PIPA / SOPA / PROTECT IP Act – A horrible, terrible, awful, no-good idea

I know I haven’t posted here in a while. A long while, actually… But I feel this is vitally important and I am more than a little disturbed by the possibility that America, home of free speech and purported bastion of personal expression, is coming as close as it is to a horrendous, wholesale miscarriage of justice.

For the too-long-didn’t-read crowd, at LEAST watch this.

PIPA(or SOPA, or PROTECT) is the Protect IP Act. The goal is to protect intellectual property- primarily music and video content- from would-be scoundrels, rapscallions, and pirates. This is very noble and clearly a good thing, right? Right? What’s your problem, do you like thieves? These people worked hard to make content for us to pay to enjoy, right? It’s their right to protect their work! Why do you hate content owners???

Here’s the problem. As always when something this insane and heinous comes up, it’s all about preying on our desire to Do The Right Thing and our stupid, but innate, desire to think that people always have good intentions. PATRIOT will totally protect us from terrorists! The DMCA is just an extension of existing laws! Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same crap, in a different toilet.

The guts of the act basically say that if you are suspected of abridging copyright or one of your users is, you can be blacklisted from the internet. At the discretion of the US government, who act upon the bidding of the copyright holders. Even put that way it doesn’t sound so bad, does it? How do they do it? By seizing control of DNS, one of the core technologies the entirety of the internet relies on. When you go to a site, DNS translates the site name into a machine-routable address. When you send an email, DNS tells your mail server where to find theirs. Breaking DNS is a BAD IDEA.

Have you ever posted song lyrics on Facebook? How about posting a video of your kid dancing with music in the background? Posted a picture of yourself or your friends at a museum? A concert? ALL of these things, and many more, would give a copyright owner the right to shut down Facebook. Or Tumblr. Or, well, anything. The sites you and millions of people use become liable for the content you upload. If that sounds insane, it’s only because it is insane. Youtube users alone upload 35 hours of video every minute. And now, under this act, Youtube is responsible for vetting all of that to make sure the poor downtrodden content owners are being well served. These are the same poor downtrodden corporations that tried to enact law letting them hack your computer if they thought you might have illegal content. The same dudes that wanted to make tools illegal if they might be used for infringement. The same guys that gutted copyright fair-use law under the guise of “modernizing” it with the DMCA. These are the guys that want to control the Internet. The guys that made the mix-tape illegal. The guys that sue grandmas and pre-teens for millions of dollars. And Congress seems poised to let it happen.

The funny thing is, this has all happened before. It’s already in law that this is an unfair way to treat things- the Communications Decency Act has specific wording to address that carriers and providers are not liable for what their users do. Reversing that is a disaster waiting to happen. Imagine your fledgling business having its doors barred and phones cut off for days at a time because some random guy was pretty sure you were selling something he might have a right to charge you for. Now imagine he can do that without a trial or even an evidentiary hearing, and there’s no penalty to him if it turns out to be untrue. This act can and will be abused for anticompetitive purposes.

The Internet is too important for that. It’s the one last true hope for free expression, for peer-to-peer communication unhindered by corporate interest. It’s the greatest thing to happen to mankind in the last hundred years, hands down, and it’s something I have been passionate about being a part of for 15 years now. In that time I have seen common people on the Internet topple regimes, fight injustice, advance science, and help others in need. For all its flaws, or perceived flaws, the government and particularly the big corporations have no place mucking with it.

Frankly, I’ve had enough of corporate shills duping or bribing “my” representatives into doing their bidding. If you have too, I urge you to donate to the cause or, at least, write your Congressman a letter.

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