Well, That Was Fun. But We Haven’t Won Yet

I got a real high out of yesterday’s blackout protest over SOPA-PIPA. It achieved the goal of getting everyone’s attention as to what this legislation would do to our freedom of expression on the Internet. But this fight isn’t over. Not by a long shot.

Mood music:

We need to keep the pressure on our congressmen and senators. We need to keep educating friends and family. And we need to remember that Congress, when left to its own devices, will do whatever they’re told by the fat cats who stock their campaign accounts with cash.

Make no mistake about it. The current versions of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, pending in the House of Representatives) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA, pending in the Senate) would go far beyond clamping down on piracy. I was especially amused by how Chris Dodd, former Connecticut senator and current chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), missed the irony of yesterday’s protests.

In a statement, he said:

“Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents and then called for all parties to work cooperatively together, some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging. It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today.”

I ripped his statement apart yesterday on the CSO Salted Hash security blog. Among other things, I expressed my mix of amusement and disgust over his suggestion that these protests were the work of corporate greed:

Suggesting SOPA-PIPA opponents are trying to turn people into corporate pawns is very odd coming from you, Mr. Dodd, considering all the money you’ve accepted from big corporations over the course of your long political career. Don’t even get me started about all the money the MPAA gives to members of Congress to keep them in line with your agenda.

As one reader, Brian K, noted in the comments section of that post, “Dodd seems to be missing the terrible irony that people DO rely on these sites for vital information, and the legislation he’s supporting would DISRUPT those critical services. How this irony escapes him is almost unimaginable, outside of willful and deliberate malice.”

The biggest downer in all of this is that in the end, we do need a tougher law to go after online piracy. It is a huge problem. As a writer I can tell you few things are worse than watching some faceless thief online stealing your work. Piracy also hurts the bottom line of a lot of content makers, including the entertainment industry. I get that.

Author James Bernard Frost made this observation:

So I don’t get it, writers are sick of getting their material pirated, a bipartisan group creates a bill to force content aggregators to monitor copyright infringement, and liberals are all, err, against it? Someone sensible explain. And don’t tell me it’s because Wikipedia or Craigslist told you so.

To that, author Traci Foust said on Facebook:

Exactly! Come on people. If you make any kind of art or use art media how could you be against it?  Everyone wants their damn cake and blah blah blah… you have to give up a few things to make things change.

I detected humor and sarcasm in that exchange (Traci will correct me if I’m wrong, for sure). But there’s also a lot of truth in what they say.

The problem, when all is said and done, is that the makers of these bills drafted something that goes way beyond a crackdown on piracy. It opens the door to tragic abuses of power, where the government could censor or block websites — and punish the owners with fines and jail time — every time someone posts a picture or piece of music in their blog. It would allow the government to punish people who express themselves in ways that big corporations find offensive.

It would create the kind of blackouts you saw yesterday, only it wouldn’t be a protest. It would be for real.

Trimming back these bills, so that they deal only with the intended purpose of stopping piracy, would satisfy me. It’s looking more likely that it’s going to turn out that way, as long as we keep up the pressure.

And now, I return to the regular theme of this blog.

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