As an online content creator, I’m worried about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Very worried. As a matter of fact, it is the last worry anyone wants to have in the current economy — fear for your livelihood.
Of course, after yesterday SOPA is not just the topic of conversation of the Internet nerds. With the Internet titans like Wikipedia and Google blacking out and displaying prominent links to the anti-SOPA resources, it has entered the daily news. And let me tell you, the news is coming thick and fast.
That’s a good thing. SOPA attacks the way the Internet works, in a fashion never seen before. Its broad and unspecified powers would allow me to be prosecuted for including a quote from another news source in a blog post. The words “draconian” and “overkill” come immediately to mind.
As usual, the voices of Capitol Hill are spouting off about technology they do not understand, and this time it could be a job killer. This is why so many websites (including all four of my own) went dark, and aimed people at information on how to take action against this egregious act.
Now that the blackout is over, the field has changed. Many former SOPA supporters, including a few former co-sponsors, are giving the illusion of final victory. However, I can guarantee we will see another version of this come down the pipe. In the meantime, let’s take a look at things in the aftermath of this one battle.
News Roundup: The Internet Goes on Strike
Lets start with a fantastic examination of things. Ladies and gentlemen: John Stewart!
That should give you the basics, and a good illustration of why it is such an absurd piece of legislation. Of course, information is always good to have, so you might want to check out Sally Kohn’s article for Fox News, in which she illustrates exactly why SOPA is such a danger:
You might not like foreign-based websites like WikiLeaks. Fine. That’s a debate worth having.
But it’s one thing to use existing legal channels to get unauthorized content removed from WikiLeaks’ pages. It’s another thing entirely to create new laws that, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, mean businesses and governments could get unopposed court orders to cut off such sites entirely, blocking even their perfectly legal and legitimate content from public view.
In the new era of digital democracy the Internet has promised us, potential censorship through SOPA threatens the values our nation and the net holds dear.
This really is my own biggest issue with it — lack of due process. This is America, we do have rights, and the right to due process of law is one of the most fundamental ones.
The Wall Street Journal has a good breakdown on exactly what the law is, but it makes the same mistake that I saw in Go Daddy’s original statement of support for SOPA. It referred to the intent of the law. The intent of a law means nothing in the courtroom, the letter of the law does. This is what makes the crafting of a law so vital.
As websites across the world blacked out and redirected people to contact their legislators, things got interesting. Rupert Murdoch created a Twitter account simply to blast anti-SOPA supporters. Rob Pegoraro of Discovery News reports:
For an undiluted taste of it, sample Rupert Murdoch’s tweets. The News Corp. CEO has called SOPA opponents ‘Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy,’ labeled Google a ‘piracy leader’ and called warnings about risks of DNS censorship ‘nonsense’ because search engines block speech in some countries just fine. Those views may seem ridiculous, but I have heard more subtle, polite versions of them from more than one entertainment-industry lobbyist.
It looks like a healthy chunk of the Internet finally got fed up with this treatment. Good.
From the world of video games comes news that the CEO of online games studio Red 5, Mark Kern, has issued a call to arms, urging the industry to boycott 2012’s E3 to protest the expo’s support of the Stop Online Piracy Act. He has also stated that the funds his company had set aside for E3 would now be used to launch an anti-SOPA lobbying group called The League For Gamers. That’s $50,000 that E3 has just lost, for those keeping track. Ars Technica has a great interview with Kern up right now that goes into much more depth.
Johnathon Lamy, the person tweeting for the RIAA, let his attitude (and lack of good spelling) show through in a now deleted tweet on its official account: “After Wikipedia Blackrout, somewhere, a student today is doing original research and getting his/her facts straight. Perish the thought.” Granted, that might be humorous in a person’s Twitter stream, but from a lobbying organization? I agree with Mario Aguilar of Gizmodo, the man who got a screen capture of the tweet in the hour before it was deleted:
Or maybe try a new slogan? The RIAA: Good at Lobbying, Bad at People.
As a former radio blogger, I’ve held that view for quite some time.
But wait, there’s more!
In the halls of power, it seems as though this issue is a terrific example of the divide between traditional Republicans and their younger counterparts who self-identify as Libertarians. It’s hardly shocking that the younger set are more aware of the online world and the tsunami-sized backlash SOPA was unleashing. (Politico covers this nicely.)
Todd Wasserman of Mashable warns of an upcoming advertising campaign being commissioned by the MPAA that will be its counterstrike in response to Wednesday’s Internet blackout. Here is one of those ads he provided as an example:
One creator, Alex Wild, a nature photographer for Scientific American, took a different approach. While the rest of the Internet was replete with black screens and exhortations to stop SOPA, he decided to open up some of his works to the public domain. Both his reasoning and his images are worth a look: Compound Eye on Scientific American.
One reaction I found interesting was that of the Chinese. In their country, government censorship of online data is axiomatic. It’s just another fact of daily life. The LA Times brings us their reactions:
If anything, Chinese bloggers say, the debate underscores how privileged U.S. Web users and Internet companies are, even in times of duress.
‘Only an American company could protest the way Wikipedia or Google has to the government,’ said Zhao Jing, a closely followed blogger in Beijing who uses the pen name Michael Anti. ‘A Chinese company would never get away with that.’
No, they wouldn’t. Personally, I like living in a country where they can. It is to keep us from becoming like China and similar regimes that we need to be vigilant right now. The imprecision and lack of depth of the act are a slippery slope, much as I hate that phrase. Proponents can talk about the intent of the law all they want, but I grew up in family of lawyers, and am well aware that intent means nothing when you are looking at the cold, hard print of the law.
The various blackouts seem to have the sponsors abandoning ship, the question is whether enough of them will. I’ll close with CNN’s coverage as one of the original co-sponsors, Mark Rubio of Florida, rescinds his support:
Image by Wikipedia, used under Fair Use: Reporting.
George "Loki" Williams is the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC, an online consultancy specializing in Web content, community management and social media. Loki has produced content for clients including the Open Society Institute, National Association of Broadcasters and Kaiser Permanente. He is one of the organizers of the Rising Tide Conference in New Orleans, and his work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, Air America, and NOLA.com, among others.