritus - You say that the FNF is "a chance to start a seed of a good idea. That idea is freedom Rob, pure and simple. It is a sad day when the idea of freedom is a radical concept". What we have here is a classic political debate on whether change is best brought about by working within the system, or working outside of it. The FNF is seeking to create their ideal society by finding an island on which they could govern as they please. Sure that island nation may ultimately come to embody freedom. However, if you believe that freedom is a value all people deserve to experience, then it unquestionably makes more sense to work within the system to bring about change, and enhance freedom for an exponentially larger number of individuals. Running away to form a utopia is not honorable. Working to improve the conditions of people in our existing world is. My response is that it is a sad day when the idea of enhancing freedom and improving conditions within society is a radical concept.

I do appreciate the feedback and dialogue :-)

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Leetin McBeatin said...

Don't you think that by creating this "Utopia" will have a bigger impact on society that the actual ideals. Meaning the world will be looking in and imagining what and how. Maybe this ideal will spark interest in the world. How can we get on board is the island big enough for me? Others might be advocates to spread the thought of "Utopia".

Also one way Utopia can only exist if all like minded people are part of this society. This way all will agree.

No one has the right to destroy dreams.


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