Here’s something to add to the ‘ol RSS reader (or twitter @crunchgov if that’s your thang. TechCrunch, one of the better sites for news and information about tech and the tech industry, today launched CrunchGov to track on government and tech policy-making. The site will have 3 three initial CrunchGov products (report card, policy database, and legislation crowdsourcing). Read more about it on their post explaining the CrunchGov roll-out as well as their methodology/FAQ behind the site.
…”The government would be able to search information it collects under CISPA for the purposes of investigating American citizens with complete immunity from all privacy protections as long as they can claim someone committed a ‘cybersecurity crime’,” writes TechDirt’s Leigh Beadon. “Basically it says the 4th Amendment does not apply online, at all.”…
This is exactly the scenario we were worried about when Verisign originally tabled their very troubling takedown proposal. Said proposal was quickly retracted, but here we have the same situation playing out anyway. Granted, this was an actual court order, to Verisign – not a “request” from a governmental or “quasi-governmental” agency as originally proposed.
But at the end of the day what has happened is that US law (in fact, Maryland state law) as been imposed on a .com domain operating outside the USA, which is the subtext we were very worried about when we commented on SOPA. Even though SOPA is currently in limbo, the reality that US law can now be asserted over all domains registered under .com, .net, org, .biz and maybe .info (Afilias is headquartered in Ireland by operates out of the US).
This is no longer a doom-and-gloom theory by some guy in a tin foil hat. It just happened.
This whole post is definitely worth a read.
…Tim points out that he and a lot of other content creators have been happily coexisting with piracy all this time, and I’m certainly one of them. Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan. The big content companies are TERRIBLE at doing both of these things, so it’s no wonder they’re not doing so well in the current environment. And right now everyone’s fighting to control distribution channels, which is why I can’t watch Star Wars on Netflix or iTunes. It’s fine if you want to have that fight, but don’t yell and scream about how you’re losing business to piracy when your stuff isn’t even available in the box I have on top of my TV. A lot of us have figured out how to do this.
So if you can stand me sounding a little crazy, listen: where is the proof that piracy causes economic harm to anyone? Looking at the music business, yes profits have gone down ever since Napster, but has anyone effectively demonstrated the causal link between that and piracy? There are many alternate theories (people buying songs and not whole albums, music sucking more, niches and indie acts becoming more viable, etc.). The Swiss government did a study and determined that unauthorized downloading (which 1/3 of their citizens do) does not create any loss in revenue for the entertainment industry. …
Whether ‘tis nobler to abide by a law out of sync with technology or to take arms against a sea of troubles, that is the question for the common user of the Internet who desires content at the lowest price point, instantaneously and within some framework of economic fairness and personal ethics.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) have to be understood in this light: it’s just another IP land grab. It’s an attempt to frighten those who would compete with the established media companies, an attempt to assert monopolistic control over creativity. The ability to take domains offline without due process, even on the basis of inadvertently linking to copyrighted material, is nothing if not an attempt to legitimize theft on a grand scale. Because there is no due process, a defendant can’t respond until he’s already out of business; and then, it’s a matter of whether the defendant can outlast Hollywood in their ability to pay legal fees. “Justice” is meaningless if you run out of money before you get to the end of your case.
Then as now, borrowing wasn’t limited to theatre. Mashups, which have been repeatedly attacked by the entertainment industry, are by no means a new art form; they’ve been central to creativity for years (related examples are embedded below). Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” incorporate a number of popular songs of the era, including the always popular “Cabbages and Beets drove me away from you,” in its entirety, along with “Get closer to me, baby” (that’s what the German really means, except the “baby” part). So did Beethoven’s sonatas, particularly the second movement of the magnificent Opus 110 piano sonata (“Our cat had kittens” and “ I’m a slob, you’re a slob”). I could list examples for pages; musicologists spend entire careers searching for this stuff. The complexity with which these songs are woven into a much greater piece is amazing, but they’re there, they’ve obviously there once you know what to look for, and they go way beyond what would survive “fair use” and the DMCA, let alone SOPA and PIPA.
For more than a year, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America have argued that existing laws were insufficient to deal with the problem of “rogue sites” hosted overseas. They’ve been pushing bills like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act as essential weapons in the fight.
But evidently, American law enforcement didn’t get the memo that they were powerless against overseas file-sharing services. The day after the Internet’s historic protest of SOPA and PIPA last week, the United States government unsealed an indictment against the people behind Megaupload, one of the largest sites on the Internet. Four senior Megaupload officials were arrested in New Zealand on Thursday, and officials seized millions of dollars in assets.
Take special note of the blackout day for tomorrow (1/18). A list of sites participating in the blackout is here: sopastrike.com
Much to my happiness, the internets are in a frenzy about the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (aka SOPA). Congress is currently in recess, but the House announced a hearing on the potential impact to the Domain Name Service on January 18 and everyone expects the Senate to begin discussing a similar bill “PROTECT IP Act” when they return to DC on January 24. There’s a lot to these bills – and the surrounding furor – and I’m not going to go into it, but I recommend reading the actual bill and Open Congress info, the Wikipedia article, EFF’s blog, and the various links at Stop American Censorship. Tomorrow – January 18th – a bunch of geeks are planning a SOPA Blackout Day to voice their discontent.
I oppose SOPA unequivocally; it’s vague, it’s anti-free-speech, and it won’t solve the problem it’s designed to combat. One of the things that is tricky about SOPA–the legislation moving through Congress that threatens to enact stiff penalties for online piracy–is the number of things you need to understand to even understand what it does. I’m very good with computers and I had to spend sometime getting my head around it. I suspect my legislators may not even understand what it means to start messing around with DNS files to essentially take a website “off the internet” if it’s found [through a not-very-confidence-inspiring process] to be hosting infringing content. The website I work for hosts almost no content but links to a lot of things and we could be mistakenly shut down for linking to people who host “illegal” content.
So, I think we need to do a few things: understand how this bill is supposed to work, be clear in our opposition to it as a profession, work with other people to inform and educate others so that people can make their own informed choices. Here is a short list of links to get you started.
Libraries and librarians
They’re not alone. Libraries represent another educational group that could face fallout from SOPA. The Library Copyright Alliance, a group whose members include the American Library Association and two other major library organizations, has also written a letter to the House of Representatives [pdf]raising major issues with the bill.
Alarmingly, the librarians point to “three pending copyright infringement lawsuits against universities and their libraries relating to their use of digital technology,” reflecting “a growing tension between rights holders and libraries, and some rights holders’ increasingly belligerent enforcement mentality.” That same enforcement mentality, under SOPA, could lead to criminal prosecutions of libraries, even for activities that are a fair use and conducted without the intention of commercial gain.
If the fights of 2011 have shown us anything, it’s that the Internet and the quest for human rights are inextricably linked. The Internet is where human rights fights are rescued from obscurity and brought to the world’s attention—whether Ustreams of Occupy protestors being forcibly evicted, Lt. John Pike’s pepper-spraying of students at UC Davis, or YouTube footage of Tahrir Square or the Syrian protests. Yet even as America’s leaders chastise their foreign counterparts for censoring the Internet, with SOPA they are laying the groundwork for an expansive, copyright-based regime of domestic censorship.
The U.N. characterizes access to the Internet as a human right, and government research in the U.K. and in the U.S. shows the enormous humanitarian benefits of network access for poor and vulnerable families: better nutrition, education, and jobs; more social mobility and opportunity; and civic and political engagement. Yet the services that provide the bulk of these benefits—search engines, Web hosts, and online service providers like Blogger, Tumblr, Twitter, Wikipedia, and YouTube—could never satisfy the requirements set out in SOPA. The only way for these platforms to satisfy SOPA would be to all but shut off the public’s ability to contribute and to throttle free expression for all but those entities that can afford to pay a lawyer to certify that their uploaded material will not attract a copyright complaint.