Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Image credit: Fight For The Future

While this blog will not be "on strike" today, I fully support the aims of these Internet organizations, which are taking the day off to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and its sister legislation, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). These two acts, the U.S. House and Senate version of the same bill, respectively, are supposedly designed to prevent copyright theft on the Internet.

This is, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, a ridiculously restrictive and dangerous bill:
The "Stop Online Piracy Act"/"E-PARASITE Act" (SOPA) and "The PROTECT IP Act" (PIPA) are the latest in a series of bills which would create a procedure for creating (and censoring) a blacklist of websites. These bills are updated versions of the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act" (COICA), which was previously blocked in the Senate. Although the bills are ostensibly aimed at reaching foreign websites dedicated to providing illegal content, their provisions would allow for removal of enormous amounts of non-infringing content including political and other speech from the Web.

The various bills define different techniques for blocking “blacklisted” sites. Each would interfere with the Internet's domain name system (DNS), which translates names like "" or "" into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. SOPA would also allow rightsholders to force payment processors to cut off payments and advertising networks to cut ties with a site simply by sending a notice.

These bills are targeted at "rogue" websites that allow indiscriminate piracy, but use vague definitions that could include hosting websites such as Dropbox, MediaFire, and Rapidshare; sites that discuss piracy such as, p2pnet, Torrent Freak,, and ZeroPaid; as well as a broad range of sites for user-generated content, such as SoundCloud, Etsy, and Deviant Art. Had these bills been passed five or ten years ago, even YouTube might not exist today — in other words, the collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous.

Internet Blacklist Legislation
The potential for abuse is obvious to anyone familiar with how YouTube, for instance, has been gamed numerous times into blocking content that was wrongly alleged to be in violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act by people who simply wanted to make the content disappear. It would also give entertainment companies that also provide Internet presence the opportunity to censor sites that compete with it, at least on its own networks.

The Obama Administration has gone on record as being opposed to these bills:
Over the weekend, the Obama administration issued a potentially game-changing statement on the blacklist bills, saying it would oppose PIPA and SOPA as written, and drew an important line in the sand by emphasizing that it “will not support” any bill “that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation
Of course, counting on the Obama Administration to stand on principle is a good way to be disappointed, as we learned with the recent reverse course on the unlimited detention provisions added to the NDAA.

Intellectual property, the concept that includes ideas like patents and copyrights, is a deal that society strikes with people who have spent time and effort creating something of value. Most modern countries, including the U.S., make a deal with people who invent or create innovative work. That deal is that they have the exclusive right to sell that particular work or product for a set period. This makes the work of innovating monetarily valuable, because without it anyone could then steal the work and sell it as his own, usually at lower cost.

What has happened in recent years, though, is that these ideas have gotten out of hand. Partly thanks to the not terribly bright practice of shipping the designs of our products overseas to be manufactured by others, it is now far more difficult to control the use of the designs or works that U.S. intellectual property law is supposed to provide. Meanwhile, those protections have been extended for enormous periods, well beyond the lifetimes of the people who came up with the works in the first place. When movies that are so old that all the people who made them are dead can still be claimed as intellectual property by the corporations that own the rights, it seems to me that it's time those rights expired, too.

To try to enforce these increasingly unenforceable intellectual property rights, various corporations that own those rights and the congresspeople they've bought and paid for are determined to turn the Internet into a shopping mall. And it will be a shopping mall where the security guards can look in your bags, your purses, and your clothes any time they like, then can beat the crap out of you and throw you outside.

So, the Internet is going on strike. Not all of it, of course, but many of the things you're used to doing on the Internet today will be harder, and you'll be asked numerous times to do this:

Sign the petition to remind your congressmen that they work for all Americans, not just the ones who have enough money to hire lobbyists.

UPDATE: Here's what Raw Story has to say in support of the strike:
Raw Story is, as always, a small, privately-owned company, so we understand uniquely the problems caused by people who reprint our articles without permission or attribution, taking the intellectual property of our company and our employees without so much as a pageview in return. But our reporting has shown, time and again, that neither SOPA nor PIPA will help small companies like ours do much, if anything, to combat the theft of our intellectual property — heck, even the movie industry can’t say that its profits are actually down, despite rampant piracy. SOPA/PIPA is simply a cudgel supported by large, corporate interests who would rather spend money lobbying for outmoded legislation intended to stall the internet’s engine for change rather than learning a new way to operate in a modern world.

Announcement: Raw Story to go dark on January 18 to protest SOPA/PIPA
I'd have to agree, I don't see how this would help anyone legitimately reclaim or recover losses for stolen intellectual property. It can be used as a way for corporations that both provide content and Internet access to stifle competition, though.

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