It’s been over 14 years since EFF co-founder and former Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow penned the now-famous “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace." And since 1996, his words have become even more relevant than they were then:
In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.
Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.
That’s why EFF was excited to see Department of Records issue a special recording of the Declaration of Independence this week. The album, which has been released as a vinyl record, features Barlow reading the Declaration as spoken word, as well as the Declaration set to music by Drazen Bosnjak. It’s both a lovely artifact and a great recording.
We hope the release will serve to remind people of the ideals that early users of the Internet had. The manifesto, written while Barlow was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was primarily a response to the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Barlow saw the act as a threat to the independence of the Internet, something that he (and EFF) have always held dear.
The Declaration resounds eerily today. We live in an era where net neutrality is threatened by corporations that want to remove competition and force customers to pay more to have equal access to some sites. Fair use of copyrighted works allows us to post a screenshot from our favorite videos to Tumblr, share news and information on our favorite forums, or watch a TV show recorded to a DVR—but publishing industries try to quell fair use with frivolous lawsuits. And the Internet has been essentially invaded by spy agencies like the NSA who want to use it as a tool for ubiquitous, suspicionless surveillance.
Yet the Internet also remains an invaluable resource for many communities. Activists in repressive regimes around the world use it to share information and political ideas. Young leaders in places like Ferguson, Missouri use social media to challenge distorted narratives in mainstream media and to communicate. And isolated LGBTQ individuals use community rooms and search engines to access information and communities that can help keep them alive. These are just some of the people around the world who rely on a free and open Internet.
As Barlow’s Declaration states, the passionate people who created and first adopted the Internet we use today imagined “a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth . . . a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”
EFF is pledged to defend that world. And we’re excited to see Department of Records using their label to support the fight for a free Internet. The tracks are available as free, Creative Commons-licensed downloads. You can purchase the record and check out the tracks here. And you can learn more about EFF’s history, and Barlow’s role in it, here.