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Jan 162012
 
Internet Law
an Editorial by Gene Turnbow
SOPA and PIPA could effectively destroy the Internet as it exists today, along with entire economies built on it around the world.

SOPA and PIPA could effectively destroy the Internet as it exists today, along with entire economies built on it around the world.

You should know what SOPA is by now and why it’s been pushed so strongly by the megalithic owners of intellectual property rights such as Sony, Disney, Marvel Comics, the RIAA, the MPAA and others, and so strongly opposed by the people who make their living by helping others communicate – companies like Google, Reddit, Twitter and Facebook (and by pretty much everybody else as far as I can tell).  You should also probably be able to put together the fact that the various lawsuits launched against file sharers and the services they use have collectively tanked, because the courts have generally ruled that  an IP address isn’t enough by itself to identify a specific person. This ruling slammed the door on any future pay-up-or-else lawsuits.  Instead of going away and thinking things over, the media giants are instead seemingly trying to rewrite the Constitution – you know, that pesky 14th Amendment that guarantees that we’re to presumed innocent until proven guilty.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, SOPA is the “Stop Online Piracy Act”, a bill that until yesterday was churning its way through Congress on the way to becoming law. PIPA is its evil twin in the Senate – it stands for “Protect Intellectual Property Act”, and it’s so close to SOPA in its wording that it may as well be the same bill. Fortunately cooler heads have prevailed, including President Obama, who made a statement that he would not support either bill in its current form, saying that he wasn’t about to sign anything that protected intellectual property while at the same time tampered with the fundamental operational principles that make the internet work in the first place.

At the heart of the controversy is the provision that violating web sites could be forcibly taken down with prior notice or debate until the owner(s) could prove in a court of law that they were innocent of wrongdoing.  As if that wasn’t evil enough, the manner in which they’d be taken off the ‘net should clinch it for you: search engines and the DNS system (“Domain Name Servers”) would be manipulated by United States law enforcement to make it impossible to reach what the big property rights companies designated as web sites that infringe on their intellectual property rights.   Unfortunately, the entire rest of the world uses the same name server system, so this would effectively destroy the Internet should it go into effect. As BoingBoing wrote: “Making one link would require checking millions (even tens of millions) of pages, just to be sure that we weren’t in some way impinging on the ability of five Hollywood studios, four multinational record labels, and six global publishers to maximize their profits.”

The online protests about SOPA have been surprising and large. They ranged anywhere from calling Congressional representatives, companies, and senators to get them to change their mind, to active and effective boycotts of supporting businesses.  The domain registrar GoDaddy lost well over 100,000 domains in the space of about 10 days due to their active support of these bills.

House Majority leader Eric Cantor(R-VA) announced that he will stop all action on SOPA, effectively killing the bill. This was probably due to some pretty major opposition to SOPA, including a threatened blackout day this Wednesday that hopes to demonstrate what will happen to the Internet should either This move was most likely due to several things. One of those things is that SOPA and PIPA met huge online protest against the bills. Another reason would be that the White House threatened to veto the bill if it had passed. However, it isn’t quite time yet to celebrate, as PIPA(the Senate’s version of SOPA) is still up for consideration.

Following the release of the White House’s statement that they weren’t going to be touching either these bills, SOPA sponsor and House Judiciary Chairman (R-Texas) Lamar Smith issued a statement of his own: “I welcome today’s announcement that the White House will support legislation to combat online piracy that protects free speech, the Internet and America’s intellectual property,” Smith said, according to The Hill. “That’s precisely what the Stop Online Piracy Act does.”

You’ve all heard the hackneyed old phrase, “nothing could be further from the truth”, but I’ll use it again here anyway. Nothing could be further from the truth. The tricky bit here is Smith’s statement, “will support legislation to combat online piracy” but then redefines free speech as “the Internet and America’s intellectual property”. There are so many problems with this bit of weasel speak that I don’t know where to begin:

  • Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean that America owns it.
  • America does not own most of the stuff that’s on the Internet, but the various individuals and corporations do (we’ll set aside the inanity of corporate personhood for the moment).

Free speech is not intellectual property, I’m sorry.  The First Amendment guarantees us free speech, and that means the ability to freely and openly criticize our government just as I’m doing now.  It doesn’t mean you have the right to say anything you want to, there are limits. But I do know that the First Amendment does not even contain the words “intellectual property”.  So Smith is lying here, openly, and hoping we’re too stupid to notice.

The fight is far from over.  This Wednesday, Wikipedia, Reddit,  Boingboing, are all going to go dark to demonstrate exactly what would happen if either of these bills became law.  Despite the fact that the bill is shelved, there’s still a danger, and that danger is that they’ll simply regroup and try to pass a less lunatic version of the bill into law – a version that would still be cataclysmic in its stupidity and destructiveness, but would be less overtly so than the disaster we have apparently just narrowly averted.

These bills need to die and stay that way.  Television did not kill motion pictures.  Cassette tape did not kill LP’s.  CD burners did not kill commercial CD sales.  DVD burners did not kill commercial DVD sales.  The Internet will not kill any of the aforementioned.What’s more, entertainment constitutes a comparatively small fraction of the total national economy – but the Internet itself is one of the few things that’s really working well right now in terms of economic recovery.  So why is Congress so busy trying to dismantle both it, and the protections of the Constitution at the same time?  Right now they are desperately trying to rewrite SOPA and PIPA to get them to the point where the President will sign one of them into law.  Some amazing amount of purchasing power has apparently been applied to a lot of politicians – possibly more so than at any time in America’s history, if we can take the fervor we’re seeing at face value.  That many people can’t be that stupid all at once unless they’re being paid to be.

Krypton Radio will be going dark on Wednesday, January 18, and Monday, January 23 in protest of SOPA/PIPA.   Write or call your Congressman or Senator and tell them why these bills should be killed and not resurrected.

 

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President of Krypton Media Group, Inc., radio personality and station manager of Krypton Radio. Part writer, part animator, part musician, part illustrator, part programmer, part entrepreneur - all geek.

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