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What’s the Deal over Bill C-32 and internet Copyright laws?

It all comes down to locks. That’s one of the latest analogies that’s been circulating around the Canadian blogosphere.

The locks refer to digital locks, used by distributors on copyrighted material (like DVDs and music) to keep material from being reproduced and, consequentially, keep profits in corporate hands. If you’ve ever tried to access an online video and been shut out because of location, that’s a digital lock in action.

Much of the debate around Bill C-32 (i.e., Canada’s latest attempt to update it’s copyright laws) has circulated around locks and whether or not they’re an effective deterrent and how severe trespassers should be punished. But the whole debate leaves my skepitcal senses tingling. In particular, I’m scepitcal about arguments that claim picking a digital lock is as easy as reaching through a gate and lifting a latch.

Certainly, locks are deterrents; a concerted hacker will find a way past. Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe (for someone who has trouble deciphering a microwave’s defrost function) that opening a digital lock could be that easy–that locks are merely minor inconveniences that anyone with the slightest wherewithal, and a bit of incentive, can circumvent.

What seems to be at issue isn’t Joe Average stumbling across a secret back-yard entrance into Toy Story 3 and running afoul of the law. What’s more likely is a clash between distributors and the public’s right to quote, parody, and incorporate material for artistic and educational purposes.

Bill C-32 seems slated to address the most issues around an individuals’ rights to copy material. The criminalization of format shifting (i.e., copying songs from a CD to your ipod), for example, will end if the bill is passed. The Minister of Industry, Tony Clement, felt confident enough about the coming change to boast about his own illegal stash of ipod songs.

Bill C-32 also supposedly contains exceptions for users remixing material for making video montages on sites like Youtube.

However, here’s where the controversy arises: those exceptions come with a caveat. As far as the impending bill is concerned, once a digital lock is introduced one’s rights to remix copyrighted material, for whatever purpose, are void.

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So maybe you’ve a child, a nephew or niece, or a younger sibling who uses Facebook to communicate and wants you in the loop. Or maybe you’ve an acquaintance that won’t stop pestering you to enlist. Either way, you’re mildly curious about joining, but also concerned about what your page will reveal and to whom.

You’re not alone.

Since its inception Facebook has been embroiled in a string of controversies: once in 2006 for implementing a newsfeed feature that broadcasted users’ remote actions (e.g., like unfriending someone); again in 2009 for making friends lists public by default for anyone to read; and again in early 2010 when an online security consultant Ron Bowles collected then distributed data from 100 million Facebook users.

The site’s continued wrangling over its privacy settings has even earned it some particularly sharp criticism from down under.

Thus Facebook has proven a constant source of anxiety over privacy and raised some serious questions over how much access friends, familiy, prospective employers, or even the law should have to our personal lives. Detractors have accused Facebook of subverting democracy; while supporters have claimed Facebook is merely responding to a natural evolution in societal values. Either way, Facebook has become a flashpoint for controversy in a way which other social networking sites just haven’t.

Despite the controversies, however, Facebook has still managed to grow to become the number-one  social networking site, beating out MySpace in 2008. The site now has over 500 million members and is slated to grow even further.

So how does one deal with this social megalith? How do you keep your private information safe?

Thankfully Facebook has responded to public pressure and provided a new “simplified” array of profile settings to help keep the spooks and stalkers out. Those options aren’t always easy to find; Facebook keeps them buried in separate and unintuitive places. But a little digging can excavate them and allow you to opt out.

If you’re still unsatisfied, there’s always the age-old tactic of taking an alias and posting as a Guy Incognito or an Iam Huiam.

Welcome!

Not much room for exposition in the title. So if you’re wondering what this blog is about, let me clarify with this maiden manifesto.

eRabit proposes  to provide a skeptic’s view of online social media. eRabit aims to distill truth from rumour, and fact from  fiction, and to sift through the multiplicity of conflicting headlines and anecdotes that bombard us daily about our growing online world. To that end, eRabit will tackle issues like privacy, online piracy, and copyright. eRabit will weigh the up and downsides of crowdsourcing, wikis, photosharing, podcasts, and more.  Through exploration of  sites like Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, eRabit will try to gauge online networking’s potential to inform and broaden our lives, but also its potential to harm. Ultimately, eRabit’s purpose is to educate readers about what’s worth engaging (and how much) and what’s worth keeping at an arm’s length.  In short, the goal of this blog is to be your guide, to help lead you down the rabbit hole and through the bewildering world of online social networking.

If you’re curious about what the internet offers but are a young fogey like me, or just a regular reticent rabbit, then this blog will strive to serve you. If not, if you’re already a well-adapted online denizen, don’t be afraid to drop by and leave a comment or two. Pointers and tips (so long as they’re constructive) are always appreciated.