There they are, your United States Congress, and they are going to stop online piracy NOW!
Ah, and yet…The terrible Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is lurking in the U.S. House of Representatives, and its Senate companion, the also terrible PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011) is sneaking through the upper chamber. This is happening in spite of the fact that so much of America hates hates HATES these proposed bills.
Intended to stamp out copyright infringement and piracy on the Internet, these two bills would transfer unprecedented power to the government to block or shut down websites that facilitate intellectual property violations, such as copyright and trademark infringement or piracy. These proposals would have severe consequences for freedom of speech and due process, and many have warned how, if enacted, they would undermine the very structure of the Internet.
The short video explanation heading up this post, via Lifehacker, is perhaps the best four minute briefing on the bills you could ask for. Go ahead, watch, it’s only four minutes. We’ll save your place here till you get back.
Done? Great. Let’s move on.
Will no one rid of us of these meddlesome bills? Don’t count on U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas’ Second District, or Sen. John Boozman, Republicans who are co-sponsors of SOPA and the PROTECT-IP Act in their respective chambers. Ech, it’s enough to make you wonder what we even have Republicans for when they are willing to sign on to such unaccountable expansions of government power. Then you see that the proposals boast bipartisan support, and you realize we, the people, just cannot win.
My friends, these are wretched laws that need to be strangled in the crib, posthaste, but you need not take my word for it. The reviews are in, and the opposition spans the political spectrum. If this were a collection of Rotten Tomatoes reviews this thing would be tracking lower than that new Adam Sandler movie. (“Excellent topical reference, Dave! Very topical.”—All Arkansas Project Readers). Let’s look!:
- Peter Suderman at the libertarian Reason magazine: “There’s so much wrong with Congress’s new anti-piracy legislation that it’s hard to know where to start….Federal lawmakers aren’t exactly the most tech-savvy bunch, and that frequently leads to legislation that’s problematically vague.”
- Nathaniel Botwinick in the conservative National Review: “The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is one of the most misguided Internet-reform efforts to emerge in years….Unfortunately, wide application of the bill’s regulations would strangle the freedom of the Internet.”
- L. Gordon Crovitz in the Wall Street Journal: “These bills would go so far to protect copyright that they would strangle the Internet with regulation. The Web would be transformed from a permissive technology where innovation is welcome to one where websites are shut down first, questions asked later.”
- The liberals at MoveOn.org: “The government must not be allowed to censor the Internet at the request of powerful lobbyists. Say NO to Internet censorship.”
- The nerds at Techdirt: “The supporters of these bills really seemed to think they’d be approved without any real pushback. They’re still trying to make such claims in our comments. The reality is that there’s a growing public realization that a few big businesses who don’t want to adapt are trying to saddle the innovation industry with regulations to slow down the pace of innovation.”
- The poindexters at the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “There are already laws and procedures in place for taking down sites that violate the law. These acts would allow the Attorney General, and even individuals, to create a blacklist to censor sites when no court has found that they have infringed copyright or any other law.”
- Tom Lee at the Sunlight Foundation: “It’s simply not acceptable for the government to grant itself the power to silence individuals and organizations without appropriate due process.”
- Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: “SOPA, the House version of the US Senate’s PROTECT-IP Bill, might be the worst-ever copyright proposal in US legislative history.”
- Rebecca MacKinnon of Global Voices in The New York Times: “Public trust in both government and corporations is low, and deservedly so. This is no time for politicians and industry lobbyists in Washington to be devising new Internet censorship mechanisms, adding new opportunities for abuse of corporate and government power over online speech.”
- Lindsey Millar at the leftist Arkansas Times: “Every site that relies on user-generated content, from YouTube to Facebook to some site that doesn’t yet exist, could be imperiled if it becomes law.”
- Meanwhile, here’s an industry letter from leading tech giants (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) expressing concern over the bill (PDF), and an extremely well-written letter signed by 109 law professors laying out the case against SOPA (PDF).
I’ve read at least one recent report indicating that the sponsors probably don’t have the votes to get the bills passed, but remain vigilant. No bad idea ever dies in Washington, and SOPA and PROTECT-IP will almost certainly return. On your guards, people!
UPDATE: A Slate writer offers an assessment of the SOPA/PROTECT-IP opposition movement, and includes a warning that making a lot of noise on Twitter and whatnot may not be sufficient:
Rep. [Zoe] Lofgren [D-Calif.], who represents part of Silicon Valley, told me that her constituents have already made a couple of rookie mistakes in their anti-SOPA campaigning. The flood of calls to Congress came as many members were looking ahead to the Thanksgiving recess, and many went to district offices rather than offices in the Capitol. For all the fury on Facebook and Twitter, Lofgren says, the backlash against SOPA has registered as “a blip” in Congress so far.
God, you people and your tweeting….He also deems the oddball opposition coalition “the geek lobby.” He’s talking about you, of course, not me. Geek.