Group seeks political power for P2P

A new nonprofit organization aimed at welding file-swapping and open-source computing advocates into a political force is launching online.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
2 min read
A new nonprofit organization aimed at welding file-swapping and open-source computing advocates into a political force is launching online this week.

Dubbed "Click The Vote," an allusion to the successful Rock the Vote efforts focused at the MTV generation, the group hopes to make digital copyright and computing matters an issue in the 2004 election campaigns.

While not yet backing specific policies, the group's early statements include support for legalizing music sharing along with a mechanism for paying artists, and support of "open computing" as opposed to the "trusted computing" initiatives supported by Microsoft and others. These technology issues should be viewed as policy issues in a modern, digital world, the group says.

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"Openness and free speech is what has made this democracy thrive," said organizer John Parres, a onetime advisor to Hollywood power broker Michael Ovitz and co-founder of the influential Pho digital music e-mail discussion group. "We're concerned that things are going in the wrong direction, that we're heading towards closed computing, encrypting speech, and those things are not conducive to a thriving democracy."

The group hopes to tap into the momentum several online organizing efforts have gained this year, including the early stages of presidential candidate Howard Dean's campaign, and the fundraising efforts of the political action committee MoveOn.

It's targeted at the technologically savvy audience of file swappers and open-source programmers--a demographic perhaps best represented by the extraordinarily active Slashdot technology news site community. That is a vocal group in online circles, but it has not yet been felt as a powerful political force.

This isn't the first attempt to turn the widespread dissatisfaction with digital copyright law--along with campaigns such as the Recording Industry Association of America's lawsuits against file swappers--into political action.

In the declining days of the original Napster, the company beseeched its users to write their legislators and sing the virtues of file trading. The campaign did raise some awareness of the issue in Washington, D.C., but that did not save the company from crippling legal rulings and bankruptcy.

More recently, Kazaa parent Sharman Networks spent $1 million last month on a print advertisement campaign, touting its own organizing Web site.

Click The Vote is starting without corporate backers and will rely largely on donations for funding, Parres said. But the group is looking to focus on exerting influence through galvanizing voters rather than through political contributions.

"I think there is a pool of energy out there that we're going to harden and focus and bring to bear on these issues," Parres said. "What needs to happen to push this thing forward is for people to start communicating in a coherent voice with their legislators."