However, as the Al Pacino character in Godfather II said, "just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in." -- "I"meaning all of us technical people and "they" meaning the Congress of the United States, or politicians.
We went through something like this with the DMCA and then with "Net Neutrality." Now SOPA (the Stop Only Privacy Act) is the soup of the day -- actually it is more like the human waste that is produced when someone ingests spoiled soup.
America is truly an amazing country. Our Congress, whenever their incompetence is most apparent -- just look at the economy for Heaven's sake! -- they tend to dabble in the most inconsequential things such as baseball or, unfortunately for us, the Internet.
In the midst of a floundering economy the sector that is most promising and actually thriving is having cold water thrown at it. This is like a drowning person deciding that drinking large amounts of seawater would be good idea on since the salt in the water is a natural source of sodium.
So what is this SOPA thing all about? If you don't mind legalese terms such as "in personam" and language so thick it puts mud to shame, you may access the full text here. For the rest of you who prefer plain English here is a brief summary.
SOPA puts the burden of protecting intellectual property on ISPS and search engines. Sounds like China's great firewall to you? I am afraid you are right.
Apart from the twin facts that China is a dictatorship (hardly the country America should be modeling its laws after) and that China's catch-all censorship has proven more annoying than effective (at least to power users), this sort of legislation will stifle technology, drain ISPS of cash via huge fines and make search engines virtually useless if not illegal. It places the burden of blocking sites that violate IP laws on the aforementioned.
Google, which had to leave China because of their anti-free speech rules, may also end up facing the same choice in the US. This is insane. Will Americans seeking unfiltered search result have to turn to China's Baidu.com?
And there is an even greater moral hazard here. SOPA's proponents claim that it's sole purpose is to protect intellectual property. Even if we were to overlook the spotty record of IP policing and prosecution in the years since DMCA (including innocent victims and companies issuing notices for material they did not in fact own the rights for), given the fluidity with which IP violations have been redefined to suit certain agendas, this law is an open invitation for fascist politicians to initiate IP violation notices against sites that espouse political views with which they disagree. Even more slyly, these rats could attack the advertising networks --yes the law does address advertising networks -- that support the sites they dislike.
In the same way in which Soviet Russia labelled dissidents "reactionaries" rogue politicians could label the bloggers they dislike "IP-violators!" If you are not alarmed yet, you are probably a bot incapable of passing a Turin test.
Let me reiterate that I do believe in protecting intellectual property rights -- online and off. The courts have been enforcing the law for the past 20 years of public Internet with existing laws. SOPA is not needed --plus it's harmful. We even had a teenager extradited to the US for 16 lines of code because IP holders felt threatened by. What more to these people want?
I hope sense prevails among legislators and that those whose will is steeled by campaign contributions will be in the minority. As the closing screen of an old public service ad once proclaimed: "God, bless America, please."
To read more and do your part in combatting this anti-technology, anti-freedon piece of drivel that passes for law, click on the links below. I urge especially to click the online petition:
- House Judiciary Committee SOPA Hearings Stacked 5 To 1 In Favor Of Censoring The Internet
- Open Letter to House Judiciary Committee
- Stop Online Piracy Act [Wikipedia Article]
- SOPA Bill Turns Competing Tech Giants into Unlikely Allies
- Infographic: Effects of the Internet Blacklist Bill (SOPA)
- ►► Online Petition◀◀