HOUSTON, TX – January 18, 2012 – As a musician, writer, journalist, and creative person, the title of the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) has a distinctly pleasant ring to it. Equally innocuous sounding, PIPA stands for “Protect IP Act.”
But what, may one ask, is in a name? If the spider that lives on the back porch was named Fluffy, would it make her less menacing?
Most people do not have time to read the actual legislation (which, between the two bills, is a scintillating 108-page read), let alone the know-how to decode all the legal jargon. As a result, the dramatic and often contradictory claims of the bill’s proponents and opponents become all the more difficult to sort.
Some claim SOPA will protect the rights and property of content creators. Others seem to think it will usher in a 1984-esk dark age of book burnings and fascist government censorship.
With melodramatic flare, on Wednesday, January 18, Wikipedia went black in protest of SOPA and PIPA, stating, “Imagine a world without free knowledge. For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet.”
Will SOPA restrict sites like Wikipedia with its crowd-sourced information gathering dynamism? Is America actually entering 1984 à la George Orwell?
Or will SOPA simply cut the lifeline on pirate websites that are explicitly engaged in criminal activity, i.e. theft or my, and your intellectual property?
CNN Money explains, “SOPA’s main targets are ‘rogue’ overseas sites like torrent hub The Pirate Bay, which are a trove for illegal downloads of movies and other digital content. Content creators have battled against piracy for years – remember Napster? – but it’s hard for U.S. companies to take action against foreign sites. So SOPA’s goal is to cut off pirate sites’ oxygen by requiring U.S. search engines, advertising networks and other providers to withhold their services. That means sites like Google wouldn’t show flagged sites in their search results, and payment processors like eBay’s PayPal couldn’t transmit funds to them.”
In other words, the U.S. Government wants to lay siege to online foreign smuggling enterprises. It’s not their intentions many question, but rather their proposed methods.
We all have friends or relatives who illegally download music, movies, video games, and computer programs. Some of them know they are stealing and think it is funny. Others seem to have a romanticized idea of the underdog valiance of piracy, as if they are trotting through Sherwood Forest with Robin Hood and his Merry-file-sharing-Men.
Many seem to think that they are entitled to get everything they want for free, while still others are under the misapprehension that digital products (like MP3s and downloadable software) cost the creator nothing to make, and therefor ought to be free for everyone to enjoy, just like sunshine, sidewalks, and junk mail.
One Facebook user posted the comment, “This is about freedom and knowledge. Ever heard [sic] about how ‘Knowledge should be free?’ it is because it belongs to the world. SOPA is the typical Republican crap, and I think they are 100% wrong. So only rich people should be allow to watch HBO and get Adobe Acrobat? No way man! That cripples the knowledge. Should I be limited because I do not have money to pay for a class, or software, or books? [Instead], I can ‘tweak it’ and learn it by myself for free because I skipped their steps, and was smart enough not to get trapped in their BS. I’m the 1% bro, but I’m savvy enough to get the stuff the 99% enjoys because of my knowledge.”
While the specialized smuggling “knowledge” and philosophical brainwaves of a young pirate may not hold water with the more ethically upstanding among us, consider the rational of Google:
“Fighting online piracy is important. The most effective way to shut down pirate websites is through targeted legislation that cuts off their funding. There’s no need to make American social networks, blogs and search engines censor the Internet or undermine the existing laws that have enabled the Web to thrive, creating millions of U.S. Jobs.”
Texas Republican and Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, claims the proposed SOPA bill is a vital step toward protecting American businesses from intellectual property theft. He also vowed that despite mass vociferation legislation would move forward.
“Due to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks,” Smith said, “markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February.” He also promised, “I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House.”
SOPA and PIPA are not just Republican bills. Both Smith and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy have said that they plan to jettison a controversial portion of SOPA and PIPA that would block access to web-surfers searching for stolen movies or music. Regardless, it is still unclear how the bills could be effectively enforced without running the risk of blacklisting innocent web-users and companies who inadvertently set off the government’s pirate-radar. In other words, there is reasonable concern that this could turn into a witch-hunt. It would certainly wrap sites like YouTube in a ton of red tape.
So, when you boil it all down, all this SOPA/PIPA hullabaloo is not about whether online piracy is right or wrong (although there is a punk minority making the assertion that piracy is their God-given right). Most mainstream American-based sites (including Google and YouTube) are radically opposed to piracy and theft.
The issue is more along the lines of whom is going to take the fall for said piracy. Sopa potentially puts site operators on the hook for their users’ illegal actions. On the surface this may seem logical, but is it logistically reasonable?
As an example, say a child, a young person, uploads a copyrighted music video to their YouTube page. According to SOPA, YouTube could then be branded as a criminal enterprise. They would have only five days to submit an appeal against any alleged piracy before, kaboom, the entire website is blacked out by Big Brother.
In addition, some of the wording in SOPA and PIPA is murky enough that no one seems to really know exactly what it means, leaving the door open for some very fascist sounding interpretations. That is what has Internet businesses crawling up the walls. They fear these bills are poorly worded and will hurt legitimate businesses, as well as online content pirates.
On Saturday, The White House official blog stated: “While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”
In other words, SOPA and PIPA are still on the drawing board, and many in the government are giving the disputed duo the hairy-eyeball. As Representative Smith stated, markups are pending. Hopefully, government representatives will tweak the verbiage enough that the bills will be more targeted on pirates, and less hazardous to honest tradesmen. Because let’s face it, a bill that would legitimately and effectively stop online piracy would be a boon to American businesses and content creators everywhere.
The Senate plans to begin voting on Tuesday, January 24 on how to proceed in considering its own version of the bill. Meanwhile, the drama and the protests are likely to escalate.
Read more about SOPA and PIPA here:
About Jennifer Grassman:
Singer, songwriter and pianist, Jennifer Grassman is an award-winning recording artist based in Houston, Texas. Subscribe by RSS feed and read more from Jennifer at www.JenniferGrassman.com. You can follow Jennifer on @JGrassman or Facebook.com/JenniferGrassmanMusic
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