Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Remember, Remember...

January 18th.

Remember this day. Have it circled on your calendar for next year.

Keep it every year as a holiday, not one where you get presents or time off, but instead one where you reflect.

Remember this day, for this was the day of a revolution, our first bid for the freedom of the free web against one of its greatest opponents, the United States government.

Honestly, there’s no need to be too informative about it. You know precisely what I’m talking about. Today, January 18, 2012, a variety of major US websites, among them Google, Craigslist, and Wikipedia acted in protest against the Support Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). I don’t have to spend too much time describing what these bills too. You’ve read about them on bigger sites like Kotaku and The Escapist, and if you’ve visited Google or Wikipedia today, you’ve probably signed their petitions, used their search engine to look up your local congressman and seriously consider sending them a letter.

You’ve heard all about SOPA, how people in jest call it the “Sons of the Patriots” act, in reference to the similar deed Solid Snake fought against in Metal Gear Solid 2. You have heard it is supported by gaming and technology companies you admire like Sony, Nintendo, and even the Entertainment Software Association. You’ve heard that its attempts to install DNS blocking for domains has the potential to damage the navigation of the web. You’ve heard that recently it has been revised to be slightly less endangering and President Obama intends to veto the act, which has caused several outraged pundits to calm down slightly, but only slightly, as people are still concerned by the loss of internet freedoms apparent in the Protect IP act. You’ve heard THAT law gives power to corporations to deem anything a violation of copyright and take anyone from the most powerful competing organization to the most humble writer of fan-fiction to court for copyright violations.

We all know it’s important. We all know it’s something we should all be fighting against, and yet the only thing I can be said about it in this article I am writing is just how personal a law like this can be to one person. It doesn’t sound like it’s a lot, but even if it’s the least I can do in support, it’s still worth doing.

So here goes:

My family officially got internet access in 1996. At the time I was about 15 years old. More than the World Wide Web, my first explorations on the internet were on AOL keywords. I spent literally hours on the official Kids WB AOL portal, where I and a group of online friends wrote our first attempts at fan-fiction starring Earthworm Jim. The cartoon based on the video game had already been cancelled by the network, but on the internet it was still alive and kicking thanks to the efforts of our writing. So much so that the Kids WB keyword kept that message board open for about a year after the show was cancelled before finally taking it down. In the meantime I found other AOL and World Wide Web message boards dedicated to all the cartoons I enjoy, wrote several more fan-fictions and discovered…..Hey! I really enjoy writing! In fact I enjoy it so much I hope to write professionally someday!

Yeah it’s a hokey story about how I ultimately decided about what I want to do with my life, but the reason I bring it up is because I see SOPA and PIPA in terms of how it would limit me if I were still that age. I imagine myself at the age of 15, writing on a message board, when suddenly I’m summoned to court by…Interplay or Universal, suing me because an Earthworm Jim fan-fiction I wrote was a violation of copyright. In my day this happened, every now and then a fan-fiction writer would get a cease and desist letter from a company, telling them to take down some copyright material or face a lawsuit, and the individual would obligingly take the material off.

But SOPA permits companies to do SO much more…On that very first infringement, if they consider it enough of a copyright violation, they’d have me in court. No warning letter, no opportunity to quit, just…criminalization of myself over a work I wrote, not as a profiteer but just as a fan of the series.

If that were to happen to 15 year old Mike Cervantes, do you think he would have been interested in continuing a career in writing? What about the 15 year olds who are writing fan-fiction and drawing fan-art today? How will they feel once this act passes? A whole generation of creative people who, like me, were inspired by the fan-communities on the web would be forever lost.

Fast forward to just about a year ago and I’ve started attending UTEP. It’s just been a month since I’ve launched Augmented Reality, and I was taking a course in online journalism. It was a memorable course, not just because I was taking it while situating myself in the role of a blog manager, but also because I had a really great instructor.

My professor was a journalism veteran. He trekked across the world with his camera as a teenager and returned to the United States to become the managing editor of several English and Spanish language newspapers.

Naturally, you’d think that such a veteran of the printed page would put a lot of emphasis on the journalism techniques of old, but to my surprise, my professor spent just about every day of that class telling us how important the new digital media was. “If you’re a print media major, change your major,” he would often say “print is dead.” He would tote the modern technologies as giving the common man the ability to report news the instant it happened, citing an incident where an individual recorded an incident of Juarez gang violence using only the camera in his sell phone.

We would spend our mornings in each class exploring the front page of The New York Times and discussing current events. Often times our conversations would turn to the then-popular “Tea Party” movement. My professor was a professional journalist and never made any biases. But he did say once, that the one thing that concerned him the most about the Tea Party was that they don’t have respect for journalism. Couple that with what he had said about the new media and technology before, and I was able to form my own opinion about the information climate of today, which I will now share with you.

We live in a society of vast, widespread information. The web already contains more information than a person can ever possibly know in their lifetime and new stuff is being added to it every day. Anyone can update the web, including religious, political and social extremists, so you often have to be aware of where you’re getting your sources from, but besides that, anyone can share what they know about the world, essentially making anyone a journalist. Hell, I even do it as a hobby. Not since Gutenberg invented the printing press has communication been so revolutionized.

But with every technological evolution, there comes a series of technological revolutions. People who are comic book and video game fans know this because there were concerted, and at times successful, efforts to censor that material under the extreme belief that it was corrupting our youth, and interrupting our ways of life. We’ve grown to accept comics and are slowly growing to accept Video Games as media, but it just goes to show that whenever something progressive occurs in society, there will always be a specific group ready to oppose it.

There are people in our political climate who want to return to simpler times, adhere to traditional values, and hold us all to a standard of living that has served themselves well, but may not particularly fit with us all. Some of them are republicans, others Democrats and Independents, but they all certainly agree that the internet represents that last great frontier of free and open information an ancient conservative corporate society cannot fathom.

Think about it: Before the internet became public in the 90s, people had to rely on media run entirely on corporate sources. A small collection of very large companies own all the media in this country in every other form: television, radio, magazines, and newspapers, to the point where anything said in the media wasn’t in some small way biased.

The internet changed that. No matter what is said about the violence in Juarez on 20/20, it can’t compare to the footage shot by that one rogue guy with his cell phone camera. Corporations are concerned, not so much about torrents and piracy as they are about letting the public inform themselves in the same way as that one human being with a camera and an internet connection.

The corporations’ response to this is to lobby congressmen, who want a return to a corporate-sponsored media, (and if you think I’m incorrect about this, please google ‘Net Neutrality’) to give corporations a way to lobby the government and assert control of their intellectual property. Once they’re in the machine, they can then attempt to regulate and justify any sort of changes to the internet landscape as they can get away with and before you know it you’ll have a corporate-controlled internet.

So you see, being against SOPA and PIPA has more to do with copyright infringement, criminalizing fan-works, or even free speech. It’s about technological sovereignty. I want to be a part of that information-rich future my professor saw so clearly. But if these laws are passed, I won’t be able to go on and provide the articles, information and features on this site that I have freely and out of my own personal enjoyment. I’ll be too busy dodging my corporate Big Brothers.

Of course, that’s simply the way I see this outcome affecting me.

What you have to think of, is how it will affect you.

Oh and for all you El Paso readers: Here’s a link to a list of your elected officials.

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