Netizen Report: Colombian Scholar May Face Prison Thanks to Free Trade Copyright Reforms

Demonstrators protest the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement in Washington DC. Photo by b.wu via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Demonstrators protest the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement in Washington DC. Photo by b.wu via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Juan Arellano, Ellery Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week’s report begins in Colombia, where two pending court cases concerning defamation and an alleged copyright violation could send free expression in the country on a rapid, downward spiral. In one case, biology graduate student Diego Gomez could face between four and eight years in prison for posting another academic’s research on the file sharing site Scribd. The 26-year-old is being prosecuted under a criminal law that was reformed in 2006, as the result of the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. Though it was intended to fulfill the trade agreement’s restrictive copyright standards, the law expanded criminal penalties for copyright infringement, increasing possible prison sentences and monetary fines.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Maira Sutton writes, “Gomez only wanted to share these articles to further his life mission to protect native wildlife and to allow others with a similar passion to access this research. He is only one of countless thousands who risk themselves every day to push against the prohibitive restraints of copyright.” Colombian digital rights NGO Fundacion Karisma is providing legal counsel for Gomez and supporting his case with the online campaign #CompartirNoEsDelito (#SharingIsNotACrime).

Meanwhile, Colombia’s Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a man sentenced to 18 months’ jail time and a fine of 9.5 million pesos (roughly USD $5,100) for calling a former government official a “rat” ​​on the website of Cali-based newspaper El Pais. In a piece critical of the decision, Colombian national daily El Espectador gathered comments from lawyers who say the Supreme Court is confusing information with opinion. The decision sets a dangerous precedent for online commenters and social media users in Colombia.

Free Expression: Is Tunisia’s digital rights renaissance coming to a close?

A leaked draft of a proposed cybercrime bill in Tunisia includes vague and broad provisions that could undermine the progressive approach to Internet policy that the country has taken since 2011. Among the provisions are a six-month imprisonment and fine for anyone who uses “information and communications systems to spread content showing obscene acts and assaulting good morals” and five years’ imprisonment and a fine for “using an information system to process others’ personal data or to damage their reputation.” The bill would also grant sweeping surveillance powers to the Ministries of Interior and Defense. 

Members of the French Administrative Law Committee voted in favor of an anti-terrorism bill that criminalizes “provoking acts of terrorism” and “advocating terrorism,” specifically targeting online activity. The law also obligates Internet service providers to block access to sites and provide user data at the behest of the administrative authority charged with the law’s enforcement.

Thuggery: “Terrified” by political threats, Chinese editor shutters news site

Popular pro-democracy news site the House News shut its doors on July 26, reportedly under significant political pressure and the withdrawal of advertisers. In a letter to readers explaining the closure, co-founder Tony Tsoi explained that “a sense of White Terror lingers in the country” over the political struggle between Hong Kong and China. 

Copyright: Spain’s Google tax is back in business

Spain’s lower house of Congress passed a controversial new law that places a tax on aggregation of hyperlinks, requiring news sites and aggregators to pay fees for including links with “meaningful explanations” in their text. Though the government clarified that the law will not apply to social networking sites, it remains unclear how it will be enforced. The bill now moves on to the Senate and is expected to be approved later this year. Commenting on the perils of the law for the digital comments, the Web We Want's Renata Avila writes, “linking is what made the Web what is today — restricting this function poses a threat to the very nature of the open Internet.”

A leaked document indicated the Australian government may soon crackdown on online piracy, in part by requiring Internet service providers to take active measures to discourage and reduce online copyright infringement. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the document also cited unratified trade obligations with the United States to pursue its reforms under the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Access: Pacific Island nations push for greater Internet infrastructure

The Connect the Blue Continent campaign advocates for Pacific Island governments to invest in Internet infrastructure, systems, and skills development. The geography of the Pacific region means communities tend to be small and distant, making them among the slowest in the world to adopt Internet technology, according to group founder Chris Sampson.

Industry: Twitter bird obeys Russian bear Twitter removed access for Russian users to @b0ltai, the account of a hacker collective that leaked a number of internal Kremlin documents online. While the company refused to comment on why the account was removed, a report on Chilling Effects indicated that Russian authorities asked the company to block @b0ltai and produced a judicial order issued by a St. Petersburg court.

Netizen Activism: Tweet for justice for Ethiopia’s Zone9 bloggers

The Global Voices community is organizing a “tweetathon” on Thursday, July 31 calling for justice for the ten bloggers and journalists facing terrorism charges in Ethiopia. Join us across all time zones and in all languages under the hashtag #FreeZone9Bloggers. Learn more here.

Important Things: Graphic artists take on conflict in Gaza

The non-profit data visualization collective Visualizing Palestine produced a new infographic charting casualties, injuries and incidents of violence in both Palestine and Israel over the last two years. The graphic has gone viral among Internet activists both in and outside of the region.

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