Delicious news from the United States, where 'Net Neutrality' is again being recast for a new political purpose.
The term long since ceased to mean anything - it now means anything you want it to mean. But as a rule of thumb, advocating Neutrality means giving your support to general Goodness on the internets, and opposing general Badness. Therefore, supporting Neutrality means you yourself are a Good Person, by reflection, and people who oppose Neutrality are Bad People.
This is a wonderful thing, and the beauty is, it's all so simple. It's like the Good Guys Wearing White - the Bad Guys oppose Neutrality. And because Neutrality is anything you want it to be, you have an all-purpose morality firehose at your disposal. Just point it and shoot at Baddies.
But best of all is that you get to define the Baddies, raise a lynch mob, catch them and hang them - before somebody has had a chance to ask "Where's the harm, exactly?".
This time the accusation of Neutrality Violations is being turned on copyright holders, minority groups - and anyone who wants a network to run the way they want it to.
Rights for some, but not all
Now you may be thinking that it's strange that in an age when we keep being told that thanks to technology "we're all creators", creators' rights must go out of the window. Surely these digital rights should be being strengthened - as new sources of money are available to the talented, and as old middlemen melt away? Has a technology ever been invented that when allied to copyright, makes creators less independent, or poorer? Not until now.
But not everybody sees it this way. Copyright messes up the smooth running of the networks, it's a spanner in the machine-driven cybernetic utopia. It also costs network operators money - paying the pesky talent who create the stuff that generates the demand. And it's impossible for a machine to do: an algorithm is unable to spot and nurture creative talent, in the way a studio boss or a publisher or a label could find and nurture acting writing or performing talent. The machine can't compute that. And of course, the machine can't create art: when algorithms are set to write a composition (or when, say, Cory Doctorow attempts to create readable prose) you can tell instantly something is missing.
So Google's front groups such as Public Knowledge and FreePress - they fly under the flag of "citizens groups" or "consumer rights" groups, but are really two of Google's most potent arrows in its lobbying quiver - are now deploying the morality firehose on copyright.
Anyone policing the internets for copyright infringement will be violating neutrality, say the groups. Therefore it shouldn't be permitted. Presumably the same logic can be applied to policing the internets for anything: a paedophile "neutrality" maybe being violated somewhere - which would be awful.
It's economically and technically illiterate of course, just as you'd expect. Nobody at Public Knowledge or FreePress has ever done a day's honest toil at a business in their lives - their prejudices are evident. But the groups have also rolled out ethnic minorities, alarming them that without Neutrality, they'll be erased. The National Hispanic Media Coalition, for example, is standing right behind the Neutrality firehose.
But imagine these two examples.