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Why I Oppose SOPA/Protect IP

in Politics

Others have expressed with great authority and eloquence on the evils of the SOPA/Protect IP. Here, though, is why I feel so strongly.

Spotlight on Washington

Start: SOPA — the “Stamp Out Piracy Act” — and its Senate equivalent “Protect IP” (or PIPA) has the stated intent (quoting from PIPA) of mitigating “online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property.”

From the 5/26/2011 summary:

Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 or the PROTECT IP Act of 2011 – (Sec. 3) Authorizes the Attorney General (AG) to commence: (1) an in personam action against a registrant of a nondomestic domain name (NDN) used by an Internet site dedicated to infringing activities (ISDIA) or an owner or operator of an ISDIA accessed through an NDN; or (2) if such individuals are unable to be found by the AG or have no address within a U.S. judicial district, an in rem action (against a domain name itself, in lieu of such individuals) against the NDN used by an ISDIA.

Follow that? Yeah, I had to wade through that a couple of times myself. God forbid this stuff be written in a language us mere mortals can understand.

What SOPA/PIPA really does is give Big Money intellectual property holders the ability to accuse websites of infringing on their materials, and press the Attorney General for the United States to seize the domain for the offending site, or blacklist it if the domain is outside of U.S. jurisdiction. My reading of the bill shows no due process, and gives pretty much all the power to the accusing agent. Worse, it actually doesn’t solve the problem because the methods employed appear to be easy to side-step, and it undermines overall security of the internet as well as the security infrastructure that was in process of being created.

Not only will it not accomplish what it sets out to do, it will allow the big players to quash new internet startups, chill internet innovation, and kill jobs that the internet might have otherwise offered this brutally savaged economy.

SOPA/PIPA has done something remarkable. Due in no small part to a coalition of organizations that have successfully raised the internet-using public’s awareness of the issue, a wave of opposition has been stirred in the political ocean, and threatens to shatter this monstrosity, and hopefully will wash it into the sewer where it belongs.

Intellectual Property Rights, or Whose Ox is Being Gored Here, Anyway?

Let me first lay it out, as if it weren’t obvious, that I don’t care one little bit for this bill. Sources I trust tell me the methods proposed to block “rogue sites” will undermine the security of the internet and make security protocols in development impossible to implement. (See Alex Howard’s exhaustive article on SOPA/PIPA here.) However, the stated intention of this thing is to address some very serious problems, and I do not deny the reality of these.

SOPA/PIPA is — again obstensibly — intended to do several things. One aspect has to do with the marketing and sales of pharmaceuticals that are fraudulently branded or being illegally sold without prescription, and another is to “eliminate the financial incentive to steal intellectual property” — that is, force credit card companies and intermediate services like PayPal to suspend doing business with “rogue sites” engaged in such activity. I mention this, because I’d like to clarify that I’m not really addressing these aspects here.

My focus is on the intellectual property side of these bills, and how it hits the little guy.

This Open Congress page delineates who supports the Senate version of this bill, and, specifically, the monied interests behind it.

Here’s a few of the names:

  • Recording Industry Association of America
  • Independent Film & Television Alliance
  • Motion Picture Association of America
  • National Association of Theater Owners
  • Warner Music Group
  • Walmart (Hm. Color me surprised there … )
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • The Walt Disney Company

We aren’t talking about Beyoncé, or Josh Groban, or Barbra Streisand. We’re talking about the people who own them. We’re not talking about Harrison Ford, or Angelina Jolie, or Johnny Depp, or even Steven Spielberg or James Cameron here. We talking about the people who own them, too.

I’m sure the folks I named here would like to see their piece in all this, but I feel pretty confident this is way over their pay grade. I’m not talking about the creators. I’m talking about the people who profit off of them.

These are the owners, the CEOs with their multi-million dollar bonuses, the sharks, the parasites, and their swarms of accountants and packs of lawyers that control entertainment industries, industries that have repeatedly shown they really don’t care about entertaining us. There is no relationship with us. They don’t want to know who we are and what we care about. All they want to know is what buttons they need to push to make the money fly out of our wallets.

And they’re pretty good at figuring it out, because we’re stupid enough to consume the garbage they feed us.

They’re parasites, and we are damned fools to support them.

Intellectual Property Rights, and One Little Guy in Particular

I have no issue about protecting intellectual property rights. In fact, I’m pretty hard-nosed about this. If I create something for this blog, for instance, and post it here, I don’t particularly appreciate it showing up elsewhere. The reason for this is that, by the copyright laws of the United States, which follow the conventions honored by most of the civilized world, I own what I write if I state that I own it, which I usually do. It is my property. Specifically I wrote it to be read here. I did not write it to be read elsewhere, because I want readers to come here.

That’s pretty easy to follow, isn’t it?

There is a word for when my property appears elsewhere without my permission. The word is theft. (There may be some who say “oh, it’s just copyright infringement,” but that’s double-talk. Copyright infringement is theft.)

Now, I co-wrote a novel some years ago, Red Moon. Because Red Moon was rendered into an electronic form, I know full well that if I looked far enough I’d be able to download it from some Bit/Torrent stream somewhere. Which means Dave Michaels and I will never see any royalties from that.

That’s the bottom line: if you’ve found Red Moon somehow and downloaded it without paying for it, even the relatively small price for the Kindle edition, you’ve stolen it, not just from Dave Michaels and yours truly, but the publisher as well.

So when the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry cry foul when material they’ve produced magically appears on YouTube, I can relate.

However, (yes, however) I realize that, if I play in this environment, this is going to happen. Whatever digital rights management I chose to buy into, I have to recognize some bright boy is going to crack it, distribute a tool for everyone else to crack it, and that’s pretty much the way of the world. I have to accept that, if I look to the internet to make my presence known, this will have to be taken into account in my business model somehow.

There are some studies that suggest piracy might actually help an author get exposure that he/she might not get otherwise. I’m dubious — just as a matter of principle I don’t care for theft — but I’m willing to consider the picture may not be as black and white as it would seem at first blush.

Because of my stance on copyright, I’m pretty mindful of using material that is clearly in the public domain. Because of SOPA/PIPA, I’ve taken a harder look at my blog, and I’ve found there was material I’ve linked to or embedded here (via YouTube or the others) that is questionable in terms of it being posted legally, so I’ve taken that or links to that stuff down.

I’ve done that because this legislation, should it comes into effect as law as it is written, could hold me liable for linking to something that has been alleged to having been posted illegally. The Meaning of Existence (and all that) could be blacklisted by the Federal Government for even linking to some site accused of illegally posted material.

Your site could too, by the way.

I can understand, to some extent, why the law is so hard-nosed. Those of us who’ve had material stolen and reposted on other sites do have the option of filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown request. With some services it’s an absurdly clumsy process in practice. (I’ve been stonewalled by Yahoo when I can see I’m getting linkbacks from something of mine that’s been posted in a Yahoo Group, but if the messages of the group are for members only, I’d have to join the group, if they’ll let me, to see what’s actually been posted. There are times I haven’t been able to. Yahoo, in those cases, has actually been of no help whatsoever.)

And, as I’ve been discovering, the DMCA process is constantly abused, and not just by the big players.

And I fully understand it is almost insulting to have to jump through these hoops to protect something that is obviously my intellectual property.

My reading of the bill, though, shows that the Attorney General has a free hand in taking sites down. No appeal process, no “pinging” the site owner, nothing. And, I don’t see any mechanism for reparation, which means we drag in the lawyers to fix it.

And how many of us can afford lawyers at that level?

Let’s just say that this is out of the reach of the “99%.”

So we have to trust the Attorney General’s office understands what it’s looking at, and that it will always act fairly, otherwise the burden is on the site owner to correct any mistakes the Attorney General makes.

All Things Must Pass, or, The Dinosaurs Must Die

Here we are, in the digital age. We — as in, content creators — now have the ability to create hardcopy and electronic books with a set of relatively inexpensive tools, and can market them ourselves. The days of the big publishing houses are over, and it’s in our best interests to stay out of the way as these dinosaurs sink deeper in the mire and eventually suffocate.

As you’ve probably guessed, this prospect does not leave me particularly upset.

Here’s what it’s been like for the last few decades as a new writer: 1.) You work your ass off trying to get your foot in the door to some agent who thinks enough of your material to lower him- or herself to represent you; 2.) The agent works with you for a while but finally dumps you because every publisher he or she interacts with is unwilling to exhibit some spine and go out on a limb for an unknown, or; 3.) You actually get a gig through the agent, but you are stuck with doing all the marketing yourself, and the publisher dumps you after three books because you aren’t producing enough profits to buy the CEO a new yacht.

An alternate path is: 4.) By some miracle you place the book with the publisher yourself, but get screwed over harder by the contract because you didn’t understand this stuff as well as an agent would.

Now, instead of working our asses off to make money for someone else, now we can work our asses off to make some money for ourselves.

What a concept, huh?

It’s so good a concept, in fact, that I’ve learned of genre novelists having turned down offers from traditional publishers because they’d be making less money with the traditional publishers than doing it themselves.

Now, look at the list of names of corporations supporting SOPA/PIPA. See HarperCollins Publishers?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is why I oppose SOPA/PIPA. SOPA/PIPA gives these greed-driven dinosaurs an opportunity to crush the arena that threatens to grind them into a well-deserved extinction.

Help Me Kick the Dinosaur While it’s Down

Spotlight on Washington.Stand up. Speak out. Stop this legislation.

These bills will lead to the kind of dirty tricks played on the little guy by Big Money copyright holders recently showcased in this article on CNET: “DHS abruptly abandons copyright seizure of hip-hop blog.”

Read this piece. Note that this dragged on for a year, but when everything was said and done it was clear there was in fact no law violated.

And, mind you, SOPA/PIPA haven’t made it out of the House or Senate yet. If they do, the kind of madness described by the above article will be common place, and turn the internet into a sandbox where only Big Money and government entities can play.

And you know full well these kinds of games will be played to suppress unpopular ideas. There will be censorship in the name of intellectual property rights, and this will be another backdoor for even greater abuses by those who have no conscience about exploiting those who cannot fight back.

Stand up. Speak out.

Go to Stop Censorship, or Don’t Censor the Net, or American Censorship, or Demand Progress or the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or Fight for the Future. Educate yourself. Write your letters, faxes, or emails. Get in your representatives’ ears and stay there until they get the message.

Stand up. Speak out.

The social media account or blog you lose may be your own.

• • •

Copyright © 2011, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.


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Daniel Brenton is the creator/author of the 5 Second Novel series, co-author of the space race thriller Red Moon (with David S. Michaels), and is the author of the satirical column The Round Files, published in Stuart Miller’s short-lived Alien Worlds Magazine.

Despite being a writer, Daniel has no cats at this time, is unwilling to become an alcoholic, and has a very difficult time keeping a straight face while writing about himself in third person.

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