Disproportionate penalties for copyright violations have reached new heights in Japan with the passage of a new bill this month that will make downloading copyrighted material punishable by imprisonment or fines. Previously, imprisonment was possible for uploading files, but this bill expands the penalty to downloaders as well. The bill will go into effect on October 1.
This is not the only recent law to criminalize copyright infringement. Canada’s House of Commons has passed a copyright bill that penalizes circumvention of digital rights management as well as imposes fines on copyright violations. The bill is expected to pass the Senate. Artists in Hong Kong are also resisting an amendment to criminalize copyright infringement beyond “beyond minor economic damage” in a manner eliminates fair use for the creation of derivative works. A French law called HADOPI instituted in 2009 requires Internet Service Providers (ISP) to sever a user’s Internet connection after downloading copyrighted content three times, a law which United Nations Special Rapporteur Frank la Rue called “a violation of article 19” on the right to free expression of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In Europe, due to civil society pressure, governments are increasingly attentive to how copyright enforcement affects human rights and free expression. For this reason, the European Union’s (EU) International Trade Committee recommended that the European Parliament reject the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which seeks multinational standards for intellectual property rights. This is the fifth EU committee to vote against the agreement. The European Parliament is expected to vote on the agreement on July 4.
Several Twitter activists in Sudan have been arrested by police and National Intelligence Security Service officials, including Usamah Mohammed Ali, who tweeted about arrests made during protests on June 22, in the capital of Khartoum and promoted more protests slated for June 30. The protests in Sudan’s capital city are a response to planned austerity measures by the government in the wake of the secession of South Sudan last year. Bloggers are following the protests on Twitter via #FreeUsamah or #Sudanrevolts.
Also in Sudan, bloggers are tweeting about rumors that the government plans to shut down the Internet to prevent the Khartoum austerity protests from growing.
Google blocked access to its Google Analytics web statistics feature in Cuba to comply with United States (US) sanctions. Other countries where some Google features are restricted include Myanmar (Burma), Iran, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea.
Belarusian police arrested Andrzej Poczobut, the foreign correspondent of Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, on June 21, in Grodno for libelling Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994. Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Jerzy Pomianowski demanded Poczobut’s release. Last year Poczobut spent three months in prison for a similar offense and now faces five years in prison, which activists say would encourage self-censorship.
Fadi Chehadé will be the new president and chief executive officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit in charge of assigning domain name spaces and coordinating Internet protocol address spaces. During his speech at ICANN’s 44th set of public meetings in Prague on Monday 25 June, Chehadé promised to make all his decisions for the public interest and to place a priority on transparency.
The European Telecommunications Network Operators (ETNO) has proposed changing the regulations set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) by introducing new fees for online content delivery in an effort to shift revenue from Internet content providers and applications. The nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology warns that this proposal slated for the World Conference on Telecommunications (WCIT) in December could negatively impact Internet costs and freedoms for users in developing countries.
During the June 14-15 European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) telecommunications conference, discussions by speakers such as European Parliament Member Marietje Schaake called for an increased role for civil society in Internet policy processes. The EuroDIG organization is the regional chapter of the United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum, which is a multi-stakeholder debate platform for global Internet policy.
On June 20 the Secretary General Hamadoun Touré of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) addressed a working group planning the December World Conference on Telecommunications (WCIT), and proposed greater transparency for the process. Touré alluded to an open letter requesting transparency which was sent in May and signed by a number of civil society organizations. The letter expressed concerns that the upcoming WCIT could expand the ITU’s communications governance to include the Internet.
Russia’s government is planning to create its own Facebook-style social network, slated to launch in June and attract private capital. Russia recently overtook Germany as the European country with the most Internet users, so this is criticized as a state effort to co-opt the Internet rather than suppress it.
As Mexico’s presidential election approaches on July 1, the online activist movement ‘Yo Soy 132’ hosted an online presidential debate as part of its goal to bring more objectivity to the media and the presidential campaign process. University students used the hashtag #YoSoy132 to rally hundreds of thousands for marches after posting video on Twitter to refute media claims that they were “porros” or thugs paid by Leftist politicians, for protesting against Enrique Peña Nieto. Peña Nieto is the front-runner candidate for the Mexican presidency and member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (also known as the PRI).
The Army Court of Criminal Appeals denied a request from the Center for Constitutional Rights for access to the court documents of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the intelligence analyst charged with aiding the enemy by allegedly leaking diplomatic cables and Iraq war data to whistleblower data website WikiLeaks. Manning could face life imprisonment for this charge.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is afraid of being extradited to the United States to face similar charges, so the Australian citizen is seeking asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador in London after a United Kingdom court ruled he could be extradited to Sweden to face sex abuse charges.
Sovereigns of cyberspace
A security researcher has revealed that KLIK, a mobile application that allows real time face tagging for photos uploaded to Facebook, had a vulnerability that would allow anyone to access private authentication information for KLIK users’ Facebook or Twitter accounts. A user could then post as another user or access their photos. Last week, Face.com, software company that develops KLIK, was acquired by Facebook for as much as US $100 million.
ISPs in Denmark are working on a voluntary Code of Conduct that would include blocking websites even if a court order only applies to one ISP in the nation. Court orders in the UK require ISPs to block content and British Telecom has agreed to block access to Pirate Bay; the block has already been circumvented.
Malware based on PCs has impacted thousands of printers, ZDNet reports. The malware places a file on the printer queue, continuously printing documents as long as the printer is on and has paper.
The Knight Foundation has awarded US $1.37 million to six winners of the Knight News Challenge with projects to solve problems of journalism using online networks. Winners include the Tor Project, which will work on tools to help people in politically dangerous parts of the world to publish and communicate safely with sources.
Publications and studies
- Mobile Active: mClerk:Enabling Crowdsourcing in Developing Regions
- Open Society Foundations: Mapping Digital Media: Macedonia
- New York Times Op-Ed by Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu: ‘Free Speech for Computers?‘
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.