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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

When Running Code in Filipino Part 5: Internet Rights


MIT professor Dave Clark, one of the grand old men of the Internet, may have unintentionally written the IETF anthem in his A Cloudy Crystal Ball/Apocalypse Now presentation at the 24th annual July 1992 IETF conference. Today, it's immortalized on T-shirts: "We reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code." Which might translate to, "In the IETF, we don't allow caucusing, lobbying, and charismatic leaders to chart our path, but when something out on the Net really seems to work and makes sense to most of us, that's the path we'll adopt."

- Paulina Borsook, “How Anarchy Works,” Wired 3.10


Any understanding of what “Internet rights” for the Filipino and for any Netizen for that matter should be drawn from the background of the history of the Internet and the culture that exist around it. The culture born of those early years of the Internet was spawned naturally from the simple and pragmatic design of the Internet, and from the norms and character of academics, engineers, and scientists who were its Pioneers. Naturally, this era gave birth to Hacker Ethics, the GNU Manifesto and the infamous essay, “The Conscience of a Hacker”:

This is our world now... the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn't run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore... and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge... and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias... and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it's for our own good, yet we're the criminals.

- A snippet of “the Conscience of a Hacker” by The Mentor

The 1980s and the early 1990s saw rapid transformation. Steve Jobs was thrown out of Apple and then started NeXT and the computer that he made at NeXT would host first Webserver. By 1991, Linus Torvalds wrote the first lines of the Linux kernel powered by an Internet largely used quietly by academics, engineers and scientists would unwittingly change how the world would be. Two years later, as IBM lay dying, Bill Gates proudly won the Operating System War.

Netscape, Yahoo and Red Hat were quietly born and as Windows 95 sealed Microsoft’s dominance, Netscape went public, its stock skyrocketing to US$75.00 and the World Wide Web began to enter the general public’s consciousness.

The Years, 1997 and 1998 were crucial. Microsoft had a lock in with just about every company in the world, even the mighty juggernaut named Intel. There were many things happening in the background. Intel wanted in on a little company called Red Hat that sold software on Intel that wasn’t Microsoft’s Windows. Then there was Netscape, which was struggling to compete against Microsoft in the browser wars. As a company that made money selling browsers, Netscape could not compete with the price that Microsoft had for their Internet Explorer: US$0.00.

Enter a guy named Eric S. Raymond.

Eric S. Raymond was a software developer who wrote an essay “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.” This essay compared two methods of software development. In the Cathedral Model, the source code: the DNA of an Application was restricted to an exclusive group of developers who wrote it. The second, the Bazaar model popularized by Linux, the source code could be seen, edited and worked on by N number of people without restriction. This essay helped persuade Netscape to give away the source code to their Internet browser and thus the Mozilla (Firefox) project was born.

This was significant.

Hacker culture had entered the world of Business. Everything changed. Hacker culture was powering Big Business. Intel went in bed with Red Hat Linux, helping funding that fledging company. Apache Webserver, another open source project came out of the closet. Where once only a few hackers around the world knew, businesses started funding these projects. IBM and Intel just to name a few have committed engineers to work on the Linux kernel, to ensure that their machines ran on Linux. Suddenly you have an Internet that was running off Open Source.

No one owned this code? It was frightening. It was unheard of. Companies were giving away the very recipe of your software. You are giving your competition an advantage. Suddenly Business doesn’t own the software. It was completely insane. Suddenly anybody could create their own version of your software. This spurred more development on the Web.

Software of all sorts could be downloaded off the web and leveraged by anyone. The Second Coming of Steve Jobs saw Apple building Mac OS X on top of BSD Open Source software. Nearly everyone uses open source software today, in one form or another. IBM is a company that bundles open source software in their business, apache being one of them. They also sell Linux servers, for instance.

The tech bubble at the turn of the century, saw the industry in a slump. People who got fired started blogs and all of a sudden the Internet exploded with content. As bandwidth increased, blogs were followed by podcasts and we find ourselves today at the dawn of video podcasting. New Media was transforming how we are entertained, how we get news, how information is conveyed.

Fast forward to the end of 2008, The Philippine blogger community had found its voice. The controversy surrounding the De la Paz incident made its way from blogs to the International press. The power of the Internet becomes frightening.

Like many across the world questions on what exactly constitutes blogger rights and free speech online is being debated. Court cases from America form much of this literature as well as laws like The Digital Millennium Copyright Act and locally the lawsuit filled against the PCIJ and as this new threat from the NTC comes out, more people find themselves communicating online.

The point I was trying to make mentioning Hacker ethics, and “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” that in every instance when Online Life had a turning point, the core principles of sharing, openness, decentralization, free access to computers and networks, and general world improvement was there.

The same core principles permeate social networking, whether you Facebook or you twitter. Whether you blog or you flickr. Whether you podcast or YouTube, at the core of it all are those values. Everything from the Internet Engineering Task Force to forum, or every kind this community ethos is part of it. Even the idea of Net Neutrality takes its root from this inalienable qualities that make the Internet such a wonderful resource.

We’ve seen the failure of Digital Rights Management. The music studios have given up on it by letting DRM free music downloadable on iTunes and on Amazon.

Many of the salient provisions for a fair and free Internet in the Philippines is already existing with the Electronic Commerce Law. The biggest hurdle is to decriminalize defamation law in the Philippines. The next is a clear and present need for a Freedom of Information Act and access to media records that is both fair, open and transparent. This isn’t just for “Internet rights” or for bloggers alone. It extends to governance. It extends to how we view our society. For a democracy, our country sure tries doubly hard to make things illegal. For a democracy, we contrain truth and logic.

Don’t you feel that everyone is so distrusting of one another that the air is so poisonous?

Then there is Creative Commons. Seriously, why aren’t more people tagging their material using Creative Commons? Whether you photo blog or video blog or podcast or blog, or have a recipe for your salad, tag it. In my humble opinion, as much as Open Source licenses have empowered businesses, so too can Creative Commons empower and emancipate information for the rest of us.

Creative Commons lets people know how far you can go. It gives a framework for sharing, for being open, for free access to information and in the tradition of the Internet, it makes a whole lot of sense. It liberates your Intellectual property material in the same way Open Source has liberated source code.

When someone infringes on Creative Commons, those cases need challenging because there needs to be precedent that it works.

That said, there is a clear and present need for a non profit Freedom Foundation that serves not just as the local chapter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It becomes a one stop shop to know how far one can go while blogging or who do you quote for image rights or text and everything else in between. Hey, legal cases are expensive in the Philippines and challenging and protecting our intellectual property, more so when you license it freely and someone abuses that right is challenging. All of it requires expertise, money and organization.

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