Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge
When I first started using the Internet at the start of the 1990's, anon.penet.fi (operated by the Finnish Internet pioneer Johan Helsingius) was the most famous anonymous email relay service on the Internet. Through Helsingius's well-loved service one could obtain anonymity (correction: the real term is pseudonymity, though let me assure you at the time it really did feel like anonymity) on the Internet and discuss things without the fear of harrassment. A change came in 1995 when the Finnish courts forced Helsingius to release the real IP address of a user thought to have released compromising information about a US entity (according to some reports the Church of Scientology). Helsingius fought the lawsuit but lost. Less than a year later, he decided it was time to take anon.penet.fi down for good.
In the world of legislation, precedents count - even across national borders. To Helsingius, the move must have been partly motivated by the knowledge that the Finnish courts had been compromised and any further legal fights for true anonymity on the Internet would be likely to fail. On this day, 18th of January 2012 anonymity on the Internet is harder to reach than ever, but that aside, right at this very moment we stand upon an even more threatening ledge. The whole Internet, as we have come to know it, could become extinct. You might already recognize the words I used for the title of this blog post. If you didn't yet, you are likely to later today, for they are written on the front page of the English version of Wikipedia. What has driven Wikipedia to protest in such a strong way? The SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) house bills.
As the Wikipedia article on SOPA explains: "The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement."
Though Renderfarm.fi will not join the blackouts (I feel we have been down too many days of late), we support the protestors by not accepting any new renders today. Let us not go down this path. If SOPA and PIPA would get accepted by the US House, what would be next? How soon would the Finnish legislators follow suit and how would this affect free, democratically motivated services like Renderfarm.fi?
Stop SOPA. Stop PIPA.