Observing the furor on the Web and in newspapers last month over the attempt by members of the U.S. Congress to pass legislation aimed at cracking down on Internet piracy makes it clear that large numbers of people support the irresponsible positions of the Internet heavyweights such as YouTube, Google and Wikipedia.
It seems as if everyone has gotten used to the idea of having immediate access to anyone’s work for free. Most of the ire over this proposed bill has been directed at the recording industry and Hollywood — the “fat cats” perceived as having gotten filthy rich undeservedly. But it is not only these large corporations who are being hurt by the present situation of mob rule on the Web. It is also individual authors, book publishers (especially academic publishers) as well as people who attempt to engage in responsible publication directly on the Web.
I have been active in Web publication since its advent in 1995, hosting an extensive site of scholarly resources that have been highly acclaimed by people in my field. I also teach new media, Internet, Web programming, etc., at the University of Tokyo. The content of my website is quite often copied in large quantities to other websites without my permission or knowledge. Because of the lack of strict international rules to prevent such practices, there is usually nothing I can do about this legally.
And since the arrival of Wikipedia, I have had continuous problems with Wikipedia writers copying material from my online reference works without citation. When I have written to Wikipedia about it, they treat me like an insect. They tell me:
(1) Under the third-party rule, Wikipedia has no legal responsibility for anything copied to its pages, or
(2) It is up to me to track down and engage in discussions with the anonymous editors of each problematic Wikipedia page.
Why should it be my responsibility to do this?
Since the government will not put pressure on people to take responsibility, individuals like myself have little recourse but to surrender. As we have seen, the mobs of freeloaders are going to scream at any hint of setting down some basic rules regarding intellectual privacy. All they want to be able to do is take, take, take, without paying or offering anything in return. Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and their ilk capitalize on this mob mentality.
I just published a new book last month. Within two weeks after it had been released, there were PDFs being sent all over the Internet, freely downloadable. Quite often, I find that such PDFs are being distributed by my own colleagues. Many of my colleagues will tell me, “Too bad, that’s the way it has to be with the new Web.”
I say that the current model cannot work in the long run. We can’t say that people who make the effort to create written works, edit them and distribute them have no right to make money at it.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.