Internet Governance Forum

Human Rights at the Internet Governance Forum

I went to the first Internet Governance Forum in Athens with a certain amount of dread. Although I was happy to be heading up the Amnesty delegation, my experience at WSIS in Tunis left me with the abiding impression that most states and commercial entities would be happy to roll back rights & freedoms in the online space unless constantly pressed. However, somewhat to my amazement, human rights were a headline theme for the whole of the IGF and were raised over and over again by civil society participants. When we intervened in the Openness Session on Day 2 it triggered a debate about Internet censorship and corporate complicity in China, which was widely covered in the media. This debate included a jaw dropping moment when the head of the Chinese delegation completely denied that there was any internet censorship in China (check out the full transcipt of the debate).

In most of the panels I attended there was a sense of confusion about how to set global standards for Internet governance when faced with various threats (security, pornography) or when states pose cultural reasons to justify censorship. Many of us pointed out that key global standards don't need to be re-invented because they are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , to which states are already committed. Many participants seemed unaware that there are limited exceptions to deal with genuine threats, as long as the exceptions are applied in a specific, proportionate and concrete way.

I'm hoping that the internet governance processes can use the UDHR to prevent the net from becoming a collection of censored national enclosures and instead reinstate it as a protected international space for free expression and free flow of information and ideas.

At the IGFAt the IGF

Oh yes, and I got to hand in the petition for the irrepressible.info campaign to Nitin Desai (UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser for Internet Governance). So a big thanks to him and especially to Markus Kummer, the Executive Coordinator of the IGF, who arranged the whole thing.

mashups on the frontline

Dirk Voorhoof was kind enough to send me a copy of the FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION vs. COPYRIGHT presentation I blogged about earlier . This also quotes the US Supreme Court decision allowing the 2 Live Crew Parody of 'Oh pretty woman'. I remembered Joichi Ito making a comment about remixing at the Internet Governance Forum; a trawl back came up with this inspiring quote (via Intellectual Property Watch ); “Ito added that the editing of multimedia has become an essential part of social discourse in the United States, and that “being able to share and remix video and music is vital” to political debate. But he said copyright law is interfering with political commentary by preventing the use of video material. “I think we’re inhibiting an entirely new form of free speech,” he said”.
Well, i think that nails it - all this mixing and mashing is the emergent free speech of our times.
can dialectics break bricks?can dialectics break bricks?
But of course, this is a mode of counter-hegemonic expression with a pedigree. As Lawrence Liang points out in the The Black and White (and Grey) of Copyright , the Situationist International were putting this in to practice in the 1960's and 70's (and he reckons they were inspired by the late romantic poet Lautréamont!)
[Note 1] For a Human Rights geek like myself, it's doubly cool that mashups are the frontline of of expression, because I reckon that technology mashups are the current tech trend with the biggest potential for online activism.
[Note 2] For a good example of a Situationist mashup (aka detournement), check out "Can Dialectics Break Bricks?" by René Viénet.

Copyright versus Campaigning

I caught a great presentation at the Internet Governance Forum called FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION vs. COPYRIGHT given by Dirk Voorhoof . The folk at my day job are good enough at spotting traditional censorship i.e. direct repression by governments, but one of the main things I wanted from the IGF was to sharpen up on how copyright impacts freedom of expression. Dirk's presentation hit the spot by showing how copyright is used as a tool to inhibit campaigning, by harassing groups like Greenpeace when they use something similar to a logo or brand to criticise a corporate through parody or imitation. This also seems to me a great way to get the message through to traditional campaigning NGO's that copyright is a key issue. oil logosoil logos The other great aspect of Dirk's presentation was the image he conjoured up of a titanic clash between two legal regimes, namely Intellectual Property Rights versus Human Rights. As he put it, we need to decide between "Copyright/trademark protection as a principle and freedom of expression as an exception or Freedom of expression as a principle and copyright/trademark protection as exceptions".
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