Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stop the Stop Online Piracy Act

Today, January 18th, is the official day for the Internet Blackout in protest of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and its retarded nephew the Protect IP Act or PIPA.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot a blogger like me can do to show my solidarity with the people who are taking part in the protest. I can't take down my blog, and I already update infrequently enough for "not updating this week" to mean nothing. There is one thing I can do though, and it's what I do best: rant.

For those of you not in the know SOPA and PIPA are two bills currently before the United States Congress that claim to want to stop the piracy of video games, movies, television, and so forth. I know I'm opening myself up for a lot of hatred by saying this, but I do have to admit one thing: while dangerous, stupid, and doomed to failure, these bills are -in theory and from a certain point of view- not abjectly terrible ideas.

There's a lot of misinformation out there about just what SOPA and PIPA are. First off, this is an issue of piracy, not freedom of speech. There is no desire to censor the internet, there is no plot to shut down Wikipedia and Google, and it is not part of a government conspiracy to destroy your fanfiction. The purpose of the bill is to block access to sites that exist primarily to provide copyrighted material for free.

Imagine this from the point of view of a director. You've just poured hundreds of millions of dollars and years of hard work into creating a movie you can be proud to put your name on. Finally the movie is released and you wait for the public to see what you've made and love you for it. Instead you discover your movie is the number one bootleg download on LetMeWatchThis, and you'll never have anything to show for your hard work and creativity but rants about your evil capitalistic ways.

That is the stated purpose of this bill: to protect the creator from thieves. Piracy is not an issue of free speech. You do not have the right to steal, no matter how much you may wish you did. Here's where we run into trouble: that purpose is stupid. This may shock you to hear, but there are two big problems with it.

1) Most of these websites are made by people from another country, usually China. Believe it or not, American courts do not have the legal right to tell Chinese companies what to do. Of course there's always the option of force, but somehow I don't see America going to war with China over a bootleg copy of The Dark Knight.

2) There already exists legislation to allow the government to shut down websites (or if that's not possible, to block search engine access to them) for copyright reasons. That's why now belongs to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It's safe to say that when you wake up to find your website now looks like this it's going to be a very bad day.

What makes SOPA different from existing legislation is the same thing that makes it dangerous: it hopes to streamline the process by removing the need for injunctions, court hearings, lawyers, and a definition of what "existing primarily to provide copyrighted material for free" even means. If you're having trouble understanding the full implications of that, just imagine an internet where one report equals one shut down website with no chance for the site's owner to defend him or herself. Basically like if the entire internet was Youtube.

All of a sudden, any website that has ever hosted or linked to any copyrighted material is in danger of looking like that image one paragraph up. This holds serious ramifications for the entire internet. It's taking out the handrails to make it easier for people to get shoved off the stairs. Sure, the government and corporations say they won't abuse the near-absolute power this would give them, but can we trust them? SHOULD we trust them?

Fortunately, as I said, the bill is doomed to failure. The White House has already come out as being adamantly against it. Obama himself said that if passed he would veto the bill. He has said -and I agree- that content companies like the MPAA and RIAA and internet companies like Google should get together and come up with a better solution that is less destructive, dangerous, and illegal.

So rejoice: it turns out some people really aren't completely stupid. I know, I was shocked too.

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