Wifi and academic freedom

One of the, some would claim unintended, consequences of the DE Bill debate is the fear that public wifi will become impossible. A number of public sector organisations including many Universities, but also hospitals and public libraries are becoming concerned that their current policy of offering free or cheap unauthenticated access to wifi will open them to suit by rights holders or their agents if their nomadic, or mass user base decide to behave in such a way as to incur the attentions of rights holders or their agents.  The Government are proposing to give these organisations no protection against the provisions of the DE Bill.

Not protecting university’s academic freedom and rights to freedom of speech and culture is wrong, even worse than not defending individual citizen’s rights. It also places the ‘Right to an Education’ in the sights of the DE Bill and its commercial sponsors. Universities invented the internet because they have a fundamentally different view on how to grow knowledge. It involves sharing, publication, collaboration, creating derived works and peer review, these are diametrically opposed to the ‘author/publisher’ business model pursued by ‘Industrial Content’.  These arguments also apply to protecting public libraries and their guardianship of the public’s access to knowledge and culture. Internet Cafe’s, pub wifi and even services like BT Fon and other Telco services may be threatened. At the centre of rights holders and their agents  proposition is that they don’t want to compete with free, or a fair market price for digital content and they oppose public sector business models being able to compete with them.

The final problem is that this law will distort technology innovation. Can WiFi continue to grow if providing it opens either the commercial provider or their customers open to liability from such rapacious interests. Their behaviour in the US shows they won’t be moderate about this.

Academic Freedom

Are they really planning to cut Universities off from the internet? Don’t tell me that cutting a university’s internet connection isn’t a crime against free speech.

How do students and their teachers and the researchers learn about the world today without an internet connection?  Its a stunning irony that the organisations that invented the internet because their knowledge management ethic requires sharing, collaboration, publication and peer review are now being threatened with loosing this incredible platform for creativity. It should be noted that its power was in enabling sharing, collaboration and most importantly derived works. The creation of unlicensed derived works is what “Industrial Content” seeks to prohibit. Once again we see the the profits of “Industrial Content” are to be put before freedom of speech, academic freedom and freedom to access culture; the right to culture and freedom of speech includes the right to visit publicly funded University libraries.

A country that does not have freedom of speech in its Universities is not a democracy, or is on the slippery slope to something else. Academic freedom is the creativity of the information age. It eclipses the petri dish of industrial music’s sterile privately owned laboratories, if the government is looking to enhance British creativity and international competitiveness, I’d suggest that the DE Bill shows they’re looking in exactly the wrong place.

This is now also about the right to an Education.  150 years ago in Britain, it was decided  that every one needed access to books irrespective of wealth and income, and public lending libraries were founded. They have continued to innovate their offering of a free access to information and culture to the public at large, with for example the public provision of photo-copying, opposed by the publication business, and more recently access to the internet. This is all threatened by the Digital Economy Bill.  These institutions are payed for by taxes, taxpayers have a right to use them. Academic Freedom and the right to study are neither theft nor piracy.

Industrial music can’t cope with collective provision of any content, its a wonder that libraries and even Universities took off at all. We have a right to share our property, we have a right to share our bandwidth, we have a right to co-operate to collectively build information co-operatives; its called freedom of assembly. The public domain and collective endeavour will never be suppressed, and the modern information barbarians will lose in the end. The private sector has no right to expropriate the public domain.  Furthermore the price mechanism dictates that goods will be available at the opportunity cost to acquire. In the case of digital content, this is nearly zero.

The DE Bill is a modern enclosure act. The original acts stole the right to use common land from the common people. This one is designed to steal the internet from its users and inventors.

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