Leave our net alone*

The internet’s not broken.

So then why are there so many attempts to regulate it? Under the guises of piracy, privacy, pornography, predators, indecency, and security, not to mention censorship, tyranny, and civilization, governments from the U.S. to France to Germany to China to Iran to Canada — as well as the European Union and the United Nations — are trying to exert control over the internet.

Why? Is it not working? Is it presenting some new danger to society? Is it fundamentally operating any differently today than it was five or ten years ago? No, no, and no.

So why are governments so eager to claim authority over it? Why would legacy corporations, industries, and institutions egg them on? Because the net is working better than ever. Because they finally recognize how powerful it is and how disruptive it is to their power.

And that is precisely why we must fight against their attempts to regulate it, to change it, to throttle it, to oversee it, to insert controls into it, to grant them sovereignty over it. We also must resist the temptation to compromise, to accept the lesser of evils. Last week, Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell warned of the danger of the U.N. asserting governance over the net, but then he turned around and argued that “merely saying ‘no’ to any changes to the current structure of Internet governance is likely to be a losing proposition.”

Why? I repeat: It’s not broken. This is why I urged French President Nicolas Sarkozy to take a Hippocratic oath for the net. This is why I have come to side with Sen. Al Franken on at least this: Net neutrality is not regulation; it is protecting the net from companies trying to change it. This is why the Reddit community is writing the Free Internet Act.

This is why I argued in Public Parts that we must have a discussion of the principles of an open society and the tools of publicness that enable it. This is why I wrote Public Parts. And that is why I’m posting the last chapter of the book, which argues that governments and companies are not protectors of the net and that we must be.

It’s not broken. Don’t fix it. Leave our net alone.

*Sung to the tune of….

We don’t need no regulation.
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the network
Government: Leave our net alone
Hey! Government! Leave our net alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

  • gregorylent

    fear = control

  • Pat the Foo

    Agreed, we don’t need no government++ regulation.

    Its a shame, the net already begins to fall apart.

    I’m writing this from inside of Germany, and your YouTube embedded video, is not shown, all I see is:

    “Unfortunately, this video is not available in Germany because it may contain music for which GEMA has not granted the respective music rights.”

    This looks brooken to me, doesn’t it?

    • Ronald Stepp

      No its working perfectly, and you would see it if some regulation weren’t blocking it.

      • Pat the Foo

        No it is not working, because of whatever.

        And in this case because a legal battle between Google and GEMA.

        GEMA is the german performance rights organization. An attorney in fact of the copyright holders.

        And so far I know it is Google blocking it – to force the GEMA to reduce its demands. Since Google paying some of these surrogates in some countries.

    • So you are saying the record companies are broken in Germany?

      There are broken here too (UK). They have terrible problems with geography. They can’t seem to grasp the internet is a global network.

      • Pat the Foo

        The music labels are broken, no doubt, and in some countries more then others.

        The GEMA is the german performance rights organization. An attorney in fact of the music labels. And the GEMA is one of the worst of its kind.

        I agree record labels have a terrible problem with geography, so do film, tv, publisher, …

        And hence Jeff Jarvis is wrong, there are things which are broken in the state of -denmark- internet, and to fix them we need deregulation, don’t we?

      • CVi

        Regulation is broken… Why do Google, an *US American* company have to pay to a *German* copyright troll for displaying a video from a *British* band (US American label?)

      • Pat the Foo

        @CVi (in reply to comment from February 28, 2012 at 3:52 pm, maybe below)

        Because EMI Deutschland (a subdivision or affiliate) of the EMI Group (where the UK, or US music label belongs to) is part of an industry consortium. And this consortium has an agreement with GEMA. As a result GEMA negotiations and collects the doe. GEMA’s own cut is about 15%.

        Disclaimer: I haven’t checked the facts, just based on what I remember. And I’m either a lawyer, nor part of the music industry.

        @Jeff Jarvis. It looks like your threaded comment code doesn’t work as expected, or does it? Anyway not every comment has a reply-link.

  • > Is it presenting some new danger to society?

    Yes; this is *precisely* the argument being made by most of the people who are trying to regulate it who *aren’t* wholly-owned by the entertainment industries:


    And as we all know, you gotta be pretty far up Maslow’s Hierarchy not to be taken in by that sort of crap. And an amazing number of people in what some are pleased to call the Flyover States, well, aren’t.

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  • Perhaps it is somewhere in “Public Parts”, but it’s not in the final chapter and it’s not in this post…. Where’s the clear and compelling case that supports this claim of ownership, “..our net..” ?

    Without it, I would argue your efforts fight against your objectives by fueling the fires in the many govts to do exactly what you warn that citizens must (somehow) not let them do, exert control. SOPA, PIPA, et al foreshadow one thing, the internet’s honeymoon period is close to over.

    The only successful argument that the net is “ours” and the rights citizens extend to govt to govern do not extend to the net must convince govt it is in their best interest not to. Just saying, writing, singing over and over again the phrase “our net” isn’t going to make it so. And it isn’t going to sufficiently educate citizens what it means.

    Ownership first, control second. Attempting to back into an ownership position by trying to make the case that citizen control, not govts’ control, suits citizens better will fall far short (I predict).

    I could be wrong, but I’m not.

    Besides, it’s completely the wrong approach, in my opinion.
    The contract between the (our) Fed govt and the States and citizens is the U.S. Constitution. Our founding Fathers on behalf of present and future citizens spelled out boundaries. Two centuries plus of societal and technological evolution have provided some clear histories on which to build a new pillar in that contract – a new Amendment.

    If your “don’t fix it, not broken” position clarifies (or even intersects) the Fed/State/citizen contract in place, anything short of following the prescribed process for amending it is pure folly. You can throw out all the faux Bills of Rights and lists of principles or re-imaginings of the Maga Carta for all I care, they don’t add up to a hill of beans until they’re codified in a realistic, proposed Amendment.

    Do that and there’s something to discuss. Do that and a vision of the internet’s future in which govts still govern and citizens still (by and large) benefit from that governing can take shape. Expecting all but the most corrupt govts to just not govern because of citizen chatter and protests is pure folly. Propose a serious, inspired Amendment and having the courts on the side of all citizens will paint an appealing picture to those citizens who have lived with the benefit of the rule of law their entire lives.

    Yes, a Constitutional Amendment’s scope is the USA. But the reasonable world will follow – only if the USA leads, properly.

    Author “The Next 10 Amendments”

    • Steve Greenway

      Your post is one long “Nuh uh!” I’m not certain you actually made a counter argument, especially considering the sum total of your “advice” on the situation is to create an Internet Amendment, as though the penultimate paragraph of Jarvis’ article DIDN’T mention the collective process being undertaken in the writing of the Free Internet Act. Is there something you have an issue with in regards to the Free Internet Act? Specifically, I mean? If so, please elaborate but your post as presently constituted just kind of says ‘there needs to be proposed a serious and inspired Amendment that everyone can agree to’ and doesn’t mention WHO should be writing this and WHAT kinds of things it should say.

      Additionally, how in your view would the Internet be “ours” or “theirs” or anyone’s really? How could one objectively prove such a thing? Why is it important? You’re right in stating that establishing ownership over something like the Internet is tricky and nigh impossible, but I don’t know that that is even an issue here. The point isn’t that “they” are trying to ruin “our net,” it’s that the Internet community better understands what the Internet is and the people legislating for its control seem both not to know and not to care, as they’re primarily interested in implementing new ways to profit from censorship or control. This has forced the Internet community at large into the position of being a kind of curator / defender / protector hybrid. I’m not certain establishing that the Internet “rightfully belongs to the people” is necessary when it comes to defending it from the machinations of the MPAA, RIAA and governments who aim to profit by exerting new found control over how the net is managed.

      All of this ignores the fact the the parties most interested in controlling the net (the MPAA, RIAA and governments like China, Russia and the US) are just interested in maintaining the status quo. Governments don’t want to have to deal with social media inspired revolts and the MPAA and RIAA don’t want to have to change their business models to one that properly accommodates a large internet audience. They shouldn’t be allowed to chuck their toys out of the crib and scream “the internet is too hard, can’t we just make it illegal?”

  • Given the way Congress and the FCC work, and “Net Neutrality” law we get will be SOPA in disguise. The best answer here is very clear: no new laws, no new regulations, nothing, nada, zip. If they try to “help” us, we’ll deserve whatever we get.

  • The people complaining most vociferously about national governments regulating behavior over the Internet are the very same ones who demanded that the very same governments impose net neutrality regulations on Internet Service Providers five to seven years ago.

    So we now have a big hypocrisy-fest where starry-eyed activists want regulation for me but not for thee.

    You can’t have it both ways, either the Internet is above national laws or it isn’t. As the net neutrality advocates have argued all along, it’s better if it isn’t.

  • As I read your article, this is what I kept picturing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT_SyyRBDDo

  • Morris

    I must say, if I didn’t have a twitter I would not have known what SOPA even meant when it was in the headlines. This begs the question, do we as Americans tend to just jump on board with the latest rebellion or anti-government plan without looking into them? I sure did. After looking into SOPA, I of course do not agree with the censorship that is trying to be enforced, however I am still puzzled as to how we form our opinions on such issues. As one person on this blog already pointed out, we may have supported this act in the past blindly as we jumped on a band wagon for a politician that supported it. We need to take time to look into what we are signing on for. We are so quick to check the “I Agree” box without delving into the information. That being said, I agree with you entirely. The internet is not broken. It doesn’t need to be fixed. There are always going to be loopholes and kinks in any system, but the SOPA/PIPA plans are entirely too overbearing and over the top. It is silly to silence something that has done so much good for journalism, society, and our world today.

  • So it is purely coincidental that Franken is sponsoring both SOPA/PIPA and “net neutrality”? Because those two things are completely different.


    Because we can trust politcians to know what’s good for the Internet.


    • David,
      As I said, there’s something I agree with Franken on and there are other things I certainly do not.

  • I do not understand why it has to be like this. Pat the Foo, I love schlager music. Amazon won’t sell it to me because I live in america. Germany won’t let me watch Matze on youtube because of boundaries. It did not used to be that way. Two years ago when I first discovered his music I got my hands on some CDs.
    It won’t happen again unless I find someone inside who will mail them to me. It is stupid!
    Roland Kaiser video “Schattmatt” recommendation of Matthias Reim “Lebenslanlich”= new fan. New fan bought 55 Euro of material. Matze made how much? The record company made how much?

    And how much more would Matze and the record company make if there were no regions? Sure you send us Rammstein. We send you Lady Gaga (es tut mir lied.) But why can’t we trade Billy Joel for Konstantine Wecker and Matze for Sting and everyone be happy? Why do we have to be mismatched in talents and messege?

    Corporations are getting to big for their lederhosen.

  • CVi

    I may just be crazy, but I would like the net as it’s own sovereign state, with an algorithmic government, and it’s own laws that only protects from, real provable harm. (and it’s own legal system)
    And “fair use” is something you need to prove the copyright violation is not covered by.

    Oh, and the law is not supposed to be “case law” where a judge decides what the law means. The lawmakers say what the law means and include examples, if a judge has to cover a special case, he/she has to make a call and note for the lawmakers to address the issue.

    Lawmakers should be an organization that covers a broad specter of interests, and be *led* by ENGINEERS (people who get things done, not just talk about them) with no ability to give themselves personal gain. (full time employees)

  • Internet regulation, bills passed? Follow the money.

  • mushymoo

    Just a suggestion: if you shift this writing format to a wiki, rather than Google Docs, you’ll be able to manage trolling, and make reversions, with much greater efficiency.

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  • Jason Wheeler

    “The internet’s not broken.

    So then why are there so many attempts to regulate it? Under the guises of piracy, privacy, pornography, predators, indecency, and security…”

    The government wanted to enact SOPA/PIPA because of Hollywood and RIAA funding, we both know that. The reason the media giants want the government to control the internet is because they see the world changing and don’t know how to control it.

    Bear with me here

    Years ago, when the player piano came out, the music industry tried to take drastic measures to ban them because they believed that people would stop listening to the music they sell because people would play their own music. Same with the radio, the music industry thought it would lose money because people would be able to listen to music for free and wouldn’t buy any more records.

    When the VHS’s and DVDs came out, Hollywood tried to ban those because they thought that people would stop going to see new movies because they could watch older movies.

    None of these inventions caused the destruction of the film/music industry, in fact it caused them to grow and make more money. But whenever something new happens, these industries seem to think that too much money will be lost and that they’ll be irrelevant, so they try to ban/control them.

    As a contrast, we can consider another field, one both you and I know quite well: Journalism. The internet comes into the picture and soon it looks bleak for the printed word. However, unlike the film and music industries, the journalism field looked at it and after a small panic, embraced the technology. Because of the internet, journalism has thrived like never before.

    The film and music industries do the exact opposite, they panic and don’t consider how to embrace the new tech. They work their hardest to keep everything for themselves so they can make all the money they can. They don’t consider that maybe more money could be made from embracing it, its only in hindsight that this happens.

    While piracy is a problem, regulation, banning and control the entire internet isn’t the solution. Hackers and pirates will always find a way. Embracing it is, they should find a way to work with the internet. Pirates will always be around, but maybe they’d be lessened.

  • Annie Buddy

    I think we need to have a serious discussion about what’s in it for governments. They’re not just doing it because the music and movie industry are paying them to. They’re regulating speech because free speech makes it difficult for them to hide any ‘bonuses’ that may come their way, free speech forces them to be more accountable and that costs them bribes, kickbacks, lucrative job offers or whatever.

    And it also means that they can’t just pass any old laws they want. If their laws are a power grab, such as Bill C-30 is, the Internet will tear it apart, tell everyone, and even organize demonstrations, and report on those demonstrations.

    If, on the other hand, they manage to destroy anonymity, which means destroying free speech – they are one and the same thing, then nobody in their right mind will ever try to stand in the way of one of these super powerful politicians again. You’ll never get a job if you’re a known troublemaker, and who knows what might happen to your pension, or your healthcare, once you’re old and in need of government’s help.

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