Robles: What Villacorta (Sotto’s chief of staff) said has very vast implications. He said everything in the Internet is free.
— ABS-CBN News Channel (@ANCALERTS) August 17, 2012
Senator Tito Sotto was recently criticized for allegedly plagiarizing at least part of his anti reproductive health bill speech, which he gave in the Senate. Sarah Pope, an American blogger whose work was allegedly plagiarized has come out to say, “Sotto is acting above the law“. Journalist Raissa Robles wrote that Sotto copied from five bloggers.
Attorney Hector Villacorta, Senator Sotto’s Chief of Staff told ABS-CBN News that the senator can not be sued because “The Internet is public domain.” @jojomalig over at ABS-CBN News has written an excellent piece citing law and reasons why the Web is not public domain. And Ms. Pope has gone on record saying there is a copyright notice on her blog ( way down on her footer it reads, (C) Astrus Foods LLC).
Villacorta’s apparent intellectual dishonesty or intellectually challenged on the issue reflects in someways how most people view the Internet or its content. Content even from sources like Wikipedia are lifted word for word by students for their assignments. Photos are simply re-shared without citation. Plagiarism is not new, nor is it a Philippine phenomena.
There are two things that people are talking about here. What the Internet is to most people, and what “copyright” law is on the Internet.
What the Internet is
For most people, those normal people who do not breathe and live on and off the Internet, they see this cyberspace as a place for fun and entertainment. It is just another entertainment channel for them. They see websites as the Internet. Which is so far from the truth.
You’re familiar with an office in a building right? Most of you reading this probably works in one. A building or facility is just part of the city. And a city forms part of a province or state, and that state or province form part of an even bigger entity called, a country. Well, the Internet is just like the Earth with so many countries, and so many cities in it.
A website is an office or space in Web server. For many companies, and for many people it is a front door to the world. That Web server is a building in a city. The Cluster (which is a group of servers) is a city, and the Data Center, which is a group of clusters is your province or state, and a federation of which forms part of a country, i.e. one owned by AOL, Amazon, Rackspace, MediaTemple and others.
And Facebook is just a gated community, that has sprawled into its own city-state.
The Internet is a network of networks. What you see— the websites? Like in a city, a building is just one of many layers of the Internet. Email works just like its real world counterpart the post office, or parcel service like UPS and FedEx, is very, very much distinct from the Web. And what makes these websites go? Like how do you go from Google to to Facebook to somewhere else? That’s Domain Name Service— an address of sorts that knits it all together, and is kind of like what roads, and ports are like and they link everything together.
So yes, just like the real world, there are “rules” on the Internet. The basic principles— which is kind of the constitution is called Request for Comments (RFC). These form the “Internet standard”, which describe “methods, behaviors, research, or innovations applicable to the working of the Internet and Internet-connected systems.” Yes, it even has a Glossary of terms. And the guys who make this up is the Internet Engineering Task Force, which is kind of the Congress or Parliament or United Nations of the Internet.
Behavior such as trolling– posting inflammatory comments or entries that seek to get a reader’s emotional response is often dissuaded, “Do not feed the trolls“. An in one instance, the law has stepped in.
Thoughts on copyright
Just like in the real world, there are ethos to adhere to, which mostly originated from Hacker Culture, and ethics. And one of the tenants of this is that “All information should be free”. By free, meaning people have access to it. Information or data shouldn’t be kept. Documents should be accessible. Music should be played. In the broader concept it does not preclude people from making money or attributing or giving a simple hat tip to the original work. Ideas like Creative Commons tell us yes, by all means, share, remix, but attribute to the source. Reblogging on Tumblr attributes the source. Sharing on Facebook attributes the Source. A retweet on Twitter attributes the source. So the Internet isn’t a lawless, free for all world that people can just take and take, without giving a simple hat tip gesture. And if you liked something on YouTube, or downloaded something on PirateBay or torrents, you are very much encouraged to pay for it, someway, somehow, if you can, or tell people how great it is so creators can make money, and make more stuff that you like. In fact, Creators like Neil Gaiman have interesting thoughts on Piracy and Copyright.
So to sum it all up, the Internet isn’t the web. The websites, the blogs you see? They are like office spaces in a building, which is part of a city (data center), and that city is part of an even bigger world called the Internet. There are “rules”, and behavior on the Internet. There is cultural norm on the Internet derived largely from Hacker Ethics, and natural outgrowth like “Do not feed the trolls”. Just because it is on the Internet, doesn’t mean it is public domain.
Image credit: Some rights reserved by toto_ong