I wasn't going to blog about SOPA and PIPA. There's been so much talk about this going around. Plus I sort of figured that you're all smart internet-savvy folk and you know what's up.
But on my way into work this morning I was listening to Republican candidates justify how much of their incomes they pay in taxes and thinking to myself that I'm not sure that anyone that's ever really had a shot at a role like "Congressman" has ever had to worry about how to pay the mortgage and where they might be sleeping next month if they can't. I don't think they have to worry about the quality of the public school system and how it's affecting their kids. I don't think they've ever had a doctor's bill they can't pay.
You and me? We've got a lot on our minds. And there are days where, after going to work and helping the kids with their homework and making dinner and sifting through the bills to decide which ones you can afford to pay this week, well, sometimes after all of that it's hard to care. It's hard to worry about poets getting arrested in China and ships capsizing in Italy and people arguing in Congress about stuff that you'd have to do a good chunk of research on to wrap your head around. Sometimes you're tapped out and all you want to do is curl up with a comic book about vampires and put your brain on standby for awhile. I hear you. I do.
So I'll make you deal. I take this one on and break it down for you, and the next time I say, "Screw it; I want to watch Star Trek," you can do the same for me. Between the lot of us, we can take care of the house and The House of Representatives together, and still have a little time for the House of Mogh.
Okay so here we go. Digital copyrights.
Let's say I've written a book and, as it happens, I've plagiarized a good chunk of it. Then I take it down to my local bookstore and say, "Look at this nifty book I wrote all by myself [fingers crossed behind back]. Would you please sell it?" And they say, "Sure! We like books."
Now let's say you wander in to the bookstore, pick up my book, and lo and behold, you find something you wrote with my name smeared all over the cover in a tacky font. You'd be pissed, right?
So what are your legal recourses here? Well, you'd get yourself a lawyer, and the lawyer (let's call her Cheryl) would probably send me a nasty letter with a lot of big words in it and tell me I have to go to court. And we'd have a court date. And you and I and Cheryl would have to show up and then you'd have to prove to the court that I didn't write what I say I wrote. You and Cheryl would have to prove that you wrote it. And you could probably do that. Because Cheryl's a smart cookie and she's got enough integrity that she wouldn't have taken your case if you were a big fat liar.
In the end, I probably wouldn't be allowed to sell my book in the bookstore anymore. I expect I'd owe you a whole bunch of money and I just might have to change my address to a government-run facility with bars on the windows for a period of time.
Okay, so what about SOPA? SOPA (that's this nasty bill they're trying to make into a law in the House of Representatives right now) would change things around a bit. Suppose my book is an ebook. Now, just on your say-so without any burden of proof on your part, they'd not only tell the bookstore that they couldn't sell my book, but they could shut the whole damn bookstore down until you and I and Cheryl worked all this out. And no one would be allowed to give you directions to that bookstore either. Consider that censored and pull it off all the maps.
Why? Because its an eBook instead of a paperback on a shelf.
Now you're shaking your head and saying, "Wait a minute. That doesn't make sense."
Good. I'm glad we're on the same page.
The main target here that's justifying all this anti-piracy legislation are websites in other countries with different copyright laws than ours that are hosting and/or selling a whole of lot of material that we consider intellectual property without permission. And much like the Wicked Witch of the West in Munchkinland, we have no power there. So we'll black out those bad sites so our citizens can't get to them (who are we censoring here?) and while we're doing that, we can install some architecture to allow for taking down any damn site we want on a whim without due process. I hear this whole information and communication on the internet really gave the former government of Egypt some trouble, for example.
Maybe you're saying, "Well, okay, but it doesn't take forever to get something through the courts? What if you really did steal my stuff?"
You're right. Democracy can be slow and tedious. You know what's more effective? A police state. Depending on what kind of change you're trying to effect, of course.
Look, folks, I think we all agree that stealing is bad. But we already have laws in place that protect copyrights and intellectual property. SOPA and PIPA1 are about censorship, and censorship without due process at that. You might have noticed that Wikipedia was a big black gaping hole yesterday. That wasn't them being a pain the ass. That was an effective demonstration of what a bill like this could lead to if it becomes a law. Take a second to register how you feel about that. Then take a second to let your congress representatives know how you feel about it. I assure you that they care very much about what the majority of registered voters think about how they're doing their jobs.
So now I've said my bit and if you didn't know anything about this, maybe I've helped a little. And if you already knew something about this, maybe you think I've oversimplified and you want to argue with me. Leave a comment, man. Open a dialogue. That's the most useful thing any of us can do. And then you can go read your vampire comic book. Scout's honor.
1And what about PIPA? PIPA is SOPA's cousin in the senate. They're closely related enough that they wouldn't be able to get married in 29 out of 50 states.