Another way to think about SOPA/PIPA is to compare it to the pending cancellation of a favorite show. You love the show, and you’ve heard something about low ratings and that it might be cancelled. But you don’t tell anyone else to watch it, you don’t write the network to tell them how much you love it… and one day, the axe falls and the show is cancelled.
Then you get angry and write your letter, or join in a rally to support the show. Now it’s too late, though. The cow has left the barn and it’s too late to close the door. Oh, well.
That’s why today’s blackouts of several popular websites is important. It’s bringing the discussion of these potentially important pieces of legislation to the forefront. You certainly haven’t seen much about SOPA/PIPA on broadcast or cable news. Why? Could it be that all of those networks are owned by corporations that are fully in support of the legislation?
I’ve already noted that I’m not in support of piracy or stealing of intellectual property. It stinks, and if we could figure out a way to really eliminate it, I’d support that. But these bills don’t do that. Piracy can’t be completely “stopped,” and IP owners who witness infringement of their copyrighted material already have legal remedies to have those violations prosecuted (see the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, or DMCA).
(By the way, I also find it hard to believe that IP owners would actually demand that a major website be shut down over a single violation. The outcry over Facebook being blacked out involuntarily by the government – without due process of law but simply over an allegation – would dwarf the frustration Wikipedia or Reddit users are feeling today. Smaller sites, though, will surely be subject to such harassment.)
None of this justifies codifying bad law to appease wealthy corporations in exchange for campaign contributions. I find it depressing that when Congress is debating something of real national importance, like raising the debt ceiling or guaranteeing access to basic human services like healthcare, nothing can be done because of partisan bickering. Yet when the entertainment behemoth comes calling, it’s suddenly sweetness and light between the two parties? (Although those speaking against the bills are an interesting mix of conservatives and liberals as well.)
Text of the email I sent to Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI 10th) this morning. Similar emails were sent to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). You can easily contact your Congressional representatives using this site.
Dear Congresswoman Miller:
I’d like to add my voice to those concerned about the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261), also known as SOPA. I am sympathetic to the concerns of intellectual property creators, artists and owners, as I am a writer, photographer and artist myself.
I am opposed to this legislation, however, because it is like trying to destroy a hornet’s nest with a howitzer; it may kill the hornets, but the collateral damage isn’t worth it. The Internet has spawned an amazing range of creative and useful ideas and has been a major factor in our country’s economic growth in the past two decades. Much of this growth has come because of the freedom to spend time innovating. SOPA proposes to place an enormous regulatory burden on every website based in the U.S., to somehow “ensure” that their users haven’t infringed on anyone’s copyrights. I believe these provisions will prove to be practically unenforceable; plus, there are already adequate legal remedies for IP owners to demand that copyrighted material be removed from an infringing site that are less apocalyptic than shutting down an entire website domain without due process of law, as SOPA (and its Senate counterpart, PROTECT-IP) propose to do.
I hope that you will consider the potential damage to free expression and economic growth that SOPA represents when you are considering your decision. The U.S. is an example to the rest of the world, and SOPA’s passage will be seen as permission by other, less open countries to similarly clamp down on the openness of the Internet. It would indeed be ironic for the nation founded on freedom of speech and expression to be the leader in shutting down the most powerful voice individuals worldwide have had in human history.
I appreciate your time and your consideration of my comments.
Marine City, Michigan
UPDATE (5:47 p.m.): Rep. Miller replied by email. She opposes SOPA. Here’s a quote from her response:
I am opposed to the SOPA and PIPA legislation currently under consideration in Congress because I believe it threatens legitimate online commerce which has been one of the few areas of growth in our economy and the freedom of speech on the internet which has become so central to life in the modern world and must be defended. I am pleased that House leadership has indicated that this legislation will not be considered until major changes are made which will stop online piracy of intellectual property and protects American jobs while also ensuring the protection of freedom of speech on the internet.
Do you know about SOPA and PIPA? You should, because if these bills pass it would cause huge changes in the way the Internet works, stifling innovation, reducing economic growth and reducing or eliminating free expression and social media. The bills are currently being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives (“Stop Online Piracy Act” – SOPA, which is H.R. 3261) and the U.S. Senate (“PROTECT-IP Act” – PIPA, which is S. 968), and while pressure from Internet experts, companies and everyday users has begun to force the bills’ supporters to backtrack somewhat, there’s still a possibility that they could pass in their current form, which would be a disaster.
In short, the bills were requested by owners and creators of intellectual property, i.e. music, films, television, etc. The entertainment industry. As a writer and creator of intellectual property myself, I respect the idea that artists should be paid fairly for their work. Piracy does harm that, I agree. But SOPA and PIPA are the legislative equivalent of wiping out a hornet’s nest with mortar shell. It’s overkill. It’s the kind of overkill the entertainment industry has always wanted, though – recall the battles over the Digital Millenium Copyright Act back in 1998, which originally would have had similar net censorship powers.
This video by Fight For The Future describes the bills and their potential impact on the way we use the Internet:
I encourage you to watch the video, which is about four minutes long, and learn about these bills. More to come as the debate continues in the next week.