EU's Advisor On Supporting Net Activists Previously Forced From German Government...By Net Activists

from the really-the-right-person? dept

The Vice President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, Neelie Kroes, recently made quite a stir when she dubbed copyright "a tool to punish and withhold". Now she's back with two major projects: a pan-European open data stategy and the "No Disconnect Strategy":

European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes has invited Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a former Federal Minister of Defence, and of Economics and Technology, in Germany, to advise on how to provide ongoing support to Internet users, bloggers and cyber-activists living under authoritarian regimes. This appointment forms a key element of a new "No Disconnect Strategy" to uphold the EU's commitment to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected both online and off-line, and that internet and other information and communication technology (ICT) can remain a driver of political freedom, democratic development and economic growth.
Of course, that's rather rich coming from a region where France already allows disconnections as punishments (HADOPI), and where the UK has legislation in place that will allow it to do the same (Digital Economy Act). But it turns out that the ironies are even deeper.

The reason that Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg -- once seen as a likely successor to Germany's current Chancellor, Angela Merkel -- is no longer the Federal Minister of Defence, and of Economics and Technology, is that he resigned when it emerged that he had plagiarized significant parts of his doctorate.

After initial denials, Guttenberg was forced to admit the extent of his plagiarism thanks largely to a crowdsourced wiki called GutenPlag (original German) offering "collaborative documentation of plagiarism", which went through his thesis searching for passages taken from elsewhere without acknowledgement. In total, it claims to have found "1218 plagiarized fragments from 135 sources, on 371 out of 393 pages (94.4%), in 10421 plagiarized lines (63.8%)." There's even an interactive, color-coded visualization of what happened where.

Certainly, Guttenberg has been punished: as well as losing his position in the German government, he was also stripped of his doctorate. But his appointment as (unpaid) advisor to the "No Disconnect Strategy" raises a question. Is somebody whose downfall was mostly brought about by a website and its crowdsourced revelations really the right person to lead a project that aims to support online activists?

There is also the issue of Guttenberg's multiple copyright infringements. This was investigated with a view to charges being brought, but then, as Wikipedia explains:

In November 2011, the prosecution dropped the charges, having found 23 relevant copyright violations but only marginal economic damage. Guttenberg had to make a payment of 20,000 Euros to a charitable foundation, the court ruled.
In jurisdictions with extreme copyright laws, that "marginal economic damage" argument wouldn't be enough to protect those accused of infringement from prosecution or from being disconnected. So again the question has to be: is Guttenberg really going to understand what "No Disconnect" means to human rights activists living under authoritarian regimes when he got off so lightly himself?

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  1. icon
    Jamie (profile), 13 Dec 2011 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The kitchen knives argument is perfectly valid.

    Kitchen knife manufacturers produce tools that are designed to be used by the general public, and which have clear and intended legal purposes. However, some people choose to use the tool for something other than its intended purpose, and may cause (physical) harm to others.

    Many of the tools used for online piracy are designed for use by the general public, and have clear and intended legal purposes. However, some people choose to use the tools for something other than their intended purposed, and this may cause (financial) harm to others.

    What's the difference here? In both cases you have tools with significant non-infringing uses, which are abused by some for purposes other than what was intended. In both cases the misuse can cause harm to others. Yet you say that all possible measures must be taken to stop one misuse, whereas the other can go unregulated?

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