No SOPA for you!

My website could be an endangered species because of something I choose to do for the entertainment of my readership.

Last year two bills were introduced, one in the House and one in the Senate, that could radically damage the internet as we know it. In the Senate, the version is known as the Protect IP Act, while its House cousin is called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. Backers of the bills claim they are necessary to prevent the theft of intellectual property, but to find out what these bills really are about one can just follow the money – the national Chamber of Commerce, which favors the bill, claims that Hollywood studios, record labels, and publishing houses collectively lose $135 billion a year from piracy.

So how would this affect me? Well, you know that neat little feature I do called Friday Night Videos? In theory, putting up a video of a song originally recorded by some other artist – whether I recorded it or not – wouldn’t leave just little old me liable; oh no. This bill also drags my service provider and search engines into the equation as well, making it an enforcement nightmare and perhaps, over time, the perfect vehicle for ridding the internet of websites someone doesn’t like. Those who back the bill claim it’s only about foreign websites which pirate the best Hollywood has to offer, but that’s just a starting point. All because I’m doing my part to promote local music.

In fact, the initial push against these two acts used teen sensation Justin Bieber as an example, for he became an internet sensation by covering R&B songs as a youngster. Because he was singing copyrighted works, Justin would be violating this law. My counter to this argument, though, is that re-exposing these old songs may recreate interest in the originals so the pie isn’t sliced into more pieces but instead becomes bigger.

On the other hand, I have original content on this website which is copyrighted (just scroll down to the bottom and you’ll see indeed I claim the copyright.) Granted, I don’t monetize my content or put it behind some sort of paywall like several newspapers have done, but I do get a little pissed off when people steal my stuff without acknowledgement. I can understand the frustration some feel when this piracy happens, but there are already copyright laws on the books to cover this. (Actually, all I ask of those who wish to use my content is giving me the credit for writing it and providing a backlink to the appropriate portion of my site.)

So I fall into the camp of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There’s no doubt that $135 billion is a lot of money, but as I pointed out earlier there’s a dynamic effect as well. Someone is making a lot of money from selling Justin Bieber’s records, and that money may not have been spent if not for him. And we’ve heard this same story before – the VCR is going to ruin Hollywood, song sharing is going to destroy the recording industry, and so on and so forth. Hollywood is just trying to get the government to protect their profits – there’s nothing wrong with the system as it stands, and the possibility of having hordes of high-profile lawyers checking content will have a chilling effect on discourse, much like the Fairness Doctrine did for radio.

But internet providers aren’t taking this lying down. Today (since this post went up at 12:01 a.m.) a significant part of the internet will “go black” to protest the possible adoption of these new laws. Included in the protest are some of the internet’s heaviest hitters – Google, Mozilla, and Wikipedia are just a few. (, the front site for the company which wrote the software enabling me to bring this and all my other posts to you, is also a participant.)

And the pressure is working. I normally don’t have a lot of good things to say about our state’s junior Senator, but Ben Cardin was a sponsor of Protect IP who now won’t vote for it as currently constituted. It’s a small step in the right direction, anyway.

Another complaint registered by some is that many of the groups who are leading the fight against Protect IP and SOPA are far-left groups. That is true, but groups like the Heritage Foundation,  TEA Party Patriots, and FreedomWorks have allied with them to create a bipartisan coalition against the cause. I don’t mind having people on the other side with me when they’re in the right.

The internet doesn’t need a gatekeeper, and as we’ve seen too many times the best intentions of government go astray rather quickly once the camel’s nose gets under the tent. But rather than put my website down for the day and go black, I’m going to leave this post up and encourage you to contact your representatives and Senators to tell them SOPA and Protect IP are bad ideas.

But you might want to have a phone book handy to look up the numbers. Use that as a reminder of what the post-SOPA internet might be like.


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