You know, it took me a long time and a lot of thought before I decided what to do with my blog today. I considered shutting it down in solidarity with other Internet sites in protest of H.R. 3261 ("The Stop Online Piracy Act" or SOPA and its Senate brother, "The Protect Intellectual Property Act" or PIPA).
Well, I'm against the passage of SOPA and PIPA, for one.
And I, unlike most people who don't really know what it is and what it means, have actually read the damned thing and (based upon the fact that I'm an internet lawyer in real life) am qualified to have an educated opinion of the proposed legislation.
But I try not to mix my lives too much. However, I thought today might be a good day for it...
Ok, a little background...
There's a big problem on the Internet with people's intellectual property being stolen, passed around, used, sold by people it doesn't belong to, used to make money for unauthorized parties, etc.
The copyright violations on the Internet are HUGE. And are HUGE business.
Copyright violation's nothing new. Not at all. From the beginning of the history of copyright protection, there have always been problems for content creators protecting their content.
But it's far worse on the Internet.
Part of this has to do with what the Internet is and who created it. (No, I'm not going to recount the dry facts of Internet history here with you right now. I'd like you to be awake for the rest of the post. If you really want to know how it happened, this site has a good overview.)
The Internet (or more accurately "The World Wide Web") was created and organized by a bunch of computer geeks (don't worry, they'd probably agree with me about that classification). They wanted to be able to have a free exchange of information between all of the computers in the world.
They wanted to build a platform where all of the computers of the world would be able to share in the vast quantity of information. They weren't interested in making money. They were interested in the information.
And they thought everyone should have free, unrestrained access.
These guys still exist. All over. I refer to them as "open sourcers".
Open source is a methodology or belief that creativity is the best when everyone is freely above board about what's been created, what the building blocks are of that creation and allow other programmers to build on what has already been created.
So, back to the legal problem...
Everyone (except my "open sourcers") agrees that if you create something, you should be able to be the one to profit off of it. Sounds reasonable.
So, there were various copright laws (I won't bore you with the list) which were superceded by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (or "DMCA").
And I'm not going to go into the provisions of the DMCA either. You can find it here, if you really want to read it (I advise a strong cup of coffee first).
The part that's really interesting for companies like Wikipedia, Google, Facebook and other "publishers" of content (where they allow other people to post on their platform rather than creating the content themselves) is that the DMCA contains a "safe harbor" provision for publishers of other people's work.
Basically, if you're a copyright holder and you see your work infringed by some schmo on Facebook, you can contact Facebook through their DMCA policy, provide them the information and the infringing content will be removed.
Voila! No problem.
The lawmakers that proposed this bill felt that the DMCA doesn't do enough to discourage infringement. That infringers still exist and that they're not being stopped.
Google testified in front of the Judiciary Committee of Congress on this bill that they (and I'm paraphrasing from memory, so no nasty notes if I don't get the number exactly right) have delisted more than 5 million pages in the last year for infringement under the DMCA.
That's a lot of fucking pages...
So, what's the problem?
Well, there are still a LOT of infringers out there. Look at Pirate Bay or any of the other torrent sites. They're outside the US and, therefore, outside of US jurisdiction.
Also, the other real problem with the Internet is that there's no way to know until you meet the person, whether the person running the website is a businessman in a 3 piece suit or a pimply kid sitting in his basement in the Ukraine with a Dr. Pepper and a laptop.
Usually the latter.
But I digress.
The problem with SOPA and PIPA is that are overbroad (too over reaching) and I'd be willing to wager that they're no more effective than what we have. Not to mention that they're the push off of a slippery slope that eats away at the Constitutional right to free speech. (I also don't think they'll survive a judicial challenge, but that's neither here nor there at the moment.)
SOPA and PIPA give the Attorney General of the United States and private copyright holders the right to order publishers, internet search engines, payment processors and advertisers to stop doing business with foreign companies that are found to have violated US Copyright law. In fact, they will be required (at least search engines and publishers) to block your access and mine to those sites.
Other than the fact that it pisses me off because I have a problem with authority, it's a terrible idea. It's a throw out the baby with the bathwater approach. Any part of a site that's found to have its substantial purpose be to violate property rights, will cause the whole site to be blacked out. So, it's not cherry picking the violative content out of the good. It's just delisting the site altogether.
Second, it creates a situation for companies like Google, Facebook, Wikipedia and others who allow users to post content where they could be required to police all of their pages. What a nightmare.
Finally, if they fail to do so, they could face suits not only from the Attorney General but from individual rights' holders as well.
Holding them liable to such an extent can do nothing but stifle the free flow of information and exchange of ideas that makes the Internet what it is today.
But you're not Facebook.
Why would you care?
I'll tell you why. Every time the government tells me what I can and can't say, I start to get nervous. If you don't stand up for what's right at the beginning, history has shown us again and again, they're coming after your rights next...
I don't like the government making laws that limit my freedom of speech and expression.
First, how is it anyone's right to tell me what I can and cannot see on the Internet? That's not what the Internet's about.
Every time that the government tries to limit my rights, I always think of my very favorite Ben Franklin quote:
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little
temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
So, I ask you... What are you willing to give up?
Just Keep Coming Back
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