Thursday, January 19, 2012


"Sen. Lamar Alexander likes to eat his cheeseburger with a side of internet!"
Last night as usual, I was hoping to look up various Icelandic mythological creatures and biographies of Jay-z during. I was shocked to find that I couldn't access the results of my search that I had worked so hard to find as wikipedia had blacked itself out! Azzah! Not only was this site blacked out, but apparently the whole internet might be in Jeopardy!

Upon further investigation, it was found that this black-out was due to some anti-piracy legislation that we have all heard so much fanfare about (I didn't of course as I was on a different plane of reality). There is the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) and the the Protect IP act (PIPA). This legislation, backed by many senators and congressman across the aisle, is intended to target rogue websites that infringe on U.S. copyright law. This might include movies, music, counterfeit watches. Imagine those guys who sell the counterfeit movies and fake Rolex watches on the streets of New York. The website version of these folks is who the government wants to be able to shut down. 

You can argue that the aims are good, and maybe there is a problem with copyright infringement. The language written in the bill is done so poorly. It would give too many broad powers to the Record Industry of America, Attorney General Offices and other copyright organizations. It would force sites like wikipedia to have to spend much time and effort policing their user driven content. It would potentially hurt start ups that would have to hire legal counsel in aims to make sure they were navigating through new legal framework, and many say it wouldn't actually stop the piracy that it originally aims to stop.

A couple of things. It can be similar to what's being done to stop "voter fraud" with more requirements for identification. Generally, republicans know that this will dissuade many (who don't have a state issued I.D.) from  voting, and from typically voting democratic. Many who might vote think that they can't get the I.D. to begin with as they have a criminal record, have traffic violations they need to pay and are afraid to engage in the process of voting or going somewhere to receive state issued i.d. Creating hurdles to go through so one can vote does a lot to further bring down turnout and I believe is undemocratic. This legislation, though maybe meant well, would be similar in just creating many hurdles that internet has to deal with to function, and for people's to engage in free speech.

As it continues to be, this legislation isn't about a popular will, or about representatives acting on behalf of the greater good. It comes down to special interest groups (RIAA, and other groups) that have some disproportionate amount of sway. I'm not saying the copyright infringement is not an issue, it is; but obviously this bill was just poorly written to the point where it harm the majority at the expense of the immense benefit of Hollywood and other's who've lobbied heartily to get this passed.

It's nice that this bill has been attacked, not by special interest, but by concerned citizens and a populace that spoke up and wrote their representative. Mind you we still have to see what will happen, but our voices were heard.

Slate has an interesting article, calling Wikipedia's action the "Nuclear Option". This was also a good read. This was an immensely extreme tactic that was reasonable based on the damage a bill like this could cause. However, Wikipedia can't keep doing this. The legitimacy of the act would be questioned if they continually shut down, and it would frustrate too many people. Also, there will be more action probably by internet groups in hiring lobbyists and engaging in the frustrating and more corrupt avenues of our political process. So at least for now, I like that we made a dent on stopping this bill because of popular action, not by a highly paid lobbyist group on K-street with a disproportionate of influence. Let's savor this moment, and remain aware and active in regards to the SOPA and PIPA bills.