Right now, there is a Congressional hearing about SOPA – the Stop Online Piracy Act. This is a bill that’s designed to curb media piracy on the internet, as the name implies. As bitizens in this here lovely Gridspace, of course we take interest in legislation that may impact how the net works and how we interact with it.
First things first – in simplest terms, SOPA is bad. Very very bad. Not because we all love to steal media, though affecting that would definitely be an inconvenience. No, SOPA is bad because it will certainly cap the amount of fair use creativity and democracy that we’ve all come to love here. It’s like the DMCA on a meth-steroid cocktail.
If you’re unaware, the DMCA is a law that allows copyright holders to take down infringing material on the internet. Anything remotely infringing. Used a copyrighted song for the soundtrack to your family photo montage? Subject to takedown. Cleverly captioned a photo from Fox’s website? Down. And so forth.
Not to mention that the DMCA has been misused in several cases, resulting in bogus takedowns and legal ramifications that the average person is ill-equipped to handle. The DMCA is the law that the RIAA and MPAA use to sue people for millions of dollars. These laws, designed to attack large-scale piracy, have been used to file suits against teenagers and the elderly. Most people will settle out of court when faced with a team of corporate lawyers.
Something to keep in mind – Justin Bieber became famous because of a video on Youtube where he was singing copyrighted R&B songs. In a world where SOPA is allowed to pass, he would face five years in jail. So you wanna be goofy and post a video of you lipsynching Ke$ha to your channel? You could face legal action.
Another something to keep in mind – this exact same kind of legal discussion came up during the advent of the VCR. The MPAA argued that this device amounted to nothing more than an easy way to steal movies. The same mentality is being applied to technologies like BitTorrent, which is regularly employed in distributing perfectly legal content.
The Congressional hearing today only had one voice for the tech sector – Google. No other company, foundation, or organization was granted the ability to speak about this bill. Additionally, it has been recently redrafted in order to allow quick passage. It’s clear that this bill is intended as a cash cow for media companies, while diluting the quality of content on the Grid.
In essence, this kind of legislation is a sanctioned shakedown at the behest of Big Media. It goes much further than just mass-produced DVDs stamped out by the millions in China – this can and will be leveraged against the average American so big business can further profit.
Please, contact your senator and urge them to oppose SOPA by any means necessary if you want the Grid as we know it to survive. Go to The Electronic Frontier Foundation to find out more about this bill, and how to voice your opposition to the bill.