Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Copyright and Marcel the Shell

Viral campaigns come and go.  Such is the nature of the internet.  Two of these that I found particularly interesting are the SOPA battle and Marcel the Shell.   One is serious, and heated, the other frivolous and fun.  These campaigns illustrate several features of the internet that contributed to the plot in the book series, Socialite 1.

SOPA opposition goes viral reads the headline in a recent Washington Post article about the use of social media, Facebook, Twitter etc. to motivate people around the world to pressure the US government to abandon its latest proposed internet piracy protection legislation.  I won't go into the nuts and bolts of the legal stuff, though here is a link explaining some of the particulars: How SOPA would affect you: FAQ.
Importantly, the legislation gives the US government a lot of power over the material that US citizens are allowed to access - resembling a movement toward the Chinese government's approach.  It's no wonder, then, that over a million people have sent emails to the US gov.

Getting a million people to support one cause is no small task.  There is no simple formula.  If there was I would use it to get a million sales of my books (as would every other self-published author!)  Few campaigns, including SOPA, are so clear cut that a large number of people agree that they're good or bad.    Regarding censorship, most people can be offended by certain types of content, and prefer such content to be regulated, before it reaches them and their children's email, or favourite websites.  That requires censorship.  As well, protecting the copyright of content creators necessitates, in many cases, government and legal intervention.

Then there are the websites that seem so frivolous that no one would think of applying restrictions to them.  Take the popular Marcel the Shell youtube videos.  The first one MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON - YouTube has over 13 million views.  The second in this series MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON, TWO, released last week, already has 2.5 million views.  That's a huge audience!  The videos portray a talking snail, making short, cute comments about his life.  For example, "guess why I smile a lot; uh, cause it's worth it."

In China, however, where the internet is strictly regulated, creative, funny or seemingly innocuous content  is used to mask the true message - one that would not be allowed to be viewed by people in that country.
This recent article in the NY Times illustrates the methods that some people are using in China to spread their blacklisted messages: Political Outsiders Turn to Microblog Campaigns in China - NYTimes ....  While advocates of SOPA insist that the legislation is not designed to block free speech, its detractors assert that the bill is so broad that it could be used to block almost anything.    As the China example illustrates, however, people will probably find creative ways to get around the legislation, no matter how broad it is.   It just takes one clever person to find a clever trick that goes viral, and suddenly millions of people are doing the same thing.  You can't legislate that!

In Socialite 1, the idea of internet control is explored from a variety of perspectives.  In the story, "Socialite" is the internet.  Its creator, Ray Amis, uses it to find the perfect mate for his daughter and to protect his anonymity.  He maintains control over Socialite, as evidenced in Book 1: Jacob is given the awful nickname GYB by his friends, but that name is blocked from appearing in cellphone texts, or on the internet - so the people in Jacob's life quickly stop using the name.  The message is, if it doesn't exist on the net, it doesn't exist at all.  Later in the series the issues of censorship are developed further as the evangelist Benny attempts to control online content, initially by destroying Socialite video servers that hold a copy of a video created by the main characters during one of their fun comedy nights (called "novelty nights" in the books).

The side effect of censorship, the enhancement of creativity, is also explored in the series.  In Book 4, the development of the novel is discussed as a result of the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737.  This legislation resulted in books like Tom Jones, as many writers avoided censorship in theatre by switching their platform of expression.   It will be interesting to see how creativity is affected as the internet matures and new measures are enacted in the cat-and-mouse game of piracy versus copyright protection.

I look forward to your comments on these issues.

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