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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 10, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Benjamin Franklin is said to have answered a question about what kind of government the United States' founders had created by saying, "A republic, if you can keep it." Advocates say the same thing about the Internet - that it's up to the public to keep it free.

Last winter's efforts by Congress to pass bills called SOPA and PIPA to regulate the Internet were resoundingly defeated by public opposition that spread online. John Perry Barlow, a founder of a digital freedom watchdog group, says the next assault on the Internet could come from government, 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, director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, was on hand to show how protecting digital freedom doesn't have to be a partisan endeavor.

"Someone comes along with their big idea about how it's supposed to go, and people 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 defaults toward freedom."

Harold Feld, legal director for the watchdog group Public Knowledge, says he's sure another effort to regulate the Web will come from 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 Barlow became co-founder of 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."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV