Thursday, December 15, 2011

SOPA and PROTECT IP: Why I fear for the future of the Internet

Pretty much anyone who gets around on the internet has heard of these two bills by now.  These bills, created for the purpose of preventing copyright infringement on the internet, basically set up the framework to allow our government to control what sites we can and can't visit, effectively turning America into China.

Never mind that there's already a system in place for dealing with infringement of copyrights on the internet.  It's called the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.  Under that act, any corporate entity who finds one of its copyrights being infringed on the internet simply has to send a takedown notice to the site with the infringement.  That notice has to include the page holding the content and an assertion that the company does indeed own the copyright in question.  If it's ignored or contested, legal action is the next step.

Unfortunately, rights holders, and specifically the American entertainment industry, don't see this as enough.  You see, there's this thing called 'other nations', and they are sovereign, meaning they have different laws than us and aren't subject to our laws.  Generally speaking, a website is subject to the laws of the nation in which that site is hosted, and not subject to the laws of any other nation.

Basically, what it boils down to is one simple thing.  Right now, sites aren't responsible for user-posted content.  This means that if a popular content-hosting site, let's say YouTube, has a user who uploads something that infringes on a copyright, they're not liable for that.  All the copyright holder has to do is send them a notice (or use their Content ID thing), and they'll take down the infringing content.

Now, issues with claims verification aside, the system works as-is.  But the American entertainment industry doesn't think that's enough.  They want sites to be liable for user-posted content.  This presents a very real threat to anyone who hosts a community with forums, no matter how small.  In fact, I'd wager the smaller communities are at a greater risk because copyright holders know they have less resources to fight back.  All it takes is one user posting an infringing link, and bam, your entire site is gone.  I wouldn't put it past the entertainment industry to pose as regular users on sites, post infringing links, and get those sites taken down, either.

The chilling thing is, as I hinted at, that all it takes for any of this to happen is a mere accusation.  You don't get your due process, your opportunity to defend, or anything.  To the government, the entertainment industry is infallible.  You see, entertainment industry, there's this thing called the Constitution of the United States of America.  One of its amendments states that all American citizens have the right to a trial by a jury of their peers.  Setting up a system like this that bypasses that is, well, unconstitutional.

Sadly, these unconstitutional bills will probably pass.  Why is that?  The entertainment industry has money, and that's what drives our government.  Whoever has the most money gets their way.  It's sad, but true.  Also, another reason they will probably pass is because of the general public's ignorance towards all things technology and internet-related.  A third reason is the fact that neither of these bills have been front headline material or even made the evening news, so the general public for the most part doesn't know about them.

I'm worried for a number of reasons that can be derived from the past wall of text.  One, because I am the administrator of a community where any one of the links already posted could theoretically be considered infringing, since we revolve around comics and animation and frequently indulge in fan-translated manga and anime.  Two, because unlike anyone in our government, I actually understand the internet and every word I hear about these bills tells me nothing more than that they are bad for the internet.

The entertainment industry has struggled to come to terms with what the internet lets people do, and has made all kinds of bad decisions while failing miserably at adapting to modern society.  I believe they would try to pin anyone who dissents on the subject of preventing piracy to be a pirate themselves.  Unfortunately for them, it's not their intended result that we dissent against, it's the method they're using to obtain that intended result.

"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism" --Thomas Jefferson


Apparently I forgot to mention that one of the scariest parts of this is that the people in Congress who ultimately make the decision have readily and openly stated on the record that they know nothing about computers or the internet.  They don't understand the implications of this bill, and they're only hearing one side of the issue: the lobbyists' side.  They're not hearing the public outcry against it.

Also, here's a rather comprehensive video by TotalBiscuit on the subject.  He says some things in better ways than I do, and since he's actually speaking rather than typing, he can convey the proper level of emotion to go with his words.

The video that led me to TotalBiscuit's is this episode of Far Lands or Bust.  Kurt discusses the issue for most of the episode and makes a few points that TotalBiscuit doesn't.  They both slip up and name Activision as a supporter when in fact it's EA, though.  Just FYI.

I personally will boycott any company that supports either of these bills.

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