Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On the First Ammendment: SOPA

So Hollywood wanted Congress to help stop online piracy of videos they made. They wanted Chinese websites and the like to not post the movies they'd spent millions creating. The obvious solution is to lobby Congress to get a new law passed, right?

And in true Hollywood tradition, that law calls for the establishment of a blacklist for websites that illegally use copyrighted material. The copyright holders--or, by pure coincidence I'm sure, the Attorney General--could obtain a court order to basically attempt to wipe these sites from search results and domain names worldwide. There are also provisions for holding search providers and other companies liable for assisting the sites which are in violation.

While I am all in favor of copyright law--as a writer who plans on making a career out of his copyrights, how could I not be--this is freaking insane. How this law couldn't be horribly abused straight from the outset is a mystery to me. False accusations could mean retaliatory suits against the people who shut down non-violation sites, but what if that person was the Attorney General? You know, the one who participated in arms smuggling recently and still hasn't even been indicted? Or what if the small business site is simply unable to raise the funds to make a case for itself? Do they get to claim reparations for their lost business? What happens if a business hires someone to post copyrighted material to a competitor's website, and then reports it to SOPA? Is there a difference between the use of a single uncited photograph, and the streaming of a whole movie? What if, perish the thought, the Attorney General is politically motivated in which sites he blocks, and targets opposing political sites, or sites for businesses which contribute to his opponents?

The worst part is how incredibly ignorant the members of Congress seem to be about this whole thing. At the hearing discussing the bill, it seems like absolutely no one was actually qualified to discuss Internet filtering, and the broad base of opponents to the law were generally excluded. The opposition to SOPA comes from virtually the entire political spectrum, from Tea Partiers to Politico. Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and other web based companies have taken a stance against this abuse of governmental power, to the point where some of them have blacked out their sites in protest today.

This bill, and a similar one called PIPA, are complete and total violations of everything the Constitution and the Bill of Rights sought to provide us with. If the bill sought to provide an opportunity for the Attorney General to burn a printing press accused of printing things in violation of copyright law, or shut down a newspaper accused of sedition or copyright violation, the reaction would be the same, because the abuses would be pretty much the same. I sympathize with Hollywood--you guys spend a lot of time and money to create entertainment for the world, and having it stolen by people and posted on the web has to be devastating. The fact that things like Twitter and Facebook have started to effect and change your industry can't be comfortable either. The fact is, though, that this bill is a disaster that will not help the situation, and even if it was effective, the cost to free speech and the abuses it would make possible for government and business officials would be too high.

In short, kill this bill. Kill it with fire and never look back.

Thus concludes the political rant. Will get back to more interesting things on Friday. See ya!

Blacked out Google image provided by, well...Google.

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