Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wikipedians hate SOPA, PIPA, and liver

The Internet is abuzz with buzz over the mass protest against the proposed legislation - the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act - that are currently working their way through the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. Wikipedia goes dark tomorrow in support of a growing protest designed to get the proposed legislation squashed. Copy-and-paste-addicted high school students everywhere should be suffering withdrawal symptoms by lunchtime.

Supporters of the SOPA and PIPA legislation say something's got to be done to rein in piracy, to give law enforcement the ability to reach beyond national borders and shut down copyright violators who use servers stashed in the Cayman Islands to avoid prosecution. Opponents say these acts, if signed into law, will drape a layer of draconian, Big Brother-ish censorship and centralized control that will destroy the open and collaborative Internet as we know it. A number of high-profile sites, including the English-language arm of Wikipedia, will go dark tomorrow to protest the acts and encourage users to fight them. Still others, like Google, will remain operational, but till add content onto their home pages to help spread the word.

Who's right? Well, everyone is. Copyright owners - like Hollywood studios and record labels all the way down to the suburban-dwelling guy who writes on his MacBook late at night and shoots pictures by day - deserve to not have their stuff surreptitiously ripped off and made available for download by shadowy web services in a shadowy country (on a shadowy planet...) People and organizations who create content deserve fair compensation - profits, salaries, careers, whatever - in exchange for their efforts.

Likewise, content distributors - carriers, web sites like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter and distributors like Internet service providers - deserve to do business over an open, collaborative, creativity-inspiring Internet without fear of being waylaid by an endless wave of lawsuits brought forward by the same litigious doofii who turned the McDonalds drive-through into a never-ending source of cash for ambulance-chasing (and coffee-dropping) lawyers everywhere.

There's got to be a middle ground somewhere that at least keeps some of those involved happy some of the time. There's also got to be recognition that it's a problem that will likely never completely go away, that the cops-and-mouse game of stealing electronic content or otherwise using it inappropriately will never end, that technology will always be a step or two ahead of the legislation designed to control - and make fair - its use. Similarly, the planet deserves a solution that replaces today's ineffective patchwork of national legislation with something that allows law enforcement to prosecute criminals wherever they may be.

But as long as partisan bickering dominates the agenda, it's hard to see any of this improving anytime soon. Which is a pity, because the utopian promises of technology deserve a fair shot at coming true. Like reaching for the stars, we know we'll never quite get there. Indeed, we won't even get close. But just striving for fairness and balance should be enough no matter what side of this issue you may be on.

Your turn: Got any SOPA/PIPA thoughts? Hope you'll share 'em. I'll post links of my own later on.

Related links:
Seriously...this stuff is neat.


Thumper said...

Honestly, I hope SOPA never sees the light of day; I don't knwo enough about PIPA to form even a rudimentary opinion. I don't disagree that it would help to have protections in place, but SOPA isn't it.

Just from a writer's standpoint... say I write a book, publish it digitally, and I mention Diet Coke in it. I sell the book on Amazon and on my personal website. Even if I mention it in a favorable light, Coca Cola can demand that Amazon remove the book, Coca Cola can have my web host shut my site down, and effectively ruin any potential for income I had from that book...just because I mentioned their product. There's no recourse--as far as I've been able to figure out--to this. A company doesn't like being mentioned, they can shut a site down (remember when Starbucks threatened to sue people who linked to their site? This would give them legs to really do it...though I hope they've figured out that's kind of boneheaded...)

Heck, if someone posts an online quote from something I wrote--even if it would be considered fair use in print media--I could theoretically force their web host into taking their website down, without ever just asking the person to remove the quote. SOPA lacks protection and common sense.

I have the potential to lose a lot to online piracy--several years ago the full text to one of my books was posted and the publisher's estimate was that 25000 copies were downloaded before they caught the error--but I would still rather take my chances and not have SOPA pass. When the liabilities outweigh the protection, it's just not good legislation.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I don't agree, Carmi.

The middle ground between a bad idea and opposition to it is not a virtuous place.

debbie s. said...

brilliantly said, thumper!