The Internet: Cancelled because of bad ratings

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.)

My email to Candice Miller regarding SOPA

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.


Tom Kephart
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.

White House reacts to SOPA/PIPA opposition

The Obama administration issued a response to two petitions that oppose SOPA/PIPA today. It contains some encouraging information regarding the White House’s position on the bills and some of their more drastic elements, but also encourages the petitioners to come up with better ideas. The concept of accepting suggestions from a wide-ranging, social media centered audience is good, I think, but as Sherwin Siy notes at Public Knowledge today:

There’s something that I think is just slightly missed here. There’s nothing wrong with trying to crowdsource solutions to online infringement, and maybe the signers of these petitions isn’t a bad place to start. But the White House, and Congress, and others should know that there’s only going to be a smaller subset of people angry about SOPA and PIPA who are interested in finding solutions to infringement. Not because they’re only concerned with saying “no” rather than “yes,” but because they’re not concerned with copyright—they’re concerned with the Internet.

The reason they’re saying “no” to PIPA and SOPA isn’t because they’re extremely picky and opinionated about the proper methods of copyright enforcement; it’s because PIPA and SOPA so fundamentally alter the technical and normative structures of the Internet—the milieu within which they speak, work, and play. Saying “no” to SOPA doesn’t necessarily mean they should have something they can say “yes” to on copyright enforcement; just as often, these are the people saying “yes” to freeing speech in repressive countries; to educating new generations of makers, scholars, artists, and inventors; to just making it easier to communicate with distant friends and family.

Most Internet users aren’t pirates; they just want to use this technology to stay in touch, to make our own videos, to post funny pictures of cats, and, yes, to watch TV shows, movies and listen to music – legally. They’re not policy makers, in fact, most of the time they don’t pay a great deal of attention to details about public policy at all. At this point, most Internet users don’t seem to know or care much about SOPA or PIPA at all, which is good for the supporters of the bills.

They’re not going to be happy if they have their Facebook and YouTube taken away, though. That’s why I have the feeling that the actual applications of SOPA/PIPA by the government would be less drastic than they seem (though not having them pass at all is still the best option, rather than depending on them not being fully enforced).

SOPA and PIPA: Bad for (almost) everyone

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.

Dan Lyons: Apple’s tablet will reinvent computing

Newsweek_logoNewsweek’s Daniel Lyons discusses the tablet PC that Apple is rumored to be preparing for a mid-2010 launch, and the effect it might have on journalists and other storytellers. He’s correct that such a device, always connected to the internet, would advance the convergence of different story telling media (print, video, audio), it’s his take on where the next “evolutionary leap” in media is coming from that I really agree with:

The Internet today is a lot like TV circa 1950. But we are about to take an evolution-ary leap. That’s why all this hand-wringing over the dying newspaper business is so misplaced. In 10 years the print newspapers we have today will seem as quaint and primitive as those old Uncle Miltie shows. Heck, the Internet we have today will seem quaint and primitive too. Chances are the cool stuff won’t come from people my age (I’m nearly 50) but from the kids who are growing up with these digital tools the way (Steven) Bochco, (David) Chase, and (Larry) David grew up with Uncle Miltie.

Worth a read at