The US guh’ment is trying to kill teh Internetz!!!1!!
Well, actually, they’re trying to stop online piracy and copyright infringement, which is a much more admirable goal. Unfortunately, the way they’re going about it is… more or less going to kill teh Internetz.
Or at least the Internet as we know it. But before we get into all the reasons why SOPA sucks, we should probably talk about what it is first. And before we do THAT, I have this to say:
1. Dear people complaining about Wikipedia and Reddit, etc.:
Not to be rude, but shut up. You can get around the blackout easily. OR you could pick up a BOOK or go to a LIBRARY or use GOOGLE for one day. They’re doing this for a reason, and it’s a good one. Maybe you should hear what they have to say before getting all pissy because your user-edited information, that half of you people insist is inaccurate ANYWAY, is unavailable for a few more hours.
2. Ok, so what is SOPA?
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) are pieces of American legislation directed toward curbing the unauthorized use of intellectual property, but I’ll be focusing on SOPA for the most part. SOPA, also known as House Bill 3261, has the official aim of “…[promoting] prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.”
The way it plans to do that is by further empowering American copyright holders (meaning: anyone from musicians and photographers to inventors and computer code-writers — those members of society whose products we consume without even realizing it) and law enforcement when it comes to protecting their property. This of course means that anyone who uses products that are produced by these people is liable to be sued for copyright infringement. Yes, this means I could potentially go to jail for using that picture below. It also means that people like Justin Bieber, who got his fame by performing covers of songs by other artists on YouTube, would also have to go to jail… Which, to be honest, almost tempts me to support the bill, but not quite.
PIPA is directed toward whole websites that are “dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods,” which makes it less of a threat to major sites, but not by much. Most of the popular sites we use all the time, in a letter co-written by about 130 major companies, explained to Congress that this bill is bad for consumers because it will “hurt economic growth and chill innovation in legitimate services that help people create, communicate, and make money online,” which would basically defeat the purpose.
So to summarize: these bills are stupid.
3. Where did these bills come from?
SOPA originated in the House of Representatives, and PIPA originated in the Senate. It is important to make the distinction because once one is dead, the other could still live… Or they could BOTH survive, which would be twice as bad. People should note that SOPA is not the only threat. The Senate vote for PIPA will be held on the 24th of this month.
4. Who is supporting it? and 5. Why?
- Some Congresspeople — They are trying to aid the economy by keeping money from leaking out through the black market, keep Americans out of prison for piracy, and protect the rights of copyright holders whose products are being stolen or recreated without their permission.
- The Movie, TV and Music industries — These industries, and the people that work for them, rely on copyrights to make money. You also have to admit that they deserve to get something for their hard work. We obviously all appreciate it; that’s why we steal it in the first place. This is the one argument that makes me think that maybe these bills aren’t the worst things in the world…
- US Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO — It is the responsibility of these organizations to protect consumers. They like this legislation because it would make it easier to filter out plagiarized/ copied/ recreated/ forged/ fake products, thus protecting both American consumers and the economy.
6. Who is opposing it? and 7. Why?
Me. You, probably. And also everyone else. This includes most consumers, quite a lot of legislators, major websites like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, eBay, and YouTube, not to mention major interest groups like the ACLU. These parties oppose the legislation for one very good reason: we in this country have a Constitution with a Bill of Rights whose First Amendment forbids the government from making any law “…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In this right, SOPA could potentially limit 3 out of 4 of our First Amendment rights, especially since we have petitioned the government on this matter and the bills are still alive, still going to a vote.
8. Is it going to pass?
That’s a good question. At this point, if we weren’t truly worried about it, then websites like Wikipedia and Reddit wouldn’t be shutting down today… Then again, I find it hard to believe that Congress would pass such a ridiculously unpopular bill. Their approval rating is already so low it’s practically underground. Still, there are those who are extremely concerned because they know that Congress is bought and paid for by corporations — not unlike those pushing for the bills to pass. And yet, at the same time, others believe that not only will there be immense public backlash, but that the bills will basically be unenforceable, which brings me to my next point.
9. If it passes, what will be the consequences?
First, there will probably be a massive slew of arrests, both public and private. The government will need to demonstrate its authority and competence in enforcing its new law.
If this happens, what happens next is fairly predictable. I foresee a virtual (get it?) uprising, with more protests (because we didn’t have enough in 2011) and more public demonstrations like the Occupy Wall Street movement, which… is that still going on?
Anyway, then it will get to the point where people just do it anyway, like smoking weed and riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Because it’s a stupid law, and Americans are really good at circumventing stupid laws. (See: America during Prohibition.)
Hopefully, then, the bills will either be repealed, not unlike Prohibition, or amended. But it might be a dark few years in the middle there. I personally don’t want to live in an America without free speech, not even for a short while.
10. If it doesn’t, how will we combat online piracy and other such problems?
Draft different bills. Better bills. Bills that aren’t quite so heavy handed and broad in scope. The problem with these bills isn’t the intent — I think we can all agree that these people deserve to have their rights protected as much as anyone else — but is instead the idea that use of any copyrighted material is theft. Often, the reason we post songs or photos to our Facebook walls is because we want to promote that artist! I think these laws define theft far too broadly and make too many innocent people liable.
Still, to be fair, PIPA seems to have closer to the right idea. Americans are being ripped off by buying cheaper, knockoff goods and this doesn’t benefit anyone but the black market entrepreneurs.
So that’s basically what all the fuss is about. Until the vote comes in, why don’t we all just take a minute and imagine a world… where Justin Bieber is in jail.
– THE DUEL CITIZEN