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An Internet, “If You Can Keep It”

PHOTO Digital Freedom panel discussion at Commit!Forum2012, October 3. Courtesy Mark Scheerer
PHOTO Digital Freedom panel discussion at Commit!Forum2012, October 3. Courtesy Mark Scheerer
October 8, 2012

PORTLAND, Maine - Founding Father Benjamin Franklin is said to have answered a question about what kind of rule the Constitutional Convention of 1787 had created by saying, "A republic, if you can keep it." Advocates working to keep the Internet free from restrictions and regulations say, in effect, the same thing: It's up to Internet users to keep it free.

Last winter's effort by Congress to pass bills called SOPA and PIPA to regulate the Internet was resoundingly defeated by an unprecedented outpouring of pushback, facilitated by the Net itself. John Perry Barlow, a founder of a digital freedom watchdog group, says the next assault on the Internet could come from government or industry or some other party that won't necessarily play by the rules.

"If the response of the democratic process to these kinds of regulations is not in their favor, then they avoid the democratic process."

Barlow and other Internet experts told corporate executives at a Wall Street confab last week that the so-called "digital freedom" movement is alive - and vigilant.

Jim Harper with the Libertarian Cato Institute was on hand to show how protecting digital freedom does not have to be a partisan endeavor.

"Someone comes along with their big idea about how it's supposed to go, and people do, they do love their Internet. If you're going to interfere with how it's going to work for them, they will rise up, and that's good news. That's the reason why the Internet sort of defaults toward freedom."

Harold Feld with the watchdog group Public Knowledge says he's sure another effort to regulate the web, like SOPA and PIPA, will come out of Capitol Hill.

"It has to be not a 'fire and forget' idea, 'Yeah, we won, that'll never happen again.' It really has to be, as with any fundamental right, that people are willing to defend it."

Before John Perry Barlow co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, he was a lyricist for the Grateful Dead.

"We invented viral marketing. We let people tape our concerts and showed that there was an economic model there: You could actually make a lot of money by giving your stuff away."

Having once co-written with Bob Weir a Grateful Dead song called "And the Music Never Stopped," Barlow is now determined that the free flow of information on the Internet will never stop.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME