As an extreme, can’t-live-without-it user of the Internet, I get angry any time anyone tries to police or patrol what I love so much. The Internet is a magnificent place where I can obtain or share whatever I want with whomever I want wherever I want (for the low monthly price of $59.99 per month). My loyalty to this “free” enterprise makes me almost blind to any stiff that says the Internet needs to be regulated – in any fashion – which is why I utterly, and absolutely, hate everything about the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) that’s currently being debated in the House of Representatives.
I’m not smart enough to be able to read the proposed SOPA bill and interpret exactly what it will mean for the Internet. For a better understanding of it, you can read an article by Information Week or one by the New York Daily News.
What I do understand about the bill is that it was written with the intention of preventing the theft of intellectual material that is widely available online (such as movies and music). It’s no secret that movie and music companies, film writers, actors, musical artists and bands have been whining and complaining about their stuff getting ripped off on the Internet since the Web began to take shape in the late 1990s, specifically with the founding, and widespread adoption, of Napster. Oh, what an impact that site had in only two years from 1999-2001, dooming recording artists forever “to a life of only semi-luxury” (as South Park so eloquently put it – check out the above clip from its Season 7 episode that we’re definitely not stealing, just borrowing to illustrate a point. Thanks South Park Studios!).
Is it really that wrong to steal music and movies online without paying for it?? (The answer is yes) Is it really a fair comparison to say it’s just like shoplifting hard copies of this material from a store?? (The answer, again, is yes)
But that’s not the point of my rant. The point is that this SOPA bill – and ANY bill designed with the intention of shutting down sites that allow the piracy to happen – are not only bound to fail, but bound to cause unintentional, unintended and irreparable damage to both free speech and our economy.
In past cases, the government has done things such as shut down and levy fines against Napster (it’s now a pay service), and ban online poker sites (instead of regulating, taxing and reaping the rewards from a game that is legal in most states – and even broadcast live on ESPN).
In this case, the government (or at least some members of it) are trying to prevent a completely, 100% illegal activity, but they are casting too wide a net. Unintentionally, the bill could “chill free speech on the Internet and stifle innovation.” (Those are Information Week’s words).
Some big-name, well-respected Internet companies that you might have heard of before (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, AOL and eBay) have written an open letter saying they agree with what I wrote one paragraph above this. (OK, they wrote their opinion first.) But who are they to say they understand the Internet?
Bills like these are always written by out-of-touch old guys who don’t truly understand the ins-and-outs of the Internet. SOPA’s old guy is 64-year-old U.S. Rep. Lamar S. Smith from Texas. I’m not motivated enough at this point to look up the 12 co-sponsors of this bill (although it wouldn’t take long to do with the Internet), but my guess is they’re all misguided old guys or gals. To be fair, these people aren’t just found in the House of Representatives; the Senate has drafted an equally-idiotic bill called the PROTECT IP Act.
These people don’t understand law as it applies to the digital age. In their defense, are there many people who do? I’m no legal expert (can you tell?), but I believe our lawmakers need to seriously revisit how they approach Internet regulation. One thing I do know is that passionate Internet users will almost always find a workaround. When the government shuts down Napster, Internet users turn to LimeWire. And when LimeWire shuts down, Internet users turn to other sites I won’t mention because they’re still under operation.
Instead of just outright banning anything that could possibly be involved in some sort of illegal activity, why not devising a plan that could prevent this illegal activity while not outraging millions of Internet users and, oh by the way, relieving our country’s massive debt in the meantime?
It might not be as far-fetched of an idea as you might think.