by Jen Turner
At the end of October, The Finnish Supreme Court rejected a case from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) fighting an enforced ban of file-sharing website The Pirate Bay. The BBC reported that the ruling signaled the end of a long court battle between ISP Elisa and copyright bodies in the country. The Pirate Bay, which offers links to pirated content, has caused controversy in other areas too. The website is now also banned in the UK, the Netherlands, and Italy.
However, internet rights groups say the bans represent a worrying rise in levels of net censorship – a concern which is shaped by changes in the management of the World Wide Web. Control of the internet and its logistical arrangements stems from agreements made under the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialist UN agency that dates back to 1865. Now, the ITU is suggesting new proposals which would mean internet companies like Google paying generous fees to local telecoms companies. These plans would disrupt the balance between the US internet giants and telecom firms across the world. Administration and organisation of the internet has been dominated by the US since Arpanet, the precursor to the modern internet, was established between four US universities in 1969, and a handful of US-controlled authorities followed.
Google has battled hard in campaigns surrounding the open web and the media-genic issues of free speech and-anti censorship that other ITU proposals allude to. However, as Jemima Kiss reports, for a company worth £150bn, taxes to telecom firms would be payable on every interaction with its 700 million or so daily users. Perhaps this challenge to Western dominance is an important one, raising issues about how these seemingly placeless entities are controlled.
In similar vein, Kimberley Peters’ recent article in Area explores governance outside of territorial boundaries in political discussion of the geographies of the sea. Using the example of offshore broadcasting stations such as Radio Caroline, Peters explains the ramifications that ‘pirate’ stations had on the governance of sea-space. By explaining actions carried out within Britain’s borders, and the international space of the ‘high seas’, this paper recognises how this response challenged Britain’s long-held ideology of maritime freedom.
If we consider both the web and the waves in light of their non-territorial character, we can find similarities in the challenges for regulating them – acknowledging the conundrum for governing these kinds of spaces.
Kimberley Peters, 2011, Sinking the radio ‘pirates’: exploring British strategies of governance in the North Sea, 1964–1991, Area 43 281-287
Jemima Kiss, Who controls the internet?, The Guardian, 17 October 2012
Pirate Bay appeal is rejected by Finnish supreme court, BBC News Technology, 30 October 2012