You may have noticed that I haven’t had anything to say about the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) or the Protect IP Act (PIPA), two pieces of legislation accused of being the beginning of the end of the internet.
Frankly, I was quickly turned off from the controversy because of all of the negative campaigning. (Who’d have thought that internet laws would so closely mimic the typical American presidential race?)
You surely know by now that the scheduled vote Senate next Tuesday for SOPA has been canceled, as its chief sponsor pulled it from consideration. The House likewise pulled PIPA. Both bills are essentially headed back to the drawing board to address concerns following a massive protest and internet strike held on Wednesday.
The intent behind the bills was to simply target and shut down “rogue sites,” foreign websites set up intentionally outside of the United States and the jurisdiction of copyright law, from which pirated movies, television shows and music can be distributed. Copyright holders in America have little power to do much over such sites because of the legal jurisdiction matter.
So these laws would have given the government a level of power that concerned many in the tech community and many internet users: the authority to cut off these sites at the knees by blocking access, funding, advertising and linking to them from within the United States.
On some level, that’s exactly how it should be. If you were the next Justin Bieber or the next James Cameron, you’d want your intellectual property — and the income it generates for you — protected. And there’d be nothing wrong with such an expectation.
I’m not sure that most people who opposed the laws so vehemently were even in disagreement about that particular issue.
The problem, it seems to me, wasn’t the why, but rather the could.
There were too many negative situations opponents say could have happened if the government was given that much authority. And in the largely-cynical world in which we now live, that worst-case scenario that could happen suddenly becomes the certain norm that will happen right from the start.
A popular tweet summed up the fears quite well:
“Under SOPA, you could get 5 years for uploading a Michael Jackson song, one year more than the doctor who killed him.”
There are certainly aspects of the bill that go too far, and the felony issue for uploading a song seems one of them. Still, copyright is copyright, and if you don’t own the rights to something, then even Freedom of Speech doesn’t provide you carte blanc to do with that something whatever you wish.
There was also the issue of taking down entire websites over individual postings. For example, some argued that if one person uploaded a single commercial song to YouTube, the law would have theoretically allowed the government to shut down all of YouTube rather than just the offending post or the account associated with it. That’s certainly taking it a step too far.
You can bet that this issue will come up again once the laws are revised. And unfortunately, we’ll probably have to put up with a lot more fear-mongering, with likely only a small portion of it actually deserved.
In the meantime, I am quite curious to hear all of the great ideas that the SOPA and PIPA opponents will come up with that are better than what the now-defeated laws attempted to do.
Protesting something without providing a better solution isn’t making the situation better: in fact, it’s only prolonging the inevitable future battles over the exact same issue.
I wonder if these people are really interested in being part of a real solution.