Eastern Europe – land of digital freedom?
I’ve been following the developments around copyright with more and more interest and concern.
Clearly, on a global scale we are in an era of dramatic change in this area. As is usually the case, the established “powers” – record labels, film studios, publishing companies etc. – don’t have a clue about what to do next and are therefore desperately seeking to maintain some kind of status quo. As this becomes more and more unsustainable, they are searching for ever more radical measures. Kids are being arrested in American cinemas for having a birthday party at the theatre and inadvertently filming a few scenes of the on-screen movie while actually taking videos of their friends having fun. Single moms are being slapped with unimaginable fees for downloading a few pop tunes. The old world (as in “pre-Internet”) entertainment and content corporations are out for blood and any victim, no matter how small or poor, has been declared fair game. In fact, the poorer the better – let them be an example to others!
To me, the most worrying aspect of this strategy to date has been the development of so-called “Three Strikes Laws”. One after the other, the “pillars of modern democracy” – France, the US, Canada, UK and others – are introducing laws that enable citizens to be effectively banned from Internet access for life. Even worse – the regulations enable such drastic measures on mere accusations. If a music label or industry association, for example, simply *accuses* you of copying copyrighted material three times, your ISP must disconnect you, you are placed on a black list, and *no other* ISP may grant you Internet access. As a digital citizen – you are dead.
Now, the Baltic sea neighbors Finland and Estonia have declared Internet access to be a legal right. So I’ve been wondering… What are the chances of Southeast European countries, for once, not being late to the show but actually leading the race? What do I mean by that? First of all, Croatia and its neighbours would be wise to take advantage of the situation. While the UK, for example, is being mired down with a disastrous “Digital Economy Act”, perhaps our country and maybe even our neighbors could go the other way.
Could this be a “region of digital freedom”? One country – or several – that would declare digital civic rights to be truly fundamental, and implement this strategy on not only a legal but a constitutional level. Commit firmly to the principle that access to the digital space is just as critical as the freedom of any other form of communication – freedom of speech, press or artistic expression.
I don’t think this option is purely altruistic, a kind of “wishful world”. On the contrary – countries which embrace the new digital society with a proper understanding and a forward-looking attitude will be the economic winners of tomorrow. Just like medieval towns growing around rivers and sea ports, and succeeding depending on their treatment of shipbuilders, traders and guilds, cities and countries in the digital society will prosper or decline depending on their digital strategies. With many major Western countries enacting backward-looking legislation, primarily under lobbyist pressure from the dying media, information and entertainment conglomerates, a window of opportunity is opening up for second or third-tier economies to step in and say “OK – you guys clearly don’t get this digital thing – we’ll be more than happy to take over.”
This is just a blog post, of course. Still, I can’t help but wonder – is there an intriguing opportunity for Croatia and its neighbors to seize the day?