Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA, PIPA, and the impending doom of the internet

 I oppose H.R. 3261: Stop Online Piracy Act because I use the internet. Full stop. This legislation is damaging to the free exchange of ideas, which stifles the growth and sharing of knowledge, without which innovation is impossible.

In the hallowed halls of academia, one is expected to reference the research and publications of those who have come before in order to supplement one's own perspective, or to dissect previously held misconceptions. This legislation would restrict such dialogs to smaller audiences, confining such work to journals that Joe Average probably does not see, widening the chasm between Joe Average and Jane Q. Published, PhD.  An uninformed public CANNOT then go forth and make informed decisions.  Climate deniers, I'm looking squarely at you here.  (NB: The link, of course, does not actually go to a climate denier's page, but rather to one that deconstructs the logic of climate denial.)  I think that if people really understood the detriment of global warming, corporate personhood would be a universal concern, and not such a leftist issue. 

This same practice holds true in the blogosphere. As a small-time blogger myself, I frequently make reference to outside sources both to support my own arguments and to investigate more closely certain pieces of source material that distress me.  As much as I want people to agree with my opinions, I don't want them to do so without thinking.  Even if they are agreeing with ME, how is that really any better than any other mindless drones simply nodding through life agreeing with everything that's spoonfed to them by Faux News and the Murdoch corporation?  Mindlessness is still mindlessness.  I want the people who take the time to read my posts to see what I'm seeing, where I'm getting my information, how my views are shaped, even if it does lead them to disagree with me.

I oppose S. 968 ("Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011") because, like its sibling SOPA, PROTECT IP/PIPA's seemingly noble goal is completely lost in the shadow of all of the damage it can do. Follow with me a moment here.

There are many websites out there purposed to allow creative types to share whatever it is that they do, such as DeviantArt, YouTube, Fanfiction.net, to name a few across various media. In the gaming community, specifically that surrounding World of Warcraft, there is a group of artists that produce machinima, which is a type of video produced using in-game settings and models. Sometimes these machinimators choose to tell stories, but many of them get their start doing music videos, or, in the case of the well-known artist Nyhm, parody music videos. Under PIPA, YouTube could come under fire for hosting these videos, robbing the MMO community of a vibrant and thriving creative force.

As I was scouring my YouTube favorites for good machinima links to illustrate my point, I was reminded that it's not only the oft-cited wedding videos or cute dancing babies at risk of culling due to alleged infringement, but amazing perfomative pieces like Daft Hands.  Whoever owns those hands is really talented and quite coordinated to be able to do that, and it's a pretty neat thing to watch, but under PIPA, it becomes illegal.

Similar stories could be applied to the fan art found on DeviantArt and the fan fiction found on Fanfiction.net. Thriving communities spring up around shared interests, and this act will destroy them all.

The cutthroat nature of the legislation hardly affords targeted webmasters/mistresses any defense of their domain.  There MIGHT be a hearing if one is lucky.  The mentality seems to be very "shoot first, ask questions later," and, as one would expect from such a mentality, shutting the site down is a simple feat, but putting it back up would take an act of Congress... perhaps literally.  The result is not unlike the black bag metaphor in V for Vendetta (here meaning the film; I am a shameful nerd and do not own the graphic novel).  Once a site is targeted, it just... disappears.  All traces of its prior existence are wiped, along with the sites linking to it.  After all, by linking to someone who posted a creative endeavor sporting copyrighted music, all of these sites are equally guilty of piracy or the encouragement thereof, right?

The language of this legislation is so nebulous that, if one wanted to accomplish the goal of actually stopping online piracy and theft of intellectual property, rather than simply destroying online freedom of expression, both bills should be scrapped and begun anew with knowledgeable consultants, e.g. people who are actually well-versed in tech security and internet culture, who seem to have been omitted completely from the original drafting process.

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