By now you’ve almost certainly about today’s “Internet Blackout” in opposition to SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act (and its Senate cousin, the Protect IP Act, or PIPA). I was going to write up a rant about the whole mess, but in the end I decided it was kind of pointless. Many, many sites have SOPA pieces that are far more eloquent than anything I could write, and few would listen to what I had to say anyway. It’s not that my opinion doesn’t count, it’s that I’m just one guy in a small town in North Carolina. People with doctorates and huge followings online have done it better, so why not just link to those pieces instead?
If you have no idea what SOPA actually is, head on over to Wikipedia’s page about it (they’re not blacking out this page today). I’ve read the article, and it’s pretty balanced and comprehensive… although it lacks information about many of the small details that actually make SOPA so awful. If the Wiki article confuses you, or if you’re just not that technically inclined, check out this post at Lifehacker, which explains SOPA in easy-to-understand, non-technical terms.
Although the first two links tell you how SOPA would work, they don’t tell you why it’s bad. The jist of it is that the law would allow rightsholders to cut off financial support for sites they claim are infringing. The entire site doesn’t have to infringe on someone’s intellectual property… just a single blog entry or comment is enough. The EFF has this page, which lists why popular sites like Etsy, Flickr and Vimeo would be in danger under SOPA, even though none of them are what any reasonable person would call a “pirate site”.
And remember, SOPA doesn’t just target sites that host “pirated” content – it would allow companies to go after sites that “misuse” their trademarks as well. You’ve probably heard of Monster Cable, the company that sells vastly overpriced cables and has a history of suing anyone who tries to use the “Monster” name (including the Boston Red Sox). This post on Monster’s own website lists companies it considers to be “infringing” on its trademark. And while “monsterheadphons2010new.com” probably does sell fake Monster products, take a close look at some of the other sites on Monster’s list: eBay and Craiglist (neither of which sell anything directly), FatWallet, PriceGrabber and ComputerShopper (none of which sell anything at all: the first is a popular “deal” site, the others are price comparison sites), and Costco and Sears. Wait – am I saying that Monster Cable could, under SOPA, shut down the websites of giant retailers like Costco and Sears? Yes they could. In this case, it’s not about “protecting trademarks”, it’s about using a piracy law to control distribution of a lame product.
But don’t take my word for it. Read this piece from Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media. Or this piece by Tim Edwards from PCGamer. Or this piece by Ken Fisher at Ars Technica Or this piece by Elliot Noss of Tucows, which is not only extremely blunt, but also addresses the international chilling effects the legislation would have:
The Internet is a global creature. A “Made in the USA” solution will no more work to stop the problems talked of than would one made in any other single nation state. Worse, the US has been at the forefront of ensuring that the Internet has remained free and a platform for innovation for the last fifteen years. With SOPA, or ProtectIP, that leadership will effectively end and Syria, China, Iran and others will not only use the US as a role model, they will also use these actions as further evidence of US control of the Internet and justification for trying to turn it over to the UN/ITU.
Worse, the legislation itself is fundamentally corrupt. It is bought and paid for by big media, trying vainly to protect anachronistic business models. This has been demonstrated clearly in all of the hearings and the very conduct of the debate. Listening to how deeply uninformed those being asked to legislate this issue are has been nothing short of scary. Watching how support and opposition has lined up has been disheartening. This is the worst example of the kind of fundamental corruption that is at the heart of the US political system currently and is well defined by Professor Larry Lessig.
Sure, Big Content are jerks… but do you think you can trust the government? Ha! Ever heard of a hip-hop website called Dajaz1.com? It was seized by the US government under “Operation In Our Sites”. I’ll let this article at TechDirt tell the rest:
Imagine if the US government, with no notice or warning, raided a small but popular magazine’s offices over a Thanksgiving weekend, seized the company’s printing presses, and told the world that the magazine was a criminal enterprise with a giant banner on their building. Then imagine that it never arrested anyone, never let a trial happen, and filed everything about the case under seal, not even letting the magazine’s lawyers talk to the judge presiding over the case. And it continued to deny any due process at all for over a year, before finally just handing everything back to the magazine and pretending nothing happened. I expect most people would be outraged. I expect that nearly all of you would say that’s a classic case of prior restraint, a massive First Amendment violation, and exactly the kind of thing that does not, or should not, happen in the United States.
But that’s exactly what happened to Dajaz1, only substitute “blog” for “magazine” and “domain” for “printing press”. This is your government folks, the “land of the free and the home of the brave”. And In Our Sites was conducted under existing federal law. For the love of all that is holy, please don’t let things get worse. Big Content is a dying business model, and they’re trying to buy our politicians to protect it. Destroying the entire Internet so that record company executives can keep their private jets isn’t just repulsive, short-sighted and illegal… it’s downright un-American!