This blog post is a comment on the recent political debacle about the proposed Protect IP Act (PIPA) and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) — two of the, in my opinion, most draconian breaches of privacy and civil liberties to ever emerge out of US politics since the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). There has been a remarkable debate about why and what rights intellectual property owners should have and how far they can go to protect their copyright. SOPA is a piece of legislation lobbied by the American media conglomerates with the purpose of protecting their IP and radically pulling the plug on online piracy and illegal downloaders.
In the age of patents and copyright, the intention of SOPA looks good on paper: it seeks to protect American industry from obviously illegal activities. However, it is the actual proposed legislative mechanisms that are subject to controversy. SOPA basically allows:
- Any copyright holder to demand that a particular site be taken down due to alleged copyright violation
- Any copyright holder to do this without a court order or prior valid legal process. Goodbye Youtube, see you later Wikipedia.
- Any DNS server on US soil to be interrogated by authorities in order to ban and blacklist certain sites on the NS level
- Copyright holders to randomly censor and filter out “inappropriate” content without any transparency or public insight.
The ramifications of SOPA are scary. It is a backwards inventions argued by a very narrow set of stakeholders — the media conglomerates — in response to their threatened, arcane business models. Instead of embracing the wonders of unlimited Internet connectivity and powerful handheld devices (like iTunes or Spotify), they insist on sticking to the arcane definition of media as having a physical, controlled manifestation. In the age of CD’s and cassette tapes, this was a very good foundation for protecting IP. However, in the age of the Internet, the corresponding legislation needs an update. It is time for the lobbyist and media empires to realize that their business models are under severe pressure. The only reason SOPA has come this far is because of two factors: the massive influence of corporate lobbyism on US politics and the technical incompetency of politicians in the White House and Senate. Granted, we shouldn’t expect politicians to be experts in configuring DNS servers or the Bittorrent protocol. However, from the inner political circles of the country that invented the Internet, one must expect that politicians take their time and listen to all interest groups prior to backing such strict censorship by listening to media and technology industry as well as civil rights groups and academics. Fact is, this just hasn’t happened. SOPA is in complete and utter favour of the copyright holders whilst vastly ignoring technical facts and censorship concerns.
Support our civil liberties, avoid censorship, and protect the free and open Internet: vote against SOPA.