The US Congress is going to vote on SOPA/PIPA. Don’t just read about it. At the very least, go sign a petition. But I’m not going to shut down this site in protest, because inconveniencing 4 readers isn’t going to accomplish anything at all, while writing a brief essay will simply accomplish very little instead.
I’m no legal expert. I’m just an amateur pundit. I’ve read conflicting analyses of SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act.” Some say it’s the end of free speech on the Internet in the US, and some say there really isn’t much of a threat at all. Here’s what I think.
It DOES impact ME. This isn’t a distant, unimportant threat. Any move that curtails freedom on the Internet impacts me. In the strictest reading, I’d have to massively crack down on even fair-use quotes, citations, and imagery — just in case I could become a target. I’d never be able to run a blog or a forum again that allowed user-submitted links or embedded media. It’s just too dangerous. And it doesn’t matter if this is factually the way life has to be under SOPA. I love my audiences on my various blogs and forums (fora?) but this is hobby material, and I simply can’t afford so much as a single legal entanglement. SOPA could shut me down.
I want specialists doing specialized things. Lawyers (and otherwise-trained Congressional types) should make laws, but techies should guide technology. When it comes to making laws about technology, I’m not sure who — if anyone — ought to prevail, but I don’t think it should be business and lawyer types in collusion. I say, leave well enough alone unless there is a clear and compelling reason to intercede with something as heavy-handed as a law. (I will make an exception for Congresspeople who are internet entrepreneurs.) The wrong people created and promoted SOPA.
Piracy is a real problem. But nobody can provide figures on how much it really costs. The net cost to a company when someone pirates a game, software, music, or a movie is not zero — there is a definite marginal opportunity cost that is lost to them while the pirate gains the very real use of whatever was downloaded. On the other hand, it’s highly unlikely that every pirated work would be purchased at retail price, so that’s not the right figure either. It’s somewhere in between. And technical solutions don’t seem to be solving things. DRM schemes can be intrusive, online services don’t solve access control problems for everything, anti-piracy schemes hurt honest consumers more than anyone, and so on. I didn’t promise a solution, but nuking web sites will not really halt digital piracy.
Technological arms races don’t work and only cause damage. The specific methods for SOPA undermine the DNSSEC protocol by essentially requiring a “man-in-the-middle” or MITM attack on the “correct” domain data in DNS. What next? Mandate stateful packet inspection? Then it becomes an arms race of VPNs, cryptography, and proxies like TOR. Maybe solutions have to become exotic, like steganography (hiding data in images, audio, or video). The fact is that DNS-removed sites can be accessed already. And it’s not through some super high-tech hack, or even editing your own hosts file. There is a friendly Firefox plugin to un-blackhole DNS. It ALREADY doesn’t work.
If you want to read more about why SOPA is bad, written by real writers with their own facts, go to http://americancensorship.org/