Before we begin, I’d like to make some statements that you may remember from when I discussed embryonic stem cells: this article is largely meant to be informative, although it is very difficult to stay completely unbiased when I am informing you about the opinions of other people. I apologize in advance if my own opinion shines through too brightly, largely because this seems to be an issue that is polarizing people more than stem cells ever could. Add the previous sentence to the list of things I never thought I’d say. Then again, this is the internet.
By now, you’re probably aware that you can’t access Wikipedia or Craigslist as you normally would. You’ve gone to see teh lolcats or hang with your bronies, and you’ve been greeted with a popup begging you to take action. The Google doodle is now a black box. Even the news stations are talking about the sites going down. What’s going on? Just a preview of what could happen if SOPA and PIPA pass in their current forms.
SOPA and PIPA are bills in the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, that were intended to stop online piracy from overseas sites like The Pirate Bay. Currently, nobody can touch The Pirate Bay, as evidenced by their response letters (or, as Scott called them, f/u letters). The language of the bills is entirely too broad, however, and reeks slightly of “did not do the research.” For instance, you don’t have to infringe to be taken down, you just need to be capable of infringing: that is, have a comment box, text, links, a link to someone else’s link, etc. And you may be guilty until proven innocent.
I’ll be the first to admit that most people have no idea what’s going on in Congress most of the time. I personally would rather read image file wrappers, watch paint dry, or have a root canal than watch C-SPAN. It’s boring, and in a language called “legalese.” Great for curing insomnia, though.
Before I get too far into this, I’m going to be perfectly clear: I am FOR protecting intellectual property. I’d be an out-of-work hypocrite if I wasn’t; protecting intellectual property is my job as a patent agent. However, I personally believe that SOPA and PIPA can’t protect intellectual property in their current forms.
Here’s why people are protesting and your favorite sites are dark:
- A site does not necessarily have to infringe to be taken down. A site that could infringe, in other words, has a comment box, links, or any upload capability, can be targeted.
- If you’ve been accused, there is no real defense: you’re assumed guilty until proven innocent, and the bill makes proving yourself innocent extremely difficult. In order to be innocent, your website must not have the functionality to infringe; which of course, all websites have. So, you’re either infringing or you’re perjuring yourself. Take your pick.
- Takedowns are incredibly easy to initiate. The RIAA already has a history of using questionably ethical legal tactics to take out legitimate businesses. Imagine what they can do with SOPA and PIPA on their side.
- Ever posted anything to any website? YouTube, ICanHasCheezburger?, even Facebook? Yep, you’re a potential target.
- Ever used Gmail, Yahoo! mail, or AOL mail? Same deal.
- Fair use will be practically considered obsolete… and ignorance will not be a defense.
- Anyone working for the government (like our wonderful Congresspeople) is immune from the consequences of violating SOPA and PIPA.
- The link I posted to the f/u letters? That could be a violation of SOPA/PIPA, due to The Pirate Bay’s unsavory activities.
- Earlier versions (and possibly later versions) allowed for destabilizing the infrastructure of the internet in order to “protect” IP. That is, addresses could be removed from the universal internet lookup system, DNS, which would make site spoofing that much easier… hello viruses and stolen personal info!
To quote a godly entity, you “should pretend like it is a big deal, because it is.” Whether you’re for or against SOPA/PIPA, you really need to speak up about this issue. It affects the internet as we know it, and it affects intellectual property, too. If you’re like me, you’re for protecting intellectual property, but against seriously inhibiting the free flow of the internet.
To read more:
Tim O’Reilly’s thoughts (with some from Nancy Pelosi)