The Day the Web Went Dark

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.
 

Comments

SOPA Debate in the NYTimes

I need to remember to read this. Looks interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/01/18/whats-the-best-way-to-pr...

SOPA?

Well, let's break this down some.  Most of us who object to SOPA and it's companion legislation PIPA (Prevent Internet Piracy Act) oppose it not because we think that intellectual property should be free, but because we think that a bill to stop piracy should be written in such a way that it protects fair use, doesn't penalize the innocent along with the perpetrators, doesn't attempt to subvert the way the Internet works, and puts the authority in the hands of those best-suited to weild it.  SOPA/PIPA fail on all of these counts:  They treat carriers as the pirates, shutting down entire web sites for violations by individual users; they (initially) worked by redirecting DNS addresses, a scheme that would be simple for the perpetrators to get around; allowed the copyright holders to take pre-emptive action against those they accused; and had the justice department enforce the law, as opposed to the trade commission.  These are the reasons we oppose it -- it's badly conceived and written legislation.

Worse, many of the proponents have taken huge sums of money from the entertainment industry.  And the entertainment industry is a questionable source when it comes to the nature of the priacy problem, scope, and appropriate manner of handling it.  Study after study shows that those who pirate the most film and music are thsoe who sepend the most on concerts, films, and music. The RIAA has shamefully prosecuted the elderly, children and others based on scant and unprovable evidence of piracy. Their chicken little screams regarding the threat to their business aren't even closely indicated by any real world trends -- entertainment profit is at an all time high.  And these are the people who charge $10 for an album of MP3's that costs them pennies to produice, even after paying the artists the same amount of royalties that they would on a CD.

Finally, society benefits from freely available information, be it geodata or the text of legislative bills.  The boom of easy to generate and access information on the internet has been our best weapon against the privatization and buyout of government by PACS and corporate interests, as today's SOPA blackout appears to be proving, again.  By no means does that mean that free information advocates condone the stealing of information, or the abuse of copyright.  We do things like model free sharing of information (anything I write or develop online is licensed for sharing with attribution, from blog posts to the retail software I developed), but we also respect the copyrights of others.  Many of us believe that America should be a free country, but we are not advocating loading up a shopping cart at Walmart and wheeling it out without paying.

This is bad legislation that is being pushed through by representatives who are beholden to the entertainment industry that bankrolls them. Also proposed: OPEN: Legislation that addresses internet piracy withoput threatening internet freedom, leaving administration to the people that haven't had their campaigns bankrolled by Disney. Support crime prevention, but don't support SOPA.