Today I’m in solidarity with Web publishers everywhere joining the fight against new laws that are bad for business — and everything else — on the Internet.

I made my case in If you hate big government, fight SOPA. A vigorous dialog followed in the comments under that. Here’s the opening paragraph:

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.

I also said this:

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.

This is the pro-business case. There are other cases, but I don’t see many people making the pure business one, so that’s why I took the business angle.

The best summary case I’ve read since then is this one from the EFF.

The best detailed legal case (for and against) is A close look at the Stop Online Piracy Act bill, by Jonathan @Zittrain. The original, from early December, is here.

Not finally, here are a pile of links from Zemanta:

Oh, and the U.S. Supreme Court just make it cool for any former copyright holder to pull their free’d works out of the public domain. The vote was 6-2, with Kagan recused and Breyer and Alito dissenting. Lyle Denniston in the SCOTUS blog:

In a historic ruling on Congress’s power to give authors and composers monopoly power over their creations, the Supreme Court on Tuesday broadly upheld the national legislature’s authority to withdraw works from the public domain and put them back under a copyright shield.   While the ruling at several points stressed that it was a narrow embrace of Congress’s authority simply to harmonize U.S. law with the practice of other nations, the decision’s treatment of works that had entered the public domain in the U.S. was a far more sweeping outcome.

No one, the Court said flatly, obtains any personal right under the Constitution to copy or perform a work just because it has come out from under earlier copyright protection, so no one can object if copyright is later restored.  Any legal rights that exist belong only to the author or composer, the ruling said.  If anyone wants to resume the use or performance of a work after it regains copyright, they must pay for the privilege, the decision made clear.

IMHO, the U.S. has become devoutly propertarian, even at the expense of opportunity to create fresh property from borrowed and remixed works in the public domain. One more way the public domain, and its friendliness to markets, is widely misunderstood.

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  1. Stan Smith’s avatar


    Nobody wants government to interfere in their business. Where private property begins and ends has always been an area of contention. I would propose that any data generated by a device I own or is posted by me is my property until I transfer its ownership. The current assumption is that anything I transmit or post becomes the property of whoever captures it. If we go with that assumption in areas other than data, I think you can deduce what a slippery slope we go down.

    The solution is simple. Let me mark anything I want to keep ownership of with my tag – just as one does if one is heading off to summer camp – and let’s assume anything else is up for grabs. What concerns me is the discouragement of folks who dedicate themselves to generating quality information – [for instance, your upcoming book is going to be for sale on Amazon]. If folks post portions of it and somebody aggregates these portions into the book, does it become the property of the aggregator?

    We are technologists. We have simple technological solutions to these issues. Let’s be fair to the little guy who has a little information that he should be able to set a price for and take pride in his ownership.

    The bill itself is stupid. The problem, however, is real.

    All the best,

  2. Roland’s avatar

    “No one, the Court said flatly, obtains any personal right under the Constitution to copy or perform a work just because it has come out from under earlier copyright protection, so no one can object if copyright is later restored.”

    Seems to me that EVERYONE (i.e. the public) obtains such a right when a work comes out from copy-pro. But the court apparently doesn’t see the public as an entity eternally before the court. We-the-people have faded into the background.

  3. Rick Calvert’s avatar

    Thank you for the link to our little video Doc.

    What most people not directly involved in this in some way don’t understand (consumers) is that the idea of SOPA is a good one. It is the execution of these particular bills that are bad.

    They were written by big media lobbyists and pushed through congress by representatives who have no idea how the internet works.

    These laws will not stop online piracy. They will kill the internet as we know it.

  4. John Matt’s avatar

    It’s the fact that SOPA/PIPA do NOTHING to stop the thefts… instead, they hand over an inordinate amount of control over the internet to people who have demonstrated they cannot be trusted with that control.

    Over 90% of online piracy originates, and terminates, outside US borders. P2P sharing (the primary means by which piracy occurs) accounts for the majority of global internet traffic – but the majority of that traffic (over 90% of it) never so much as touches on US soil or US servers or US citizens.

    Most of the piracy problem happens in Asia & the Middle East – there is nothing about SOPA or PIPA that combats the actual problem.

    Instead of working towards solutions that encompass the existence of the internet, the proponents of SOPA are trying to make the internet a sterile, unexciting environment in the hopes that people will get bored with their computers and their smart phones and their connectivity… and will instead zone out in the theaters or come to concerts.

    SOPA is designed to allow the entertainment industry to drive people away from the internet and into physical venues that they can earn a profit from. That’s it in a nutshell.

    SOPA is not designed to actually combat the problem of piracy – because SOPA does not apply to the vast majority of those actually engaging IN piracy.

  5. David Scott Williams’s avatar

    Hey Doc…nice summary, and link rich.

    I, like Roland, also thought that public domain meant public domain … That really sucks.

  6. Kel’s avatar

    The wonderful and culturally saturated lessons we learned from prohibition lead to the War on Drugs–which has been almost completely ineffective, extraordinarily expensive, discriminatory, and socially regressive! Thank the lord we learned not to criminalize substances whose uses are more or less inevitable, forcing the business underground where it cannot be regulated, thus dramatically increasing the likelihood of systematic crime and violence! I’m sure we’ll learn our lesson with SOPA! Today, it’s the enforcement of copyright! Tomorrow, maybe it’s “hostile speech,” then the next day “undesirable speech”! Soon we could have a War on Communication, effectively banning the entire internet (except where experts deem its use to be necessary, under highly controlled conditions, of course). But hey, we would have learned our lesson with SOPA and PIPA, and we’d have overturned them! Foreign piracy sites for everyone

  7. Sol’s avatar

    SOPA and PIPA were just ideas coming from a congressman asking a random homeless guy “Do you use the web?” and then zoning out and giving the homeless guy a Tootsie Roll. I might (if the bills pass) be in trouble for using the words “Tootsie Roll”. If you haven’t had a chance to yell at congress yet, go to It’s still blacked out, and you can still do it on there.

  8. Lee’s avatar


    First off, excellent and informative read, and I am also an opponent of SOPA. This is just another way for the government to step in and provide censorship on a large scale and violate our right to free speech.

  9. eri’s avatar

    SOPA can damage such a “FREE knowladge center” like, with this “censorship” i’m worry what we are looking for in internet just a porn stuff, such a pitty…:(, freedom of speech…

  10. Buty’s avatar

    In Europe the government of EU want to implement ACTA. It is similar to SOPA. In theory it is against piracy but in reality it is against free speech. In Poland governmental websites are now shutdown by anonymous and polish hackin group.

  11. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Buty, I believe ACTA, if becomes law, would be far worse than SOPA, because it would be multinational (rather than U.S.-only), would enforce a far broader range of intellectual property claims, and would therefore have a greater chilling effect on many more businesses — in addition to the free speech issues that tend to get the most attention (as they do with SOPA). Here’s the EFF on ACTA.

  12. One Wavelength’s avatar

    There’s a lot of Anti-SOPA/PIPA support from outside the US trying to increase awareness about how every Internet user would be affected. Social engines will have to change their open nature, for a ‘big brother’ style of content monitoring/moderation. When people realise how their beloved Facebook would change, maybe there’ll be even more opposition.

    Sure the main furore surrounding these bills has died down for now, but it will be back.

  13. Yousaf’s avatar

    Seems to me that EVERYONE (i.e. the public) obtains such a right when a work comes out from copy-pro. But the court apparently doesn’t see the public as an entity eternally before the court. We-the-people have faded into the background.

  14. Garagentor’s avatar

    The US got such a great constitution but they dont use it anymore.

    The next step in a very unfree world

    regards from Europe

  15. Joe’s avatar

    In order to use current laws and existing technology (rather than SOPA or ACTA), we developed proprietary software to mine web data to ferret out rogue websites. The goal is to narrowly go after the underlying problem, without targeting free speech. Check it out and get more information at

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