What Will 2009 Bring to Filesharing and Technology?

It’s the end of 2008 as we know it, but what will 2009 bring? We look at the past for clues into the future.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

There’s been plenty of ups and downs just like any other year, but as we march on into 2009, what can we expect to see in what could shape up to be a year that seems to be promising some major shifts in not only the file-sharing landscape, but the internet as a whole. Technology is perhaps one of the most impossible things to predict thanks in part to its fast pace, but there is no harm in looking at the past for some clues into what could happen in 2009.

Television – HD or Bust

Upgrading an old television to a new one has always seemed to be an option, rather than a requirement. One mustn’t forget that 2009 has a particular deadline for upgrading to a digital compliant television. That deadline is February 17, 2009. Some organizations make the note of switching from analogue to digital sound like a great thing, but last year, a senator commented that it could be a “digital disaster” pointing to many who won’t be prepared for the switching off of analogue towers and leaving millions without television.

Another aspect that has caused some controversy was the attempt to bring something known as a broadcast flag into DTV which basically means some shows can’t be recorded unless you have the rights holders permission. After some legal battles, the FCC wasn’t exactly optimistic about the broadcast flag and dropped the requirement to obey the broadcast flag. While it seemed like an absolute victory for the digital rights conscious, controversy sprang up over the activation of the flag in an NBC broadcasting of American Gladiator. Questions were raised on whether or not computer companies will obey the broadcast flag anyway regardless of what the FCC ruled. The issue has since become a quiet one and we will see the very real effects of forcing everyone to digital television in early 2009 and whether or not the broadcast will somehow be resurrected after all the high stakes drama that took place in years past.

coverage from the EFF

ISPs – Who Can Control What You See Online?

Some countries have already started entering a seemingly new debate on network neutrality, but the name seems to take a back seat to what is going on. The debate on whether or not the government should be blocking certain kinds of content hasn’t been more fiercer then in Australia where protesters have already hit the streets to stop the government from trying to control what Australians see on their computer screens. While the subject started off with trying to rid the internet of child pornography, it quickly spiralled into other kinds of content stretching clear into the realm of blocking p2p traffic. ISPs have been fighting back against not only the plan to filter the internet, but against the copyright industry after one of the ISPs sued for “allowing” piracy to occur on their networks.

Of course, if one thinks that this issue is just tied to the distant land of Australia and doesn’t affect North Americans or Europeans, think again. Such ideas have not only taken hold in the politics of Britain, but are are already in the process of migrating to the United States. Already, one can see that this could be a very real issue around the world in 2009. Are you for protecting the children or for protecting your civil liberties?

ISPs – So Long Lawsuits, Hello Three Accusations and Your Disconnected

In the same vain of controlling what you see on your computer screen, now ISPs are being pressured by not only the entertainment industry, but the government to do something to stop file-sharing. In a stunning new twist, the RIAA has already said that they are stopping their lawsuit campaign and opting for getting accused file-sharers disconnected instead. Some observers have already commented that by doing this, they are making the ISPs become the judge and jury on alleged copyright infringers and basically circumventing the legal system altogether.

Why this sudden change in tactics? One possibility could be found in a long-running case known as the Jammie Thomas case where accused file-sharer Jammie Thomas was originally found guilty and fined $222,000. While it seemed like a victory for the copyright industry, that’s when things quickly deteriorated for the copyright industry starting with the manifest error of law where the judge admitted he made a mistake when he instructed the jury that placing copyrighted content in a shared directory was considered illegal. From there, the RIAA lost a hard fought battle to convince the judge that he was correct in the instruction.

While one might point to the Jammie Thomas case, another possible source for this change in tactics is a strong French influence. France has been the original source of the idea of the so-called ‘three-strikes’ policy when it comes to file-sharing and has done everything it (it, meaning French politicians and ambassadors) can to controversially push for the three strikes provision in Europe through any means necessary. Perhaps the copyright industry can’t wait for the results of their petri dish experiment of France to install a three strikes policy in the United States.

Windows 7 – Every Old Evil is Now the New Evil

Some open source advocates may find the idea of having full control of their operating system as something that is essential. As Windows becomes one step closer, as made very obvious with the leaking of the first beta, to a new Windows operating system, some familiar arguments might very well emerge as seen with Vista and XP – you’ll lose more control of your operating system then ever before. Some of it will be more conspiracy then fact, others might be more fact than conspiracy theory. As is almost always the case, it’s going to be difficult to see what becomes truth and what becomes fiction.

Legislating your (Copyright Industry) Worries Away With a Side of ACTA

One thing certainly remains constant – legislation around copyright related issues. One of the most controversial, yet secret pieces of legislation is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. We discussed at length on the latest developments recently, but in short, those involved in ACTA have denied everything that was leaked on Wikileaks earlier this year. While there has been talks about opening up ACTA to the public, the negotiations have remained extremely secret – a trend that has many on edge about their digital rights.

Canada has certainly been a hot battleground for copyright related issues and legislation. What caused the biggest controversy surrounded the idea of having your iPod confiscated at the border because it could technically hold unauthorized copies of music (one point that has been denied by the European Union)

While ACTA is certainly a major concern in many countries, the main concern is Canada’s long running copyright legislation. Many ministers have been run through the controversy mill from Sam Bulte to Jim Prentice with numerous ministers in between. Still, since the ever-famous “pro-user zealots” comment back in 2005, almost four years and two and a half governments have passed with Canadians still in the same boat as they were back then – what to do with the copyright file? Numerous ministers have pretty much unanimously chosen to let the copyright industry dictate what laws should be passed and ignoring the wishes of artists, educators, and the Canadian public while opposition leaders slammed the legislations that came out of ministers who drank the CRIA Kool-Aid. With the current government vowing to bring in the Canadian DMCA, there will no doubt be Canadians who will be there to oppose it.

Britain has been facing with a slightly different copyright debate – namely, why is the government rejected the educated people’s opinion and just bowing to the will of the copyright industry and opting to extend the copyright term? After the Gowers reports, petitions, consultations, and pretty much everything else that spelled out to the British government that copyright term extension was bad, the copyright industry still seems to be convincing the government that Sir Paul McCartney would go broke in his retirement because some of his music is falling into the public domain.

No doubt that these debates will go well into 2009 and possibly beyond into 2010.

Search Engines and Online Storage – Their Services Will Go on… Unless the Industry Objects

Still gaining only minor coverage, search engines and online storage services are starting to fall into the cross-hairs of the copyright industry. Already this year, RapidShare lost a court case in Germany and was ordered to “pro-actively” remove copyrighted content from their services. Many point out that this is an impossible task given the complexity of what could be posted online in the first place (passworded archives to name one example) While a major legal blow to storage services, they are far from out of the picture as hundreds of alternative services will be more than happy to take their place should they go under.

While storage services have had some trouble already, search engines weren’t exactly let off easy this year already. Already, two search engines were sued for assisting copyright violations, thus raising what seemed to be a dead question, “are search engines responsible for the results they bring up?” It’s a question the Korean search engines are facing currently, but one hopes that this is an isolated incident, not the start of a new trend in the face of ISPs being pressured by the copyright industry to crack down on file-sharing.

It’s All About the Economy

The economic crises has had some wondering if the internet will even be the same with thousands not able to afford an internet connection in the first place. Will the economic crises make the internet a little less crowded as access becomes a little harder to gain in the first place. Already, the tech industry has been hit hard with layoffs by the thousands and some people are even predicting that the money will dry up and cause another internet bubble to burst.

Why worry?

There’s plenty of things that could happen, that could have a major impact on file-sharing and the internet in general. Then again, it could amount to pretty much nothing and go on as business as usual with the next year feeling like the last year. Could all this amount to little more than a few headlines or was the Y2K bug 9 years late?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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