Friday, March 11, 2011

Democracy in Crisis

Hearing about popular vote being overturned in Missouri yesterday is yet another blow that makes the average American voter feel powerless. This time, a 52% vote to PROTECT PUPPIES being raised for profit was shot down by state legislature. Apparently, even if people create a proposal, get it on the ballot and get a majority of voters to support their proposal, state lawmakers can vote to never let it see the light of day. This can happen even when 76% of voters support the proposal!

What are voters to do in this situation? Fox News asked us; why vote at all? Indeed, many Americans already agree with this way of thinking. Only about 50% of Americans vote in national elections, compared to 80% in other "democratic" countries. Researchers at University of Rochester tell us that more Americans talk about politics than people in comparable countries, but we don't vote because we don't trust the government. Our faith first dropped in 1974, when every democracy around the world trusted their leaders more than us, except for Italy. Since then, our faith in national government has only declined.

Why is this happening? Maybe because, "85% of Americans believe corporations have too much power in our government, and people have too little?" That's what Sandy Haski from talks about in the video below. It shows an increasing corporate influence over American elections since the 1800s.

The only problem now is, how can we really pass laws to limit corporate power? If public proposals can be overturned by legislators, and all current legislators were elected by corporations, we seem to have a roadblock.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Don't Post that Video!

Don't share a copyrighted video on your site, because now you can get arrested. Brian McCarthy is a 32-year-old Texan who ran until he was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week. let users watch videos that were not supposed to be free, including sports and pay-per-view events. By embedding these videos on his site, Brian only linked to someone else's copy of the vid, he did not possess the file anywhere on his web space. He did allow users to watch pirated videos without leaving his website. Brian made $90,000+ a year from advertisers on his site.

By doing this, Brian managed to upset the UFC, WWE, NFL, NBA, and NHL who were supposed to be charging to broadcast these events. He now faces up to 5 years in prison.

Should Brian be going to jail? Copyright infringement is normally a civil offense, NOT criminal. But Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is claiming it's criminal this time because Brian profited off the distribution of illegal content. This is a stretch in the power of ICE, because no one has been arrested who didn't actually host pirated content before.

Now, what Brian did at is something like building a house with windows where you can look out and see something illegal. He then let people into this house for free and encouraged them to watch the illegal goings-on, while making a profit from advertisements in the house. He is only the secondary offender and has not created the illegal content himself. Really, Brian's crime is promoting free information while finding another way to make a profit. And now ICE says that is a criminal offense.

If Brian goes to jail, its likely more people will get arrested or fined for embedding copyrighted videos on their site. writes, "it should worry almost anyone who has a website and has ever embedded videos. I have, for example, frequently embedded YouTube videos on this site -- and some of those videos might have been infringing. On top of that, I make some money from advertising on this site. Does that mean I now face criminal liability? I certainly hope not, but that seems to be the incredibly chilling message that ICE is sending. It immediately makes me question if I can ever embed another video without first getting explicit permission from the copyright holder."

While we all laugh at the fact that "ICE" is "chilling," let's think about this. The internet makes it very easy to share information. Do we want to change that by arresting people for sharing certain kinds of information? Internet censorship is already on the rise. Countries and schools can block any site deemed offensive or inappropriate. If we don't stop censorship at some point, how soon until we are all forced to "see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil?"