If you haven’t been following the (excellent) coverage elsewhere, just how bad is the “Firewall of the United States,” the draconian Internet dystopia misguided legislation in the US proposes to create?
That legislation is so vague, so far-reaching, so poorly-designed, that it potentially threatens all kinds of sites musicians regularly use. And little wonder: a backwards legislation process in the US has locked out the very Internet and tech companies that have until now been glimmers of hope in a stagnant US economy.
The crux of this issue is the impact on legal sites, and democracy and speech online. For an alternative view, the MPAA argument is that existing Digital Millenium Copyright Act safe harbor provisions would continue to exist under the new legislation, thus protecting legal sites – like this one. However, I find compelling the arguments of speech and legal policy advocates who point to differences in the way the enforcement mechanism works here, which could potentially invalidate that safe harbor and shift undue burden to publishers before they have time to respond.
Social networks, file sharing services, and other tools we use (lobbyists, for instance, call out even things like MegaUpload as “rogue”) are endangered.
The presumed answer, that “you’ll be fine if you have nothing to hide,” is the worst kind of defense for what can only be described as bald-faced censorship. Because complaints are guilty-until-proven-innocent, because the legislation is too broadly worded, the net effect is that any site publishing online could be brought down by a simple complaint – even from a competitor or aggrieved party. The history of “snitch”-based censorship of all the worst kinds is littered with cautionary tales of what happens when that’s the standard.
And that’s to say nothing of the potential for higher costs, negative growth, and legal burdens on the entire Internet service ecosystem on which sites like this one depend, not to mention new DNS security chaos triggered by turning the US – still the largest Web consuming country – into something that resembles China, Iran, and Syria.
An alliance of people who claim to speak in the name of musicians, content creators, and copyright holders are right now proceeding on a course that would destroy a lot of the most innovative tools that protect your livelihood. They have some reasonable intentions in mind – a justifiable fear of big sites that flaunt copyright rules to share anything. But they extend that into a policy that unjustifiably expands its reach to legal sites. That’s why:
Google / YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites that have helped us spread the word about our music are opposing it, afraid it could shut the entire sites down or usher in a new, more censored, shrinking network. (Heck, even LinkedIn and Mozilla are worried, and a site that shares resumes hardly seems the kind of “rogue” and pro-infringement villain the record industry keeps trying to paint as its critics.)
Kickstarter, the tool that has helped artists fund themselves and do preorder sales, is opposing the bill for fear a single instance of infringement could block everyone’s projects.
Tumblr, a key publishing platform used by many musicians and artists, warned its users via a dashboard that the legislation threatened their ability to express themselves online. Tumblr has a specific call to action.
Democracy activists worry that this silence voices of democracy around the world by blocking the tools they use to get around censorship (ironically, by creating similar censorship in what had been a country with online freedom).
The ultimate irony: because the SOPA legislation would block DNS and not IP addresses, it would do little to stem actual piracy of music and video. Instead, it threatens the freedom of the artists themselves to use these tools.
And again, because you could see an entire website blocked, not just a specific infringement, the legislation threatens to rob artists and musicians of tools on which they rely to promote their own music that they themselves own.
None of this has stopped the record industry lobbyists from remaining full entrenched in their position. For instance, this week, RIAA’s Senior Executive VP Mitch Glazier responded in an article headlines:
The next time you hear a vague, sweeping critique, backed by the platitude that of course intellectual property protections are supported, we encourage you to ask: what specific legislative proposal do you have that would meaningfully address this problem?”
Actually, no. In the event legislation is really, truly insane, it’s not in any way the burden of the critic of that legislation to propose an alternative. Here, let me illustrate:
The Protect Humanity from Deer Ticks Legislation, which proposes to … burn down all the forests.
Critic: I have a proposal. Let’s not burn down all the forests.
See? It’s concrete, it’s specific. Yes, our critique is “vague and sweeping,” because the legislation in question is vague and sweeping and wrong.
It’s absolutely, totally valid to make the concrete, legislative action not voting for a bad bill. The RIAA ought to know that; it’s pretty basic lobbying.
Yet again, though, those organizations let down their labels, who are now struggling to find new growth and revenue, with legislation that hurts those same members. Who is the rogue, anyway?
There’s far better explanation of this legislation than mine, and it’s not too late to act:
http://americancensorship.org/ [Electronic Frontier Foundation, with brilliant infographics and detailed, fair background reading]
Stop the Great Firewall of America [New York Times op-ed from New America Foundation senior fellow Rebecca MacKinnon]
I need your help–please. Call your congressperson? [Terrific, straightforward editorial from an engineer, Matt Cutts - one who happens to work at Google, but writing on his own time]
SOPA, controversial online piracy bill, gains support as lobbying intensifies [The Washington Post early this morning, which illustrates to me in its quotes from the bills' supporters just how out of touch they are]
Sham of SOPA hearings riles up key internet figures [Silicon Republic on how tech and Internet firms were locked out of the legislation's creation]
OpenCongress.org links to information on the bill, full text of the bill, co-signers, actions, supporters and opponents, and even dollar-sign figures on how much lobbyists on each side of the issue (yes, including opposition) have given to elected officials.
From there, you can read the bills, make up your own mind, and if you’re a US citizen, talk to the people who represent you in Washington.
Among Senate bill opponents, as you can learn from that site – even though the Senate bill is at least a little less draconian – American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, and Human Rights Watch.
If you’re a citizen of the United States, I would ask you to call your Representative now. Tell them calmly (remembering, they may even be on your side, and regardless, they’re your elected representative) what you think.
If you do call your Representative, let CDM know what their office says; feel free to leave that response in comments.