Photo courtesy of CNET

The vote to pass SOPA happens in January. Act now to stop it.

IF YOU AREN’T FAMILIAR with SOPA and the Protect IP bill, take a few minutes to check this out. In short, these two pieces of legislation propose to give the US government and corporations the power to protect copyrighted property and stop access to websites that deal in trafficking or infringing on that property through methods which are, unarguably, Internet censorship.

SOPA and Protect IP, if passed, will restrict and destroy far more than piracy. Here’s why these bills must be stopped.

1. The government doesn’t understand how the Internet works.

Up till now, that’s been okay. It’s not a senator’s job to understand DNS servers; that’s up to those in other professions, like web engineers. But now our congressmen and women are faced with passing important legislation that will directly impact each of us on a daily basis – and without a strong fundamental understanding of the Internet, how can they truly comprehend what these bills will do?

They don’t get how the interwebz work. Neither do I. But I’m not voting on the bill – although I am affected by the outcome.

2. Some don’t care to educate themselves.

A few are, frankly, assholes about it. Like Iowa Representative Steve King, who had this to say during a debate over SOPA:

Or North Carolina Representative Mel Watts, who opened his defense of SOPA by stating “I’m not a nerd,” then went on to dismiss the notion that having a strong understanding of technology is necessary to comprehend the bill.

Or California Representative Maxine Waters, who told the Chairman to use his gavel a little more during the debate over SOPA to move things along quicker, because all this talk over legislation that will have a massive impact on all of our daily lives was really just wasted time.

There are plenty of Congressmen and women who oppose SOPA and Protect IP. It’s the ones who just don’t give a shit about the fact that they’re making a decision that will hugely impact us all in ways they can’t begin to understand that we need to worry about.

3. Internet experts openly oppose SOPA.

Let’s take a (big) step back from Congress for a minute. What about the experts? People like Vint Cerf, one of the “fathers” of the Internet and co-designer of TCP/IP; Paul Vixie, President of the Internet Systems Consortium; Jim Gettys, editor of the HTTP/1.1 protocol standards; Elizabeth Feinler, Director of the Network Information Center at SRI International; Craig Partridge, the architect of how email is routed through the Internet, and 78 other prominent Internet inventors and engineers.

Turns out they foresee a few problems.

If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure. Regardless of recent amendments to SOPA, both bills will risk fragmenting the Internet’s global domain name system (DNS) and have other capricious technical consequences.

In exchange for this, such legislation would engender censorship that will simultaneously be circumvented by deliberate infringers while hampering innocent parties’ right and ability to communicate and express themselves online.

~ “An Open Letter From Internet Engineers to the US Congress,” December 15th, 2011

Simply put: blocking DNS will fundamentally alter the internet and make it unsafe and unreliable.

4. You will be restricted.
One person out of millions on Facebook posts a link to download a free MP3, and Facebook is liable.

I don’t just mean you won’t be able to pirate without getting sued (and come on, you shouldn’t be pirating anyway). I mean it’s possible you won’t be able to take a cute video of your toddler dancing with Lady Gaga playing in the background, then upload it to YouTube. Or reblog a funny clip from your favorite TV show on Tumblr. Or tweet a link to a cool tune you found on SoundCloud.

Speaking of…

5. Your favorite sites will be restricted.

SOPA and Protect-IP will have a serious impact on start-up sites, but the big ones are in real danger as well. Sites you may use regularly – Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, Flickr, Etsy, Twitter – could be blocked by the government for linking to copyrighted information.

One person out of millions on Facebook posts a link to download a free MP3, and Facebook is liable.

Supporters claim that SOPA is targeted at rogue sites, but if that were really the case, its language would be more specific. As it stands now, the bill uses incredibly vague wording, as if the enforcers are simply saying “just trust us, guys.”

At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist (a phrase I don’t care for much), this could snowball into something as massive as the end of social networking as we know it. Sure, it’s the worst case scenario. I suppose the question is, do you trust the US government with the power SOPA gives them so much that you don’t feel this outcome is even a possibility?

6. Educators and artists will be restricted.

Understandably, piracy regulations are often aimed at colleges and, as a result, educators who use OERs (“open educational resources“) – materials and communities created to be built upon and used for educational purposes. In a letter to Congress, a large group of educators and OER experts stated that SOPA could “undermine this framework and chill the creation of educational content.”

Libraries and librarians also face a threat from this bill; the Library Copyright Alliance examines the latest amendments to SOPA and why they are unacceptable in their own letter to the House.

And the artists? “Stop Online Piracy Act” sounds like something intended to help those who work in creative mediums, right?

“The best way to combat piracy is to provide consumers with easier access to desired content.”

Or, as David Miller pointed out, it’s “another classic usage of rhetoric” that obfuscates what the bill is actually about. Sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and SoundCloud have helped struggling artists flourish in the last few years by offering them something unprecedented: free and immediate access to potentially millions of fans.

Not to mention a way to connect with one another and build a community. Before my husband (a musician) even moved to Seattle, he had auditions lined up with several bands after contacting them with a link to his online portfolio, which included videos of him performing both original and cover tunes. A crime that could be punishable by law if these bills pass.

In a guest column on Billboard, Bill Silva Entertainment manager Ryan Chisholm had this to say:

In my view, the best way to combat piracy is to provide consumers with easier access to desired content. SOPA/Protect IP only fuels the fire of those disgruntled (and web-savvy) listeners who are pissed off that we in the industry can’t all get on the same page to agree on deal points to establish a consumer-friendly, legitimate marketplace that rewards creators, rightsholders and fans alike.

Today, we are only beginning to realize the potential of sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, SoundCloud – along with numerous popular blogs and thousands of music sites – in driving discovery of and monetization around music. I definitely think that copyrights should be valued and our content owners should be paid, but I do not think the answer is coming down hard on a sector that is helping to build the infrastructure that we use every day to grow our audiences and attract new business.

So hang on – who are the advocates of these bills trying to help, if not artists?

7. The real purpose of SOPA is to help the entertainment industry SELL BLOCKBUSTERS.

Blockbusters, not movies. Much like the publishing industry will still shell out massive advances for books they feel will sell big, Hollywood is still turning out blockbuster movies. It’s the other stuff – the indie films, the midlist books, the not top-40 bands – that are suffering.

“When the Chinese told Google that they had to block sites or they couldn’t do [business] in their country, they managed to figure out how to block sites.”

That quote brought to you by MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd. C’mon, guys – China figured out how to censor its citizens’ online lives! Can’t the US do the same thing for Hollywood’s sake? Maybe it’ll even help the economy.

Or…

8. SOPA will cause job loss and damage our already struggling economy.

Let’s look at a few facts.

Photo courtesy of owenwbrown

  1. The Internet adds about $2 trillion to the annual GDP, according to a 2007 report by Dr. Robert D. Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
  2. Internet advertising is responsible for $300 billion of economic activity
  3. As of 2005, 724,000 Americans started home businesses thanks to eBay
  4. About 200,000 more new jobs were created thanks to Facebook’s app

The unemployment rate in the US is currently 8.6 percent, and we have Congressmen and women attempting to push through a bill that will severely damage one of our few thriving industries.

9. Blocking content is a form of censorship.

SOPA supporters were pretty stoked when Floyd Abrams, First Amendment lawyer, stated that their bill did not violate said amendment. (He stated this in a letter the MPAA and other clients of his paid him to write, mind you.)

However, Techdirt points out that in his (pretty wishy-washy) letter, Abrams admits SOPA would censor protected speech, but that it’s acceptable collateral damage.

Regardless of the particular standard or definition of foreign infringing sites, court-approved remedies under the Stop Online Piracy Act may result in the blockage or disruption of some protected speech. ~ Floyd Abrams

Anyway, he’s just one lawyer. In an open letter to the House of Representatives, law professors Mark A. Lemley, David S. Levine, and David Post had very different thoughts on SOPA and the Constitution, which they expressed in a much more straightforward manner:

By failing to guarantee the challenged web sites notice or an opportunity to be heard in court before their sites are shutdown, SOPA represents the most ill-advised and destructive intellectual property legislation in recent memory.

In sum, SOPA is a dangerous bill. It threatens the most vibrant sector of our economy – Internet commerce…and it violates the First Amendment.

10. SOPA sets an example that will be followed.

More from the above letter:

[SOPA] is directly at odds with the United States’ foreign policy of Internet openness, a fact that repressive regimes will seize upon to justify their censorship of the Internet.

I can’t word it any better than that. While the supposed purpose of SOPA might be different than China’s reasons for censorship, what it proposes is similar to the Great Firewall…something Chinese bloggers find bemusing.

After years of condemning China’s online censorship, it looks like we’re on our way to building The Great Firewall of America. Other countries, democratic and communist alike, will absolutely follow. Looking down that path, it’s hard to imagine what the Internet will be like in a few years…but I don’t think “open” will be an appropriate adjective for it anymore.

What can you do?

Image courtesy of chidorian

Visit AmericanCensorship.org. They’ve made it easy to do one or more of a number of things to voice your opinion and make a difference, including:
  • Writing a letter to and/or calling Congress
  • Petition the State Department
  • “Censoring” your website or blog
  • “Censoring” your tweets and Facebook posts

You can also sign a petition at WhiteHouse.gov.

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