Keep the internet free

You might notice some changes over at Google or Wikipedia today. Many popular websites are joining in a protest over the SOPA law being debated in Washington, D.C.  I am not “going dark” with my website today, mostly because I’m not convinced I know how to bring it back up. But I would like to join with others in recommending to my representatives, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Rep. Chip Cravaack, to drop this legislation or consider a dramatically different approach.

As it stands, most of the news and content sites you know and love would be put at incredible legal risk under some versions of the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). Essentially, we could be shut down if we link to a website that is suspected of online piracy, a nebulous term that is hard to define. While I am no fan of pirates, the lack of legal due process in the bill would essentially allow authorities tremendous powers to censor the internet in what is supposedly the greatest free republic on earth.

We are still in the infancy of what the internet will come to mean in our society. While there are many things wrong with the new media — link baiting, plagiarism, and shallow content — there are also many things we wouldn’t want to lose to the powerful interests that already run so much of the rest of our economy (and media, for that matter).

As I’ve said before, internet freedom and access is THE central issue in the development of our democratic republic. Censorship won’t happen overtly. People will lose the means by which to speak before they are told what they can’t say.


  1. I really don’t know how to judge this in all its complexities. Some people I respect speak for both sides.

    Have you ever had any of your work stolen and published on the ‘net? I have. It is disconcerting. The only way I found out was that I have a Google Alert set up that lets me know when various words show up on the net. The words I have it search for include my screen name, my blog name, and some specific topics I’m interested in.

    So I got a notice that there was a blog about a certain place (an alert topic) showing up. I went to it and there was a slide show of photos on a website soliciting money for orphans. My first thought was that the photographer composes pictures in a similar way to my style. Then after about 5 pictures, I realized that they were my photos.

    I demanded that the blog owner take them down. But I also figured out the origin: I had some Picasa Web Albums set up for that trip, and I had labeled them for location, so they were readily searchable. They were also public albums. Now I don’t label pictures and I keep albums private.

    So basically, Google sets up this system through which people can easily post pictures and other people can easily search on any topic, and use those pictures. Often there is a copyright warning, but people either are ignorant of copyright or they just ignore it, or they think, “Well just this once doesn’t hurt.”

    I have a friend who was very callous about copyright and she actually brought a copy machine along to retreats that we attended so we could “share.”

    I will be glad to read any explanatory info that you might post or link to on your blog. Do you know the pros and cons, put in a simple way? Who stands to gain?

  2. It’s not the anti-piracy concept that I’m against, it’s the buried consequences of how that piracy would be regulated. If high seas piracy is your problem, this would be the equivalent of firing upon any vessel that is suspected of being a pirate ship, or that may have been in the same sea as a pirate ship. An effective deterrent, perhaps, but the unintended consequences are huge.

    Put it this way, the legal liability that would be foisted on the big content sites like Google would be such that they’d have a hard time operating as they have so far, and would likely mean changes to things like the very Blogger format that houses this blog.

    I think I can understand your concerns about piracy/plagiarism; it’s a big problem. But giving an unelected, little known authority the federal power to shut down vast numbers of sites simply because of links or associations would be a devastating first amendment issue in the long run.

    That’s my take. I’d like to hear arguments to the contrary.

  3. The TV/film studios want the power to shut down any site they deem as infringing on their copyrighted material. But I work at a film studio in Los Angeles, so I know their definition of “infringement”. It’s pretty much anything: an image, clip, or even written recaps of their programming. They could use it to halt any criticism of their shows.

    Lots of studio execs would also relish the opportunity to shut down any site they see as future competition. This bill would allow them to do that as well. If the SOPA/PIPA laws had been passed 15 years ago, there wouldn’t be a Youtube today. It’s very dangerous legislation.

  4. With Franken and Klobuchar supporting it, it simply must have merit we all don’t see…it deserves our support..

  5. Brought to you by the same people who groused about home taping killing the music business — as if that would be a tragic loss.

    Noble premise aside, SOPA is an awful piece of legislation sponsored by people who are out of their depth. Luckily, they are getting an earful and it will be quashed.

  6. MPR program with the pros and cons:

    You can listen on line or download the podcast.

  7. By AMY SCHATZ 1-20-12

    WASHINGTON—The push for antipiracy legislation brought lawmakers together for much of the past year, but in the Senate at least, the support that remains after nationwide protests appears to be mostly from Democrats.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is moving ahead with plans for a test vote on the legislation Tuesday, but the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, on Thursday called for a postponement, citing “serious issues with this legislation.”

  8. A lot out there today. The “blackout” by major sites is having an impact. Our elected officials should take notice.

    Regulatory Czar wants to use copyright protection mechanisms to shut down rumors and conspiracy theories – by Alec Rawls 1-20-2012

    “As Congress considers vastly expanding the power of copyright holders to shut down fair use of their intellectual property, this is a good time to remember the other activities that Obama’s “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein wants to shut down using the tools of copyright protection.

    For a couple of years now, Sunstein has been advocating that the “notice and take down” model from copyright law should be used against rumors and conspiracy theories, “to achieve the optimal chilling effect.”

    What kinds of conspiracy theories does Sunstein want to suppress by law? Here’s one:

    … that the theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud. [From page 4 of Sunstein’s 2008 “Conspiracy Theories” paper.]”

  9. Minnesota Brown is safe for another day..??!!

    Congress puts anti-piracy bill on backburner amid uproar – January 20, 2012

    WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders announced Friday that they are putting controversial anti-online piracy legislation on the backburner, amid widespread objections from the tech community and others.

    Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he will postpone an upcoming vote on his chamber’s proposal. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, quickly followed suit, saying consideration of a similar House bill would be postponed “until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

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