The matter of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, has already been addressed by writers with much more verbal facility than me, but I thought I’d chime in anyway, my post directed at those (few, I hope) authors, who through either ignorance or an over-reactive need for vengeance, still support this repugnant piece of legislation.
I’m an author (as I write this posting, of two books–The Music of Chaos and The Canvas Thief). As an ebook author I’m all too aware of the ease with which piracy takes place. Also, as a blogger, I know what it’s like to have content stolen and used without permission. It’s infuriating. The immediate response is a looong string of cursewords and “Take it down, give it back, die, thieves, die!” There’s the instantaneous desire to see the offending website beset with viruses, its creators evicerated and hung by their entrails in the nearest public square. And no, I’m no using hyperbole. I started out as a horror writer, grew up on a rich diet of Stephen King. I can cook up graphic and gruesome punishments and feel absolutely no guilt about my warped thoughts.
On the other hand, I recognize that my reaction is emotional. Yes, piracy is wrong. But my immediate need for the kind of blood bath that would make a vampire drool shouldn’t be what drives Internet policy. There are already some policies in place that do give original creators the ability to address copyright infringement issues. Are those measures adequate? Probably not. Do they give the creator an instant satisfaction? No, but frankly, neither does a duel at dawn. I mean, you still have to wait till dawn.
My point is, as lovely as it would be to inflict horrific tortures upon pirates and copyright infringers, that’s not how a civil and just society operates.
This is why ordinary folk, and for that matter corporations (who thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling are now people too), can’t be allowed to wander about, Judge Dredd-style, summarily administering justice. That’s why the American judicial system has a little somethin’ somethin’ called “due process.”
Something that is sorely lacking in this legislation (and its offspring PIPA).
Besides having some scary-ass, implications on political dissent, the kind of repressive shit you’d expect from charming harbors of democracy and free speech like China and Korea, SOPA is really just a vehicle for big corporate media to stifle creativity and remove the competition.
How, you say? Well, let’s say you’re a self-published author. Or a small publishing company. Or an independent music label. And one of the big, corporate producers like HarperCollins, Sony or BMI decides you’re cutting into their profits by providing original, fresh, content? They can use SOPA to get your site dropped from Internet search engines, or worse yet, get your web host to shut down your site completely. They can do this without any due process, using the vague language in the bill to claim that some minuscule part of your site somehow violates their copyright.
Another dangerous provision in PIPA and SOPA that hasn’t received a lot of attention is the “vigilante” provision, which would grant broad immunity to all service providers if they overblock innocent users or block sites voluntarily with no judicial oversight at all. The standard for immunity is incredibly low and the potential for abuse is off the charts. Intermediaries only need to act “in good faith” and base their decision “on credible evidence” to receive immunity.
Think promoting a book is hard now? Imagine how much harder it will be when social media sites, website hosts and others, driven by a fear of liability costs, start limiting content, implementing draconian and arbitrary definitions of what can be discussed and posted.
Again, I’m an author. I’m against piracy because I like the idea of making a few pesos from my writing. But SOPA isn’t the author’s friend. SOPA is what happens when new technology provides consumers access to varied and original content, the kind of innovation that big business can’t provide, and big business starts screaming, “Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!” Look at who supports SOPA–Hollywood and Rupert Murdoch.
If you find yourself on the same side as Rupert Murdoch, you must realize you aren’t on the side of angels.