The Internet is the most open and robust means of communication in the world.
The SOPA bill itself is seemingly innocuous. It seeks to provide protection to the owners of copyrights against web sites that sell goods and intellectual property without giving the owners of the copyright fair monies. In other words, you can’t have a web site that sells knock-off Nike sneakers. The consumer would need to know that they aren’t really Nike’s, and if you were trying to portray them as real ones then Nike would get a cut. It’s their swoosh. The bill has also been heavily influenced by the recording and motion picture industries.
The bill splashes heavily in music, movies, and books. This is the intellectual property part. Being a music nut, here’s how it breaks down:
- Joe Bob creates a band and they record some music.
- A record label that wants to market their music picks up the Joe Bob Four.
- You really like the Joe Bob Four and share a song on your YouTube page.
- The U.S. Government shuts down YouTube because you like the Joe Bob Four.
Here’s the rub: The way that the bill is written, you are a dirty pirate for having shared the song, but YouTube is a dirty pirate captain for having let you do it. The record company could seize the domain from YouTube to protect sales of the Joe Bob Four. The Government could shut down YouTube, demand that Google remove YouTube from any and all searches, and demand that PayPal withhold funds for any commerce that YouTube is conducting.
No more silly cats because you like the Joe Bob Four.
The serious part is that these actions could be arbitrary and occur with no notification. The impression of having shared protected material is enough for the government to take action. If Greedy Records objects to the post, they just have to let the Government know, and the action starts. YouTube finds out when they come to work and the lights are out. YouTube won’t know that they’ve been slapped until they realize that they’re not getting checks from PayPal and that nobody is visiting their site. The Government is not required to give YouTube any notice. YouTube can then serve a “counter-notice” saying that they didn’t really do anything wrong, but this starts a lengthy legal process. Even better (or worse) is the fact that if Greedy Records decides that “My Truck Broke Down” by the Joe Bob Four is worth $1 per download, and 2,500 people liked your YouTube post, then both you and YouTube would be felons.
Let’s put it in layman’s terms:
You get off from work and head over to your favorite watering hole, the Rocket Bar, and decide to splash a pint. After a single pint you take your leave, and as you exit the bar you stumble over a crack in the sidewalk. A police officer sees you stumble and arrests you for being drunk. The police department then tells all of the local beer distributors to stop selling beer to the Rocket Bar, orders the power company to turn off all of the utilities, and freezes the Rocket Bar bank account. The Rocket Bar gets no notice, and never saw you stumble outside of the bar.
“But wait!” you say. “I only had one pint! I wasn’t drunk and the police never pressed charges.” The appearance that you were drunk was enough for them to put the screws to your favorite watering hole.
DaJaz1 is a nifty little site sharing a blog about their little world of music. They share news about upcoming releases, and frequently post songs and videos by artists. The tracks are often given to DaJaz1 by the labels and the artists themselves. The owners of the material recognize the popularity of the blog and hope to get their new music to its proper audience.
In November of 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched Operation in Our Sites. The operation was going after sites selling counterfeit handbags and knock-off NFL jerseys. They also seized DaJaz1.com. An agent stated that he had used the site to download pirated music. Other similar sites were also seized, which is interesting in that artists such as Kanye West and magazines like Vibe shared the sites. “Hey, check out our new stuff on this blog!”
DaJaz1 found out about this when his website exhibited a big warning placard that said that his domain had been seized for counterfeiting and that he was a criminal. Lawyers for DaJaz1 asked for some explanation and were told that the records were sealed. When a deadline for a procedure came and went he asked what was going on. He was told that the government had filed an extension on the case. When he asked to see the court ruling, he was again told that the records were sealed. When he informed the court that if another Government extension were requested that he would like to object, he was told, “Nope”.
The Government basically said, “No charges, no day in court, no explanations, but we’re going to take away your stuff.”
This past December, over a year after he was shut down, the Government gave DaJaz1 his domain back. The Government’s case had no merit.
While all of this is very troubling for a site like YouTube, it also has far-reaching implications for a site like reddit, which depends on user-generated content and sharing to exist. Even deeper is the well that Facebook and sites like WordPress and Blogger could fall into. A site that allows you to express your opinions and likes could be subject to the same draconian measures as the guy who wrote DaJaz1. The “implication” or accusation of copyright infringement would be enough to shut the whole shebang down.
While we would like to see Nike, the NFL, and even Kanye West receive their fair due for their efforts, the current SOPA and PIPA (Protect IP Act) acts are the wrong way about it. The laws fly in the face of the U.S. Constitution, are an infringement on the rights of others around the world, and violate the very principles that dictated the founding of the Internet. To move forward with these bills as written would be to throw the Internet onto the Fahrenheit 451 pyre of censorship. (Fahrenheit 451 is a copyrighted work by the writer Ray Bradbury. All rights reserved)
And we’ll loose our free access to silly cats.
Go online today to contact your representative or congressman, and voice your opposition to this blanket censorship of the Internet…
…While you still can.
ed. note: If you’ve followed any of the links provided here to learn more about this issue, then we’ve never met.