In a show of online solidarity Wednesday, Wikipedia and other famous strands of the Web, along with countless more below the A-list, turned their backs to the world in order to turn our attention to what is arguably the latest four letter word in the Yankee-English lexicon: SOPA.
As judged by its full name, the Stop Online Piracy Act sounds fair enough. Despite our cultural love affair with sugar cereal buccaneers, adventure rides and Johnny Depp, actual pirates—at best—profit from theft. Why shouldn’t lawmakers seek to protect the intellectually property rights of those wronged online?
SOPA’s opponents say the bill’s innocent name belies its nature as a tool that tramples on the notion of “fair use.” Many folks—possibly including you, the reader—claim that this post, decorated with a spoofed animation of Pirates of the Caribbean’s “The Black Pearl,” may be cause under SOPA to censor Idealware’s website. SOPA’s supporters, including the music and movie industries, would probably be happy to have available the broadest possible powers to prevent the theft of their products.
In any case, SOPA’s sponsors have abandoned the bill. Or have they?
SOPA will likely live on as an epithet applied to any attempt, no matter how reasonable, to rein in the online free-for-all. Similarly, those who feel the Internet robs them of profits will continue to lobby for legislation to protect their products from online theft. SOPA was likely but a skirmish in a war that could rage for decades to come.
While few of us want the online censorship SOPA was purported to promote, more of us should take seriously the view from the other side.
An example: Suppose you’d just patented your daughter’s award-winning science project, only to have it become part of the torrent-sphere. As a result, ACME TechnoGlom, which was considering buying that patent for $2.5 million, decides that it is now worthless. Your daughter’s in tears. Her 529 plan continues to bleed like a stuck pig and you’re in tears because you’ll be paying her college tuition with your anemic 401K. Would you want legal protection? If so, what form should that protection take?
If you believe that even in this case that “information wants to be free,” I’d love to hear from you, too.