It’s a funny business, the web. One day some cool new tool can come along, and you find yourself astonished by potential it opens up for people to communicate, collaborate and create.
The next day, someone decides that the free, open Internet is standing in the way of their next gazillion dollars in profits. And, armed with a platoon of lawyers and a truckload of campaign contributions, they launch something like the attack on network neutrality. (Or digital rights management, or whatever the latest stone-sucking blood pump happens to be.)
And my heart sinks every time it happens. These are people with huge legal, technical and political resources, and if we let them, they will kill the Internet. Not as a means of delivering bought-and-paid-for content to passive consumers. And not as a way to get people to give them free content that they can then sell off, larded up with encryption and onerous licensing conditions. That’s their idea of nirvana. (You want to watch that viral video on your laptop and your television? Pony up, buster.)
But the Internet as an open platform, an open community, a public space â€“ they want to kill that Internet dead. There is a mentality that cannot see a commons without imagining a profitable tragedy, and it finds full expression in their boardrooms. Half a year after Doc Searls posted this warning, it’s already starting to come true.
The issue is not business versus the Internet. The innovation and spread of information the free-range Web and its related technologies make possible are fuelling tremendous economic activity. But given the choice of a technological wave that lifts all boats, and a wave that lifts only their own, some people will choose the latter every time â€“ and they will use every tool at their disposal to convince you to do so, too.
I want the Internet, and the Web in particular, to be the arena for a peaceful revolution: one where the only casualties are ignorance and helplessness. One where profit flows, not from your ability to mire innovation in Congress and the courts, but from your ability to unleash it as powerful creative forces. One where a packet of community cooperation or a packet of challenging political opinion gets exactly the same treatment as a packet of video from a movie studio’s e-commerce site. One where remixing is an art, not a crime, and ingenuity is an asset, not a threat.
How we react â€“ whether we defend the creators and innovators or knuckle under â€“ will determine whether the past handful of years were the beginning of that revolution, or just an evanescent Prague Spring. I still hold out hope. But the clank and rumble of corporate armored divisions gets closer every moment.
Updated: Doc Searls is feeling a little more optimistic, and has plans to foil the carriers: “There are too many ways of working around the carriers, which desperately need competition (and we can help give it to them). And, in the long run, there will be more money for carriers in a Net that’s a wide open market for goods and services, than as a tragically divided commons. That may not dawn on the board rooms immediately, but the market opportunities should become obvious eventually.” And here’s a long-overdue link to Save the Internet. Apparently my doppelganger Moby is on-side!