ONE month ago, the controversial FPB amendment bill was passed by South Africa’s Parliament. It came as a major blow to online content providers battling prior restraint and other apartheid-era laws from a previous period of newsroom censorship, and will ostensibly turn ISPs into cops, tasked with enforcing FPB content classification, and in some instances, even blocking sites.
If it isn’t nipples and journalists that interest the authorities, then it is Hollywood’s copyright regime and our own country’s fair use/fair dealing laws which seemingly protect creators of content.
A related piece of legislation, the copyright law amendment bill, as it stands contradicts public rights protections and seeks to impose institutional copyright on behalf of collecting agencies, even in areas where a permissive licensing system may already be in place. There is a well-funded lobby promoting copyright restrictions and classification, that also wants to remove fair use wording and any public domain permissions. Currently there are not enough checks and balances shoring up legal defenses against prior restraint while promoting freedom of speech, innovation and the reuse of content via permissive licensing.
The anti-piracy lobby group SAFACT has announced plans to block online sites. Opening the door to politicians who may also want to block sites and target publishers with which they disagree. The vocal religious lobby routinely rails against what they perceive to be the “anything goes society” as do those from the ‘moral majority’ who view porn as the “work of the devil”.
Conservative and Far Left campaigns against porn, hate speech and other ‘social evils’, have invariably resulted in the loss of fundamental freedoms. Acting as a cover for those who seek to limit criticism and public opinion.
The threat of holding ISPS and publishers responsible for users comments was enough to shut down many discus comments sites when the FPB amendment was first announced, effectively destroying the evolution of online letters to the editor and further eroding what freedom remains on the Internet. The emergence of overly broad anti-hate speech legislation hasn’t helped matters either.
The controversy surrounding the X18 age restriction of local film The Wound, the first time a local film has received such a rating in recent memory, is another example of how the FPB will play itself out.
We’ve written about the many problems presented by the FPB and its draconian plans, chief of which is censorship of online content and the erosion of communications and press freedoms guaranteed by our Bill of Rights. Thus the information freedom subsumed under article 16 freedom of expression, and the right to not have the privacy of our communications infringed, under article 14 privacy rights. All drafted following a period in which apartheid censors had gone overboard in their quest to purify political discourse.
You can read some of these articles here:
There is still time to stop the FPB amendment, (and canvass parliament on the Copyright Bill.)
“First, the president can refuse to sign it and send it back to the National Assembly on the point that he thinks it is unconstitutional, or constitutionally problematic. If that doesn’t happen, any MP can ask the Constitutional Court to review it on the point that the amendment is unconstitutional. Finally if it is passed into law, a private citizen or other body could potentially take up legal suit to get the now Act declared unconstitutional.”
FIN24, the Naspers-Media24 financial news site has been found guilty on one count of copyright infringement.
The South Gauteng High Court found that Fin24 infringed the copyright of one Moneyweb article in 2013, after copying and republishing a substantial part of an original article, and was ordered to pay damages to Moneyweb.
Judge Daniel Berger did not find similar infringements in six other articles and ordered Moneyweb to pay 70% of Fin24’s costs.
These were the main findings in the copyright infringement case Moneyweb instituted in 2013 against Fin24, after Fin24 copied and republished content from various Moneyweb articles. Moneyweb argued that copyright was infringed in seven articles.
Damages in regard to the infringement have yet to be finalised.
You can read the rest of the Moneyweb side of the story here.
And the extraordinary article published by Fin24 claiming it isn’t guilty at all.
DO YOU remember when the internet still spread hope? After its invention in the‘80s, we had access to a mass of information, sites such as Napster allowed us to share so-called “private property” easily and, most importantly, we could publish what we had to say ourselves – and people actually listened. It was participatory in nature, without much visible regulation from above. Nowadays, with net neutrality being at risk, mass surveillance and the threat of clamping down on copyright infringements as an excuse for censorship, the web often induces more fear than encouragement.
Narcolepsy sufferer Aaron Bale – mentored by “the internet’s own boy”, Aaron Swartz, and inspired by the success of the SOPA blackout in 2012, when 20 million people effectively stopped an anti-piracy bill – has come up with an idea to return some power to internet users: BitVote. He hopes his project will let us have some say again, without being completely overrun by the powers-that-be.
What is BitVote?
As a decentralised app operating on a BitCoin-like blockchain technology with a KeyValuePair store of data strings everyone can access, BitVote will add value to ideas without a human authority having to oversee the process. The coding will be completely transparent, so everyone can improve, build and analyse the tool as they wish. In the interest of, “I don’t agree with your opinion but I’ll fight for your right to speak it,” it’ll be completely neutral and compatible with all current systems as well as third-party add-ons.
How do I vote?
Votes will be measured in units we can all relate to: minutes, hours and days of our life. You’ll be able to choose a link (or create your own) to something you feel strongly about – say it’s the fight against Monsanto’s food monopoly. After pasting it into BitVote, you can dedicate an appropriate amount of token time to it. If you have 24 vote hours, you could use all 24 hours towards Stop Monsanto. But you could also, if you don’t care about the GMO giants as much, only use four hours (or one, two, five etc.) and save the rest for a different cause. Your vote will be recorded and your available hours will drop accordingly. The time-units are easy for everyone to grasp, yet they’ll provide multiple factors for analysis. What, for instance, is more important – many people spending small vote units on a cause or a few people spending large vote units on a cause?
Bale and BitVote coder Jasper den Ouden haven’t agreed whether all voters will accumulate vote hours from the day BitVote launches or from the day you were born, but the consensus is that the assigning of “vote currency” needs to be equal for all. Importantly, although vote hours will increase every 60 minutes of your life, they’ll gain value through scarcity. This means that those who don’t use the internet so often – the elderly, people living in rural areas or just generally less tech-savvy people – will actually have a stronger impact when things get heavy. Say something drastic happens and a president decides to go to war. The above-mentioned demographic might be motivated to vote and have more hours to spend than enthusiastic internet users who vote everyday.
You might be thinking, how is this different to slacktivism? It’s just a bunch of symbolic hours after all; spent in a virtual system, via a click from your armchair. Bale realises that the vote hours won’t do anything as such. But what they will do, is show what people care about. If you’re fighting for a cause, you might feel more confident addressing it in the real world if you know 80% of BitVoters feel the same way as you. Ultimately – although BitVote can be used for a vast variety of reasons, from market research to activism – the system’s strength is perhaps that it could offer evidence of betrayal. If the Film and Publications Board South Africa says pre-publication censorship on the internet is what the majority wants, citizens could take to BitVote to prove the opposite. Whether a bunch of votes will actually stop officials from executing their plans is hard to imagine, yet – if the system really is widely used by technophiles and technophobes alike – it might be more powerful than a Twitter storm or liking causes on Facebook.
What about mob-votes?
A concern is that a mob of people, who might be very uneducated on the subject they’re voting on, could get together to cast a potentially dangerous vote. Imagine this was, “kill all homosexuals”. Bale tries to explain this problem with what he calls “The Zombie Example”. “If there’s a zombie apocalypse on the rise and 99.9% want to legalise cannibalism, authorities have the option not to act on this, and the population will thank them later. You can use common sense.” Moreover, it’s an alarm bell. If a large number of voters plan to kill homosexuals, he would try to physically intervene. He believes it probably won’t come to tyranny-of-the-majority votes though because of the way people interact online. “Not in close physical proximity, and anonymously. There’s trolling, but there’s not a lot of abuse of authority. The internet doesn’t kill people.”
Also, he explains, if a tyrant boss in an oppressive regime gets a 1000 of his employees to vote at gunpoint, these workers can cast a counter-vote anonymously to get “the asshole fired”. He adds that there are a lot of scams around and BitVote isn’t immune to them – but often people have ways to figure them out. An instant “vote bomb”, in this case a 1000 people voting for a dodgy cause at once, might spur some scepticism.
Although users will be completely anonymous by default, a positive aspect is perhaps that you’ll have the option to disclose your geographical location. Imagine the City of Cape Town decides to evict a group of people from their shacks, again claiming to have the interest of the people at heart. The majority, who are not being evicted from their homes, might vote for the eviction of the shack-dwellers because they don’t understand their conditions – thus providing the City with a plausible back-up to their statement. The affected community could, however, start a location-aware vote to show that everyone who lives in the area does not approve of the eviction. In other words, the people at the river should have more authority to decide whether it’s polluted or not. Bale also points out that, because anyone can build an add-on tool, it’s easy to create filters. This might be useful if BitVote gets flooded with porn.
As well-intentioned as BitVote may sound, if it wants be legitimate and effective, there can only be one user per real-world identity, which is difficult to prove without compromising anonymity. The geek word for this is Sybil security – a tricky problem many organisations are currently trying to solve. While none of them are perfect, the BitVote team members have some ideas. Options could involve “ID pools”, i.e. having users play a game simultaneously, or reputation systems. A lot of methods have loop holes and would be extremely costly though. According to Bale, so-called Sybil attacks, also called “sock puppeting”, are often of a “social nature”, meaning they don’t necessarily involve a lot of technical know-how. Therefore, Bale welcomes everyone to help solve this problem. If you’re a social orientated professional, such as a sociologist, political student, social-engineer hacker, activist, doctor, or just someone with a good idea, please contact him at email@example.com.
At this stage it’s unclear when BitVote will launch officially – funding still needs to be secured and Sybil security solved – but the team is working on getting a small scale system up and running soon. This will function as an invitation-only experiment for people whose identity has been verified in the real world.
Until then, we might not be sure of the project’s practical implications. But one thing Bale said might be valuable to keep in mind: “With BitVote the concept of authority is constantly changing. The ideas themselves will gain authority, not people.”
What do you think? Are you sceptical? How would you use BitVote?
Please post your ideas, critiques and praise in the comment section – it’s a project everyone is encouraged to participate in.
Text: Christine Hogg
Copyright is not a right, but a commercial privilege. It is used by authors and artists to control the sale of copies of original work which would otherwise fall into the public domain. As such it is a legal fiction invented by law professionals, who often ignore the rights of others, those who may desire to create derivative works, for example literary allusion in which a poem refers to another poem.
The recent claim by the artist Jane Alexander which ended with the conclusion of a lucrative deal with “Die Antwoord” is a case in point. According to Alexander’s lawyer Martin Heller the well known sculpture on permanent exhibition in the SA National Gallary, “was used in the video without Alexander’s consent”.
“A substantial part of the video showed an animated figure identical with the sculpture’s outer left figure”. That’s right, an animated representation of ONE of the Butcher Boys.
Where do we draw the line between a new and derivative work?
Alexander says she “did not intend to limit her work’s interpretation, and [she] does not seek to interfere with other artists’ work.”
However, in this case, she was merely concerned that “Die Antwoord’s use of her work and its context might be publicly perceived as reflecting her own artistic intention.”
So even though, Alexander readily admited she did not want to “limit her work’s interpretation” she obviously did not want the creation of derivative works which may be misconstrued as her own, and it would seem the desire to create a perpetual monopoly in which any reference to the Butcher Boys is now the subject of legal scrutiny, has won the day.
One can easily see how the copyright scheme, proposed by Alexanders lawyers might work, but in order to enforce her claim, which has yet to be tested in court, a regime of enforcement of legal rights by threats of legal action is created. Artists are silenced, the settlement has the effect of dissuading others from referring to the Butcher Boys without permission, for fear of a commercial rights violation.
It is a control regime based upon an outdated perception of private property in our common law, one which is based upon scarcity, in which copies are controlled because of scarcity and where the only people likely to do copying from a commercial perspective are well-heeled operators. It is not a regime which takes into account the way the Internet has developed.
The South African Copyright Act, has yet to accept the presence of rights conferred by other schemes, for example the Creative Commons and GNU GPL license, but is due for a review later this year.
If you are concerned as I am, about the manner in which Copyright violates rights conferred by the Constitution, I suggest you campaign for an amendment, one in which actions such as the claim made by Alexander, would be outlawed.
In 1909, Gandhi wrote “Hind Swaraj” and in 1910 the English translation was published as “Indian Home Rule”. This is a photograph of a rare copy of the work (it isn’t usually available, even in major museums and Gandhi archives), and the copyright legend on it reads: “No rights reserved.” The book in question is the property of Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie, and the photograph was taken by Isabel Hofmeyr. This file has been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons with the express permission and approval of both Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie and Isabel Hofmeyr.