Prevent Internet Censorship

Flag of the United States of AmericaI do not consider myself an activist, and I do not intend for this site to be a political one.  If you don’t care about this issue or disagree with my opinions; I respect your rights as a free individual and promise not to make a habit of this kind of post. However, I cannot in good conscience remain silent about this issue.  As English philosopher Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.”  In that spirit, I am posting this article.  Below, I explain the issue as I see it, and I leave it to you, the reader to decide what to do about it, if anything.  I have also done my best to provide an analogy that will make the issue more accessible to non-technology professionals in the hopes that this article will be shared with friends & family that may not be as tech savvy as you or I.

There are two bills currently in front of the United States Congress;  the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP).  Like most undesirable legislation, these bills carry names that are hard to argue against without seeming like a bad person.  Also like most undesirable bills, their effects have little to do with their titles.

While pondering this issue, Henry Ford’s famous quote came to mind:
“If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’.”

To give the debate some perspective for those of us who aren’t tech geeks, let’s imagine that we’re living in 1920 instead of 2011 and the legislation in question affects cars rather than the Internet. I hope this fictional examination of the past can draw some analogies that will make the issue easier to understand.

By 1920, the car was fast becoming a necessity of daily life, much as the Internet is today. Horse dealers would find this troubling, since this new technology has just rendered their industry obsolete. At the same time, Congress has no knowledge of how a car works, and many members display pride in their ignorance.

The horse dealers, having formed the Horse Dealers’ Association of America (HDAA), throw large sums of money at Congress to convince them that the solution is to let the HDAA take away people’s cars if they’re using them in such a way that removes the need for a horse.

If the law passes, innovation is stifled, an entire industry and all the support industries it would spawn are smothered in the cradle, and the USA is set back technologically compared to the rest of the world.

If we replace horses with traditional media distribution channels, cars with the Internet, the HDAA with the MPAA and other media lobbyist groups, we get the SOPA/PROTECT IP debate.

This legislation is the record labels, movie studios and television networks making an effort to cling to life by taking away free speech and causing severe damage to the Internet and its security protocols. Comedian Louis CK has proven this month that artists don’t need the big media companies*. This scares the hell out of them and will have them redoubling their efforts to get laws made that will give these corporate entities even more control over what we see and hear than they already have.

Congress can’t decide this issue on their own. According to the Huffington Post “The median age in the House is 50; in the Senate it is 62.” Have you ever tried to explain DNS to a 60-year old lawyer? Unless they’re engineers, not many people in this age group understands the Internet beyond sending email and reading web pages. They are having their coffers lined by the media industry lobby groups. It’s not hard to guess how a group that doesn’t understand the issue and is having it explained by those who are paying them to think a certain way will vote.

If these bills are passed, United States citizens will have similar restrictions to Internet use as people in China, Iran and Syria. What’s worse is that a lot of that control will rest in the hands of corporate entities rather than the government. The most absurd point is that these bills cannot stop piracy. Pirates will still be able to be pirates, they’ll just do it in ways that will be harder to detect.

I personally find these bills un-American, and another step toward tyranny.  If you agree, I urge you to share this article and contact your members of Congress and President Obama to make your opinion known.

For more information see:

Full Text of H.R.3261 — Stop Online Piracy Act
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.3261:

Full Text of S.968 PROTECT IP Act of 2011
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:S.968:

Case Western Reserve University School of Law SOPA Resources
http://lawlibrary.case.edu/2011/12/27/stop-online-piracy-act-sopa-selected-resources/

What SOPA means for business & innovation (infographic)
http://venturebeat.com/2011/12/08/sopa-infographic/

Silicon Valley execs blast SOPA in open letter
http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-57342914-281/silicon-valley-execs-blast-sopa-in-open-letter/?tag=mncol

Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works
http://motherboard.vice.com/2011/12/16/dear-congress-it-s-no-longer-ok-to-not-know-how-the-internet-works

Tom’s Hardware Guide Explains SOPA & PROTECT IP
http://www.tomshardware.com/news/toms-hardware-sopa-Stop-Online-Piracy-Act-PROTECT-IP-Senate,14393.html 

*Louis CK proved that artists can make good money publishing material for a reasonable price without onerous technical restrictions. The release of his latest show on his own website carried the following message… “No DRM, no regional restrictions, no crap. You can download this file, play it as much as you like, burn it to a DVD, whatever.” The price for the 62 minute comedy show is five dollars. Between December 10th and 21st, the release brought in over one million dollars. He’s giving away more than half of it. http://gizmodo.com/5870740/whats-louis-ck-doing-with-the-million-dollars-you-just-gave-him

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