Wednesday, December 28, 2011

SOPA - Why You Should Be Very Afraid

SOPA - the Stop Online Piracy Act, was introduced into the US House of Representatives this past October. HR 3261 is sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). It's stated purpose is to allow law enforcement to go after those who pirate intellectual property, such as movies or music, and post them to the internet.

Laws exist to do this already. SOPA is a vast expansion, and like most big government projects, it goes way too far.

Instead of going after those who do the piracy, it goes after web sites and hosting services that the piracy moves through. Doesn't sound too bad, does it?

In actuality, what it can mean is that services like YouTube will go away. If they try to stay around, they will be responsible for making sure that each and every submission in no way violates any copyright. YouTube will have to research each and every video sent to it to make sure that someone in the chain, from the moment the video was created to the moment it was uploaded to YouTube itself, doesn't hold a copyright on the video or anything in the video. If YouTube is found in violation, in some way having missed some little piece of copyright material, whether the copyright is visible in the material or not, YouTube can be shut down by the Department of Justice, and its owners/operators sued or even jailed.

YouTube will not be able to operate under this. Likewise, Facebook goes bye bye. Google - if a search result pulls up something that is copyrighted, they are targets, no matter if they had anything to do with the material or not. Paypal could be shut down if they funnel funds to anyone who violates a copyright online, even if they have no knowledge of such a violation.

The bill requires anyone who has anything to do with the internet to become 'thought police' - in essence censors who will have to spend the time and effort to examine everything and decide whether to block the material or not, simply to defend themselves.

Supporters of this bill are the owners of intellectual property that is often the target of copyright infringement - movies and music mainly. Hollywood loves this bill.

Detractors are anyone who uses the internet to communicate, to research, to speak out, and to play.

SOPA will not accomplish what its stated goal is. It will not stop piracy - it can't. Most of the sources of pirated material is off shore - China, Indonesia, Mexico, etc. Any country outside of the US is outside of the reach of this legislation.

In addition, web sites that currently stream pirated material are on the move constantly. They change names, switch ISPs, move to other IP addresses frequently, in order to thwart authorities from prosecuting them. The wheels of justice are too slow to keep up with the real criminals. SOPA will not change that. What SOPA will do is provide well known, established, non-moving targets to the DoJ to attack - like YouTube.

This bill is internet censorship under the guise of commercial protection. It takes a legitimate concern, piracy, and blows it way out of proportion, giving the Federal Government powers that reach far beyond the stated purpose.

The list of potential targets for investigation is so large that a politically motivated DoJ (such as the one we have now) can easily pick and choose who they go after. SOPA can become a political weapon. Do you really think that Eric Holder would go after, instead of Drudgereport? Can you say 'Fairness Doctrine' on steroids?

If SOPA passes and is signed into law, this Blog, and tens of thousands of others used to express free speech will go away, or be severely curtailed. This Blog would become text only, with no links, photos, or embedded content whatsoever. I couldn't post a photo, unless I knew exactly who produced it and had their explicit permission to reproduce it. I couldn't link to a YouTube video, because I would have no way of guaranteeing that no one along the chain had any claim to a copyright. What would be the point then?

If you enjoy the internet as it is, or count on it for your daily life, contact your Representatives and Senators, and express your outrage that Congress is considering this. The House Judiciary Committee has already held two 'public' hearings on the bill, one in November and one just before the Holiday break a couple of weeks ago. Didn't hear anything about those hearings or what was said in them, did you? Just like most of what the Federal Government is doing these days, they are trying to pass it quickly, without the public realizing what is going on. Once it is law, then it is too late to do anything about it. The Committee is supposed to hold more hearings on t
he bill after the Holiday recess is over.

Don't get me wrong - I am not a supporter of those who pirate music or movies. I am a supporter of modifying current laws where necessary to go after those who do the pirating, not this overkill approach that will have consequences far beyond the stated purpose.

Here is the text of HR 3261, if you are interested:

Update - I am almost embarrassed to say this, but I apparently have the same thoughts on this as the Obama Administration. Obama's spokesman has come out and stated that they are concerned with the scope of SOPA and its unintended affects, and that they will be working with Congress to modify the legislation to refine the language to limit what it can do. Logical, and I hope they follow through.

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