Today is the SOPA Blackout Day. You might notice some of your favorite (or perhaps most often visited) websites are completely shut down. You might know why they were shut down or maybe you’re completely confused. I kept my site mostly up (save for the blackened screen for the introductory page) so I could let you know a little bit about why SOPA and PIPA suck.
The idea behind both bills (one in the House and one in the Senate) is to take down what both bills call “pirating” sites, sites that include copyright infringement. Unfortunately, the real consequences of either bill would be damaging to the very structure of the Internet and could easily stifle the next generation of technological innovation. There have been several articles on the bills, but one of my favorites is relatively unbiased. Another recent detailed analysis of both bills comes from Reddit’s Jason Harvey. Or you can look at this video made late last year.
Another disturbing part of the bills is how very vague they are. Supporters claim that the bills only apply to “foreign” websites. How do they decide what becomes a “domestic” site? If it’s under a domain ending like .com, .net and .us. Not only does this mean that American websites with more unusual endings like .it or .tv could be held under the bills, but websites like thepiratebay.org (arguably the best known “piracy” site) could be considered a domestic website. More than that, the vague wording of the site could easily be abused with little consequences for those accusing innocent sites.
It’s important to note that both bills are getting big pushes from the RIAA and MPAA and in general, the entertainment industry. These are the same people that claimed in the 80s that the video tape would destroy Hollywood. These groups support most federal politicians in one way or another (even many of the politicians against the bills get some money from them), but the ones have gotten huge chunks of their campaign funds from the entertainment industry just happen to be the ones writing the bill and pushing it forward. And when I say pushing, I mean really pushing. The mark-up session for PIPA held by the Judiciary Meeting last May lasted less than 8 minutes. There were no amendments nor much debate, and both bills were kept under the radar until it was leaked online this fall. Did I mention that PIPA alone would cost taxpayers at least $47,000,000 in the first five years of its existence? You’d think a little more thought would go into it.
Who are against the bill? Tech experts, web developers, online entrepreneurs … you know, the people who know the Internet. Actually, 83 of the world’s leading Internet engineers wrote a letter in December standing firm on their opposition of SOPA and PIPA. On the other hand, the people in power trying to push these bills through? They are no where near technology experts. Pro-SOPA representative Mel Watts began the debate in December by saying “I’m not a nerd,” (yes, that’s direct quote) and claimed that he didn’t have to understand the technology of the internet to understand the bill. Um, Mel … that’s like saying you don’t need to know the law to defend someone in court. In other words … what is wrong with you?
The most frustrating thing about this entire issue is that some are claiming that every person against these bills must be those Internet pirates you’ve been hearing about. The funny thing is, many of the people I know who are against the bill are also original content providers on the Internet. They also deal with people stealing their work to add to their website’s ad revenue or in the case of my friend Rob Kroese, he has people pirating his novels instead of legally buying on Amazon.com. But last month he wrote a very eloquent piece on his website about how he is far less worried about readers pirating his works than he is about short-sighted measures damaging one of the great innovations of this generation. And while I offer my writing online for free to my readers, I do worry about other websites plagiarising my work. However, putting so much power into the hands of the Federal government (a government run by politicians who don’t understand how the Internet works) is not worth the would-be, could-be, maybe protection against copyright infringement.
I mean it when I say the supporters of this bill don’t know what they’re talking about. You know why? Because Internet engineers have already figured out a few different ways to bypass the restrictions that would be enforced by this bill. Granted, not of these bypasses are perfect, but many were created before the start of the year … if these bills or bills like them were to come in place, how quickly would it take hackers to find permanent ways around them? In other words, SOPA and PIPA would only end up hurting casual internet users. There’s a good reason comparisons have been made to Prohibition.
Now, this week I’ve heard many voices saying the Blackout isn’t needed. That both bills are getting derailed and major parts are going to be removed at the very least. Well, to quote Mad Eye Moody, “Constant vigilance!” We can’t stop fighting for this. Even if both bills burn to the ground (and it isn’t guarantee that they will, since Lamar Smith still doesn’t understand how the Internet works), we can’t stop fighting for the open Internet.
Research. Learn more about these bills. Call your representatives.