Unless you’re living under a rock (or a Luddite like my wife) you’ve probably heard something about SOPA and its Senate counterpart, PIPA. SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy Act, while PIPA represents the Protect Intellectual Property Act – lawmakers just love their acronyms. Personally, I think they should’ve called it the Destruction Of Online Foul Unacceptable Stuff (DOOFUS), or maybe Protect Online Files from Internet Technology (PROFIT) – at least it would’ve hinted at what the bill really aims to protect, or even Semi-Legal American Persecution of Online Foreign Fraudulence (SLAPOFF).
At their heart, both SOPA and PIPA aim to address the same problem: there’s an overabundance of online piracy. Big media companies are convinced they’re losing billions, and they’ve convinced lawmakers that the US economy, democracy, and the lives of kittens everywhere hinges on the ability to protect intellectual property by throwing away more than 220 years of due process. The Bill of Rights ensures the accused are innocent until proven guilty; SOPA and PIPA ignore that and put the burden on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and content owners (e.g. people who put stuff on the intarwebs – from youtube and wikipedia to sites like mine and even people who post in Internet forums).
Pretty much anything Congress or the Senate puts together reads like it was carved in bark by a three-year-old in native Swahili, then translated to Occitan before being translated into English. While SOPA is a tad too complicated to sum up, I’ll do my best: these two bills allow Intellectual Property holders (movie studios, recording studios, etc.) the ability to accuse web sites of piracy. It’s not the accusation that’s the problem – it’s the power said accusation levies against the accused. Under SOPA, service providers would be required to block access to accused sites, search engines like Google must de-list accused sites, billing services and credit-card companies must block any payments, domain ownership transfers to the accusers, and a hundred fluffy kittens must be killed, all without a court order. OK – I made part of that up. They’ve actually dropped the domain ownership issue.
If you dig into it, there’s a lot of good content on SOPA/PIPA from both sides (mostly from the truthful open-internet supporters, rather than the communist pig dogs promoting SOPA/PIPA). What troubles me, particularly from an author’s standpoint, is that Big Media not only had a key hand in writing these bills, but worked very hard to push them through the process before anyone could complain. It’s easy to sit back (particularly several days after Dark Wednesday when most lawmakers have rescinded support for SOPA/PIPA) and talk about how much the process works, how the people’s voices have been heard, how the little guy has won and we shouldn’t ever worry about becoming some warped, dystopian society run by corporations. Nobody sane supports piracy save pirates and people who think it’s their right to have free stuff, and most would agree the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is far from perfect. Big Media doesn’t exactly have a good track record of fairness – Warner Brothers even admitted last year to submitting DMCA takedown notices for files they didn’t even have the rights to.
The issue is far from over, regardless of where these bills end up in the coming months. The evolution of technology is forcing content owners and big media to adapt or die. Survival by litigation is nothing new, but it provokes the kind of innovation-stifling idea-killing future where everyone will end up eating Soylent Green.