Today marks a series of online protests against the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which are House and Senate versions of bills designed to halt copyright infringement on the Internet.
Whether you agree with Salon's Glenn Greenwald that this legislation poses "the greatest dangers to Internet freedom of any bill[s] in the last decade," you should agree that SOPA and PIPA are very big deals with the ability to radically alter a vast realm of freedom that we've come to take for granted. As Greenwald summarizes the problems with the bills:
These bills...vest the power in large corporations and the government to seize and shutdown websites with little or no due process in the name of stopping piracy.
God, we've been here before, haven't we? Back in the 1980s, with Jack Valenti leading the charge against VCRs (the equivalent of the Boston Strangler to the movie biz, claimed the head of the Motion Picture Association of America!), then the Clinton administration's various futzing with the Internet (all for good reasons, to keep the kids from seeing the nudity and excretory functions on the Interwebs) and the whole Napster business! And more recent yapping about "Net Neutrality" and the FCC taking a "light touch" approach to on-ramps to the Information Superhighway. Is it too late to copyright the phrase "the more things change..."? Those goddamn Chinese have probably already printed up t-shirts of it!
Greenwald's piece today at Salon does a great job of fingering former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Ct.) as a motive force in the pushing of this legislation. As the door slammed shut on his over-long Senate career, Dodd pledged that he would never become a lobbyist in his retirement, a gesture that ranks up there with his attempt to get Ted Kennedy to pimp Carrie Fisher for him. As Greenwald shows, Dodd started lobbying even harder for SOPA than for Princess Leia, all at the behest of a movie industry that has been on the wrong side of just about every major leap forward in technological empowerment of the little people:
In his SOPA advocacy, Dodd has resorted to holding up Chinese censorship as the desired model, mouthing the slogans of despots, and even outright lying. Like virtually all extremist, oppressive bills backed by large industry, SOPA and PIPA have full bipartisan support; among its co-sponsors are Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and GOP Rep. Lamar Smith, with many Senators fromboth parties in support and Harry Reid pushing it forward (to its credit, the White House expressed opposition to several of the worst provisions, though has not yet issued a veto threat).
For a longer explanation of the stupidity embedded in SOPA/PIPPA, read this by Reason's Peter Suderman. The legislation has "evolved" since then (i.e. gotten slightly less rotten) but is still no good.
While I hope that SOPA and PIPA (or whatever godforsaken acronym comes out of a conference bill) doesn't become law, I must say that it's heartening to see the left and the right pull together against such a threat. Few issues unite folks such as Salon's Greenwald and RedState's Erick Erickson, who writes:
Both pieces of legislation are overly broad and give too much power to the Attorney General to shut down websites that may be innocent of piracy, but are accused of being engaged in online piracy.
Both pieces of legislation are written by old men who need young staffers just to tweet and run their Facebook accounts. The sponsors probably have no idea how far reaching and damaging their legislation is....
Good friends of RedState like Marsha Blackburn in the House with SOPA and Marco Rubio in the Senate with PROTECT IP are on the wrong side of this issue. I personally, as much as I like them and so many of the other Republican sponsors, will make stopping both pieces of legislation a hill to die on and work to defeat them at their next election if this legislation passes.
Whole piece here (emphasis in original). RedState, in solidarity with a number of other sites including Wikipedia and Reddit, has gone dark today in protest.
Hat tip to RedState piece: Amanda Carpenter.
A few years back (in late 2008), Reason hosted a conference in Hollywood. One of the panels talked about freedom of expression and included an early internet entrepreneur destroyed by the record labels, a lawyer for the porn industry, and a historian of the '60s counterculture (yes, I know, it sounds like a Reason version of a joke about a priest, a rabbi, and an atheist entering a juice bar...). Take a look, as the conversation ranges into many issues still at play. Alas.