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Professor Mark Sherriff
Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Virginia
Dr. Mark Sherriff, a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Virginia, made a presentation entitled "The Battle for Your Entertainment: Internet, SOPA, and Censorship".
Promising an epic tale full of heroes, villains, and knights, Dr. Sherriff tackled the titanic issue of internet censorship regarding media with the playful humor of a comedian while never sacrificing the quality of his presentation. His story begins with the birth of media: books, poems, and eventually movies, television, and radio. During this adolescent stage of entertainment, the content creators, those individuals who create the media, were scarce in number and thus the rulers of their domain. Then in the 1984 came the first challenge, the first attack—the Betamax case. After a dramatic trial, it was decided that the “time-shifting” of entire television programs did not qualify as copyright infringement; therefore, making such technology as Betamax and VCRs legal. This gave safe haven to technology for the time being.
The Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 was the act of retaliation by the content creators on technology. In this act, it was stipulated that digital tapes must have copy protection built into them and that circumventing this protection would be illegal. Additionally, this was the first instance when royalties on blank media were instituted. Although this was a vicious blow to technology, it went relatively unnoticed until 1998, when the use of computers became rampant in society. It was in 1998 that the battleground changed. The content creators were no longer alone –there were new content creators. These content creators were not interested in money, but instead in sharing; these new content creators were the internet users.
This concluded the informational section of Dr. Sherriff’s presentation and marked the beginning of his perspective on the present day issues of internet censorship. He likened the situation to a scared child going sledding and standing at the top of a snow covered hill. The child is the media, the old content creators, and the hill is technology, and the child is fighting from flying down the hill on his sled. The problem is that the new content creators, the internet users, love the hill.
Following his analogy, Dr. Sherriff took into consideration the recent topic of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and what it entails. Although SOPA would create the inconvenience of no longer being able to utilize internet “phonebooks,” the more glaring issue was that SOPA would allow for the blocking of entire websites without due process. Following this explanation and several personal anecdotes, Dr. Sherriff touched on several other legislations regarding the internet, namely the Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (the proposed alternative to SOPA).
Concluding his presentation, Dr. Sherriff informed the audience what they need to do as internet users: stay informed on the news regarding internet legislations, have an appreciation and understanding of computing and its role in society, and to pay for the content that they consume.
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