If you hate Big Government, fight SOPA.

Nobody who opposes Big Government and favors degregulation should favor the Stop Online Piracy Act, better known as SOPA, or H.R. 3261. It’s a big new can of worms that will cripple use of the Net, slow innovation on it, clog the courts with lawsuits, employ litigators in perpetuity and deliver copyright maximalists in the “content” business a hollow victory for the ages.

A few years back, a former government official confidentially issued a warning to a small group I was part of, which favored some kind of lawmaking around technology. While this isn’t a verbatim quote, it’s pretty close, because it has been burned in my mind ever since: “In the course of my work I have met with nearly every member of Congress. And I can tell you that, with only a handful of exceptions, there are two things none of them understand. One is economics and the other is technology. Now proceed.”

Know-nothing lawmakers are doing exactly that with SOPA. As Joshua Kopstein says, Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works.

SOPA is a test for principle for members of Congress. If you wish to save the Internet, vote against it. If you wish to fight Big Government, vote against it. If you wish to protect friends in the “content” production and distribution business at extreme cost to every other business in the world, vote for it. If you care more about a few businesses you can name and nothing about all the rest of them — which will be whiplashed by the unintended consequences of a bill that limits what can be done on the Internet while not comprehending the Internet at all, vote for it.

Rivers of ink and oceans of pixels have been spilled by others on this subject, so I’ll confine my case to a single section of the bill:

SEC. 103. MARKET-BASED SYSTEM TO PROTECT U.S. CUS- TOMERS AND PREVENT U.S. FUNDING OF SITES DEDICATED TO THEFT OF U.S. PROPERTY.

(I tried copying and pasting the whole section here, but it’s a @#$%^& .pdf, a proprietary format that has been Web-hostile from the start, but beloved of the “content” folks, as well as Congress and lawyers in general. If somebody can find us a .html or a .txt version, please let me know.)

There is nothing “market-based” about this section of the bill. “Market-based” is a paint job on more regulation, more restriction, more bureaucracy, more federal meddling, more litigation. Weighing in at nearly 17,000 words, is not only clueless about the nature of the Net and the Web, mischaracterizing both from front to back, but features the word “plaintiff” 100 or more times (I lost count). Oh, and lots of new work for this bureaucrat:

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ENFORCEMENT COORDINATOR.—The term ‘‘Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator’’ means the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator appointed under section 301 of the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 (154 U.S.C. 8111)

Yes, it exists.

We don’t need SOPA. What we do need is for Congress — along with lawmakers and regulators everywhere, right down to public utilities commissions and town councils — to at least begin to understand what the Internet is, and what it does for everybody, before it starts making laws protecting one business at the expense of all the rest.

If you want to see who is behind SOPA, just follow the money.

A couple days ago, David Weinberger told me Jimmy Wales was mulling the wisdom of shutting off Wikipedia for a day.  David blogged about it. So did Cory Doctorow. Later Torrent Freak spilled the beans as well. For some perspective on this, consider these two facts: 1) Jimbo is an economic Libertarian—about as pro-business and pro-”market-based” as you can get; and 2) Wikipedia remains the only search result for anything that consistently rises above the tide of gimmickry that has corrupted the commercial Web and buried more and more “organic” (non-commercial) results under an avalanche of promotional jive.

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute presents a solid Libertarian case against SOPA on YouTube. If it passes, he says, “the only difference between the U.S. and China is what’s on the blacklist.”

Sure, “piracy” is a problem. So are a zillion other afflictions you can name. New laws — especially ones that are written by regulatory captives and feared by real businesses in the marketplace — are not a solution. They compound the problem they purport to solve and cause untold new problems as unintended but certain consequences. Any conservative worthy of the label should be dead-set against SOPA.

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61 comments

  1. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Supporting the Constitution and the rule of law, and opposing misleading propaganda and the influence of corporate money in politics, is neither “maximalist” nor “retro-thinking.” It’s reasonable, balanced, forward-thinking, and (most importantly) the only ethical course.

    As for your further comments: how dare you declare an entire industry to be dead… simply because you do not want to pay for its products and want to destroy that industry via theft? You’re so delusional in this regard as to falsely claim that the Internet and computers could not exist without theft.

    You, sir, are a pathological criminal and should be locked up.

  2. KD’s avatar

    Brett,

    That you label copyright infringement as theft seems to me a pretty good indication that you are, at least in part, a copyright maximalist. That is one of their usual verbal tricks. Perhaps you aren’t, and have just been taken in by their tricks, but the feeling I get from the whole of what you write is that you truly side with the copyright maximalists.

    You oppose the misleading propaganda and political influence of corporate money? I suppose you are alluding to Google, given your earlier statements, but the recording industry has quite a record of engaging in both of those nefarious practices, so I’d say I subscribe to the same principles, but disagree about which industry deserves to be the target. I don’t claim that Google has no faults, but presence of unauthorized copyrighted material on Youtube is more a consequence of the advance of computer technology than the fault of Google. Google is (presumably) making money from Youtube, but I don’t believe that should condemn them. If the recording industry had been dedicated to adapting to the change, they would have invented and been making money from Youtube.

    It doesn’t particularly matter whether I want to pay for the recording industry’s products or not. It is the technology change that has killed the recording industry. It just hasn’t faced up to that fact yet. Its death throes threaten to do grave damage to those around them. That is why we have to do as much as possible to contain its reflexes until the body cools.

    I have to laugh at you calling me a pathological criminal. That’s another trick of the copyright maximalists. If you actually knew me, you’d see how ludicrous your statement is.

    I’ll close with a restatement of the main facts, as I see them.

    The technological conditions that enabled the rise of the recording industry have changed again, and that industry no longer is viable. It had a good run, but it is over.

    When conditions change, businesses are obligated to adjust to the new conditions.

    Rather than adjusting to the new conditions, the recording industry has attempted to prevent the change of the conditions. That’s a fool’s game. They can be successful at it for a short time, but they will lose in the end.

    The recording industry’s attempt to prevent the change of conditions is trampling on the rights of others. That must be opposed as much as possible to try to limit the damage the industry is doing.

  3. Brett Glass’s avatar

    You’ve proven my point. You’re claiming that because new technology has arisen that makes it easy to steal, it’s somehow OK to steal. This is tantamount to saying that if lasers which could cut through doors instantly became commonplace, burglary would be OK.

    It’s you who are doing damage, not “the industry.” You want to steal and are making lame excuses for doing so.

  4. KD’s avatar

    No, I’ve not proven your point. I am not trampling on anyone’s civil rights, while the recording industry is working overtime doing so.

    It seems that we each are firmly convinced that our point of view is correct, and nothing the other says will make any difference. I thought that might be the case when I first wrote, but wanted to help you see the light, if you would.

    I guess we will just have to wait until all this plays out for it to be clear that I am right and you are not. I hope we both live long enough.

  5. Brett Glass’s avatar

    The “recording industry” — which, nowadays, consists more and more of independent artists with their own small label — is protecting its own rights. Rights that are granted by the Constitution and which you would like to violate via theft.

  6. KD’s avatar

    Brett,

    I’m sure you know that copyright infringement is different from theft. That you continue to use the incorrect, inflammatory term sure seems to put you pretty much in the copyright maximalist camp, or at least thoroughly taken in by their propaganda.

    While it is true that more and more artists are going independent, the recording industry is still very much dominated by the large recording companies, who continue working overtime at trampling the rights of the general public. And the rights I am referring to are not the right to copy copyrighted material, but other civil rights, such as, among others, speech and privacy, that the laws the recording industry is buying from Congress routinely violate. You seem to deliberately misunderstand that point.

    Further, at least some of those independent artists you mention (I don’t know what percentage of them) are adopting business approaches in which they either encourage free sharing of their music files, or at least do not take any actions to try to prevent such sharing. Those artists are doing what the large recording companies should be doing, namely adapting their business to the changed environment.

    As for the Constitution, I’m no lawyer, but by my reading, the Constitution merely grants to Congress the power to establish a copyright system, if Congress wishes to do so. That, at least formally, does not grant any specific rights to authors. The establishment of a copyright system is entirely optional. Compare the language in article 1, section 8, to wording in, for example, the early amendments, which do specifically grant rights to the people. Of course, the founders did intend that a copyright system would be established, but chose not to constrain it in any way by the Constitution. That is a bit different than having authors’ rights being granted in the Constitution, just as copyright infringement is not theft.

  7. Daly @ Write a Bio’s avatar

    The Internet is so long ago risen above the limitations of any sort of Constitution.

    Clogging it and limiting the spreading of the information is a crime. Copyright needs a BETTER way of reinforcing.

  8. Robert’s avatar

    fyi, pdf has been an open standard since 2008, and is governed by ISO 32000-1.

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