Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fighting Back by Going Black

So as anyone who hasn't lived under a rock the last month knows, there are a couple pieces of legislation circulating in Congress that are aimed at targeting pirates rogue sites that infringe on copyright. They are called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Across the Internet publishers and companies protested this in various ways--the most extreme of which were blacking out their sites for the day. It has become so hotly contested between Silicon Valley and Hollywood that it is (rightfully) being framed as an incredibly divisive issue, but I have a different take on the entire situation. This SOPA madness is exactly what this country needs.

Let's start with where we all agree. Pirating is bad. For our own selfish reasons, at times we like pirated copies of things because it's a benefit to us, but we also recognize that this has a negative impact on those who produce and copyright the work that is pirated--namely movies and songs (which is why Hollywood is understandably pissed). Clearly, the fundamental problem with the whole SOPA deal is not the idea behind it. That's fairly sound, and there really isn't much debate around that.

The true root of the issue is that the rogues who are collectively wiping their ass with the whole concept of intellectual property are outside the US. How, then, is Congress going to change any of that by enforcing laws on US companies? Furthermore, how qualified is Congress to even discuss the Internet, let alone regulate it? Anyone who has paid attention to any portion of the Net Neutrality debate knows that the answer is "not a lot."

To their credit, though, some members of Congress seem to be treating this differently. Assuming motivations are pure (which they never are in politics) and not financially-driven (which they always are in politics), it's admirable that they want to do something to protect the copyrighted work of artists in this country. We want to foster that type of creativity and innovation within our own borders. It's part of what makes this country great.

But SOPA isn't just a shot into the dark. It's a firestorm, and the collateral damage could be catastrophic.

Remember the part about fostering innovation and promoting creativity? There's this thing called the Internet that has led to a lot of that, and it's the innocent bystander that gets slaughtered if this legislation passes. How is a search engine supposed to continue to drive innovation when the government is telling it to waste its time picking through its index for something that may link to something from a rogue? How is a blog supposed to purge all images/references to brands because it hasn't gotten the "expressed written consent" of the people in charge of it? Am I getting shut down and arrested for using this image? What about this one?

The Internet age has completely obliterated the old model and restructured way people receive information. That's a good thing. Since when are options for alternative viewpoints bad?  Yes, I realize print journalism is "dying," but aggregated media is a huge opportunity, and the pubs that are smart enough to innovate can capitalize on the new distribution--and monetization--models that are emerging.

There are plenty of phenomenal resources that discuss the bits and bytes and the legal arguments for why this whole thing is a complete mess. I won't rehash all that, and if you really want to talk about the viability of endpoint security solutions and packet flow evaluation, I would be happy to discuss (before informing you that you need serious help). But I would encourage all three five seven of my readers to read every last one of them. Here are a couple links to get you started: Ars Technica, Google, and the New York Times. (There's a reason Ars is first. If you read no others, read that one.)  

We all have that one "friend" who is just sure that he/she is always right and will argue and argue until everyone else gives up, which of course will only continue to feed that person's self delusion that he/she was, in fact, right. Everyone silently hates that guy/girl and just brushes the whole deal off, knowing that nothing will really change and, for the most part, arguing is futile. That's usually how Congress works. But this SOPA thing is a whole different animal, and the results have been astounding.

Creative: To further drive its point, Google locked this image. Had to take a screenshot of a screenshot to get this image.

Some members of Congress are realizing they're way out over their skis and  are backing off their stances, accordingly. The most vicious competitors in Silicon Valley and beyond are on the same side of an issue, are pissed and rallying supporters to let the government know about it. Household brand names all went dark for a day purely to protest. We got fun things like this. And this. And, of course, this.

Some of it was done in silly ways, but the fact of the matter is that it's all serious. The reaction from a generally complacent demographic in a generally complacent nation has been strong, unified and heard at the highest level. To me, that's the most impressive thing of all. I love this SOPA deal.

UPDATE: Looks like I'm not the only person who feels this way. PC World does too. Take a look.


  1. Sometimes our government can best be described as a dumpster fire. As for Oprah and Jesus on a jet ski, in outer space---classic.

    1. Apparently it gets even better than that. Check this out.

  2. And the hits just keep on coming. Going to have to put together a roundup post sometime this weekend, but here's what you need to know right now.