Since I blacked out my site today in protest of the SOPA/PIPA bills in congress right now, and spent a good amount of time today linking to related pages on the subject, I figured I ought to write my own thoughts as well. Also to give a bit of an explanation of *what* it is about these bills that is so terrible as to cause as much upheaval as it has.
First of all I feel that the most important thing for me to note is that I am VERY anti-piracy. It is my opinion that if you wouldn’t take it off the shelf at Best Buy and hide it in your backpack, you shouldn’t be pirating your friend’s copy or bit-torrenting non-free software/videos/games/music etc. I know that is an unpopular stance among my peers, but just because something is in a digital format and it is easy to steal doesn’t make it any more right to steal it.
However, even while I believe that intellectual property rights do need to be protected and that piracy needs to be addressed, the SOPA and PIPA bills that are in Congress right now are totally the wrong way to address these problems. I hope you’ll indulge me while I illustrate my oppositions with two major scenarios that this bill would make possible that should not be a reality in a free country.
Suppose on an international-domain website I were to be selling t-shirts and I had a competitor t-shirt seller that had decided I was taking away too much of their business and wanted to get some of that business back. Under the laws that are being considered, all my competitor would have to do is file for an injunction that I had copyrighted material on my website that did not belong to me. Whether or not that claim was true, or even if the material in question was put up there by me (as opposed to a commenter on my website or some other 3rd party) the granted injunction would go to all US-based search engines and payment processors who would immediately be forced to sever all connections to my website completely. No chance to clear up the misunderstanding or warning to me. Now my website is down until I can go through the process of disputing that claim. This means no one can easily access my site or buy my t-shirts and my competitor is stealing all of my business. My credibility would be ruined among my customer base and my whole business is sunk. For a claim that wasn’t difficult to place, and might not even have any veracity.
Sometimes I like to use Google Talk to have a video call with my parents. It’s a nice way to show off the kids and enjoy feeling close to family even though they’re 704 miles away (yes, I did just check 🙂 ). If I were to have some music playing in the background while on this call and someone were to report me for it I could face felony charges and a 5-year prison sentence. Not a misdemeanor or a speeding ticket-esque fine, felony charges. You know, like they hand out for rape, murder, grand theft auto? Somehow forgetting to turn of your stereo just doesn’t seem worthy of those consequences (even if my mom didn’t like the music I was listening to 😛 ).
Now, the writers of these bills would say “that’s not the intention of these bills” or “nothing like that would ever happen”. Which is a nice thought, but if that’s not their intention then they need to write better legislation. The whole point of laws is that they’re a contract between citizens and government that outlines the expected behavior and the consequences of not living up to that behavior. If the contract doesn’t include internet censorship, or felony charges for minor infractions, then the contract needs to be written up differently. Like I said, I’m all for intellectual property protection, but they need to do it correctly, and not by putting people in harm’s way who don’t deserve the harm.
If you agree with these sentiments and haven’t already taken action please go to http://americancensorship.org/ and contact your congress people and let them know that you do NOT support SOPA/PIPA legislation. I’d also recommend reading Eric’s post on the subject.