SOPA

read for yourself. ignorance is bad.

Read. It saves lives.

So it’s time for me to put my two or three cents in about SOPA.

The other night, I hung out with the crew at FourAthens and during that meetup, they brought up the subject of the SOPA bill. If you are confused about what that is, that’s okay. Actually more than. Keep following to find out why.

See, I had seen a lot of nerdrage over this particular bill. In particular, the Google and Wikipedia blackout last week, but there were other things as well. That said, I went to the meeting with a clear idea of what the bill was and how it affected other things. Here’s the funny thing I learned about this bill that night at FourAthens:

I really should have just read the bill myself.

I repeat: I should have read the bill myself. Mind you, I wasn’t entirely wrong about the bill in some cases, but I was wrong about one major point: this bill doesn’t really affect people in the US. My understanding, after that meeting, is that the bill is meant to prevent piracy and copyright infringement issues outside of the US. If this isn’t alarming to you, I don’t know what is.

Namely, exactly how does one country go about legislating the rest of the world at large? I would tell you how the bill is worded with all of this, but here’s the thing: you need to go read this bill yourself. Even this particular post has a bit of bias because my writing usually includes my own thoughts and feelings. That said, ignorance is death and that death is easily preventable. The bill can be publicly read at any time.

Go read it.

Here’s some highlights from that night that I managed to jot down:

  1. The wording in the bill itself is vague about a lot of things. For example, someone has to “be in the business of selling” pirated content. That could mean any form of profit at all. How do you determine whether enough money is being made to be considered “being in the business of selling”? Is it $1 or $20 or $10,000? No one knows.
  2. The reach of the bill isn’t specified. How much does it apply to? Since the law would have to be interpreted for that to be known, this is going to go badly before it stabilizes to something more reasonable. That’s not good.
  3. This bill skips due process. If you are accused of infringing copyright under this bill, you are immediately shut down completely without a chance for rebuttal. I’m not kidding. No recourse at all. Even if you do manage to prove your innocence, since guilt is assumed at the outset, there’s no determining if you will get that content back. Case in point here: my friend, Anthony Zayler. He’s a DJ based in Australia and has an amazing blog called DAFTWHO. He recently had all of his content, which he uploaded with permission to mediafire, deleted. All of it. 2,300 songs gone. Did he infringe? His rep as a DJ demands that he doesn’t, so no. He wasn’t told. Wasn’t warned. It was all just removed. This is what SOPA would do when applied incorrectly and SOPA wasn’t even law at the time.
  4. The bad guys have weapons. Proxies, multiple domain names and, most importantly, US-based servers. There are ways to skirt SOPA if you want to. I guess they can limit how much you can get away with, but you can’t catch it all and in the meantime, there are people caught in the crossfire that will get hurt and those people are innocent. To quote our meeting, this could easily turn into a legal version of “whack-a-mole”.
  5. Single point of failure. There isn’t a committee that makes decisions on these things. No tribunal. The decision rests on whatever judge has the case at the time. As a person that works with tech, one of the worst things you can do in a system is neglect redundancy (having more than one copy of something and more than one way to access those copies in case something happens). In short, one person with a modicum of paperwork (maybe) could hypothetically walk up to one man and shut down my site for possible copyright infringement and if that one judge fails to do due diligence to checking the situation, my site is irrevocably gone forever. No case, no court, no trial, nothing. Really? (Can you tell this due process thing really bothers me, yet?)
  6. Since we have the DMCA, why doesn’t SOPA just copy that? Seriously. It makes no sense that, since they have a model for dealing with copyright infringement that they would go and completely reinvent the wheel instead of just improving and modifying the current one. At least there would be the legal stuff for due process in it among other things that would make more sense.
  7. Blind anger is dangerous. I think most people angry at the bill aren’t aware of what they don’t like about it. Propaganda + general government mistrust + social media = blind anger. Blind anger is easily manipulated and I want that less than I want SOPA to pass. Honestly, the intent is good and makes sense, but the way they are trying to enforce it is errant. That’s all. Instead of nerdrage, I think there should be some channel where people that understand the net and how it works should partner up with the legals and make something that would really work. Unfortunately…
  8. Hollywood (representative of who wanted the bill to work) went up against Silicon Valley (representative of those that wanted this to fail) and the techies won this battle. That’s awesome, but the cost is that now we’re on opposing sides and there’s too many people waving around bragging rights instead of saying, “We really just don’t think this way works, let’s try this instead…” If the gap between the judiciary world and the tech world doesn’t close, there will be terrible consequences and I don’t want to elaborate on those, but here’s an idea. I’d rather not see the mess that becomes. That said, the tech community is more powerful than once believed and this shows that clearly. Without even a fraction of the money Hollywood has, the techies won out. Considering the power of lobbyists and all of this, that is a big deal. Recognize this.

Hopefully you are curious enough to seek out more info and if so, I have done my job. You can read this article about SOPA for a generalized idea of what we’re fighting about, but raging when you don’t know what you’re raging about isn’t effective. Get some knowledge, ask questions, think of solutions.

I want to add that, not-so-oddly, I’m in a generation of people that like to create things and remix things. That said, when those of us that create vehemently oppose a bill meant to protect our intellectual property and patents, something is terribly wrong. No one in the meeting that night, knowing what SOPA was intended for, wanted it to pass as it was.

Finally, the bill is shelved, not dead. I’m not an alarmist or anything, but let’s be clear: this bill addresses an issue that will need to be dealt with in some way. Because of that (and other reasons that, quite honestly, are more about money than anything), this bill will resurface, so amid the victory hoopla, we will need to pay more attention to things with time, not less. Stay vigilant and read read read.

By the way, I made that graphic and that’s why it’s not attributed to anyone. I have the PSD to prove it if you need it. 😛

*update*

Sigh. So much sighing. Told you they’d be back with something new. It never ends.

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