You’re gonna be hearing an awful lot about it today, especially since you’re not gonna be able to Wikipedia when Cher’s last bowel movement was, but you have nothing else to do today, so why not educate yourself on SOPA and PIPA a little bit more? Adventures in Poor Taste is not usually a politically-charged website in any manner, but SOPA and PIPA threaten the very existence of the Internet as we know it. Try to think back to the dark ages; before the Internet, or more specifically, before the World Wide Web. I’m talking like, 1992-1993 here. Scary! How did we know what our favorite cracked-out celebrity ate for lunch that day? We didn’t. How did we manage to access pictures of cats acting like people with unimaginably poor grammar plastered all over them? We didn’t! No, SOPA/PIPA aren’t out to abolish the Internet, but the vague manner in which the bill speaks is the most truly frightening part of it because it just makes the whole thing so ripe for unaccounted for, nonpunishable abuse.
I’m going to assume you know the basics of these bills by now. If not, please take the time to educate yourself. For those of you with at least a rudimentary understanding of the bill, it’s easy to envision the almost dystopian Internet future it can easily promote, even if that’s not at all the actual intent. Do me a favor and envision these scenarios. I’m talking about s--t like…
5. Power Without Checks and Balances
One of the things that makes the Internet the Internet is the fact that anybody, from anywhere, around the world, can come together and discuss and share whatever the f--k they want. If I’m a 26 year old man who wants to talk to other 26 year old men about My Little Pony, I can nicely point my browser to Reddit and join the conversation with tens of thousands of other Bronies about whether or not friendship is in fact magic. If I want to spend five hours of my work day looking at pictures of Phillip J. Fry looking unsure about things, I can go to Quickmeme and do just that. Let’s actually use ole’ Fry as an example here.
Under SOPA, if FOX, for instance, finds the Futurama Fry meme offensive or in violation of their copyright, they can, with no checks or balances, essentially wipe Quickeme off the face of the web by censoring every link to it. Please note that this does not actually remove pirated content from the web, but rather cuts off traffic to it. Traffic gets cut off, but perhaps more importantly, advertising dollars get cut off. If an offending website is censored from showing up in Google hits, or being linked from Reddit, or being tweeted or Facebook shared, it’s also going to be cut off from advertising networks like AdSense or (the meager, awful, invasive, don’t-ever-use) AdBrite. With no money coming in thanks to a frightening level of corporate control of the Internet, startups aren’t going to be very motivated to, erm…start up.
4. Arbitrary, Draconian Classifications of Modern Concepts
Since SOPA is a US bill, it attempts to make the distinction between a “foreign” website and a “domestic” one. The problem is in how they’re planning to determine that: the top-level domain. Any site that ends in .com, .net, .org, .us or countless others are considered “domestic”, while country specific URLs ending in things like .jp, .it, .ly, and .co.uk are “foreign”. Anyone see a problem right away here? How many websites use .com? Umm…most of them? Immediately, a problem arises with one of the websites most often in the crosshairs of the companies lobbying for this bill: thepiratebay.org. The Pirate Bay is not a United States website. It’s not hosted in the US, it’s not run by anybody in the US, it’s not maintained by anybody in the US. It was, however, registered in the US. Domestic website! Even though The Pirate Bay has absolutely zilch to do with the United States, the United States now somehow has authority over it.
This works the other way around, too. You know those trendy link shorteners that everyone uses these days? Where do you think the “.it” in “http://redd.it” comes from? Italy. Does that mean that offending links filtered through Reddit’s proprietary link shortening services are exempt from censorship? With something like the Internet, the concept of the “global neighborhood” isn’t just a possibility, it’s a reality. What’s going to stop “foreign” websites created specifically to circumvent SOPA/PIPA start popping up? It’s the same concept as prohibition. You can outlaw booze, but that’s not going to stop anybody from drinking alcohol. It’s just going to make it that much more difficult to obtain, and force otherwise good people to start dealing with shady folks to get what they want.
I’m in no way advocating piracy (although I’d be lying if I said I’ve never owned a pirated piece of material, much like 99% of other people), rather pointing out that this isn’t going to stop piracy at all. The laws are written with people who have openly admitted that they don’t have an even working understanding of how the Internet works. Why are these people attempting to police it, then? It’s like Perez Hilton judging a wet t-shirt contest or something. Do they even know what they’re looking for?
3. The End of Collaboration
“Web 2.0” is a ridiculous buzzword that’s been thrown around since about 2000, but it basically boils down to the concept of a collaborative Internet. The power of something “going viral” on the Internet is completely unrivaled by anything else in the history of the world. The way information spreads now compared to even twenty years ago is akin to comparing the invention of the printing press and etching commandments on stone tablets: it’s really incomparable. Currently, we have a bill signed by Bill Clinton called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It allows companies to request copyrighted material be pulled from the servers they’re on. You see this all the time on YouTube; you excitedly click a link promising a video of the new “dub-step” or whatever it is you kids listen to nowadays, only to see a message that the video has been removed on a copyright claim. That’s fine, and that’s fair. YouTube happily complies and no one gets hurt.
Under SOPA, however, this changes dramatically. Not only does the offending material get taken down, but YouTube, not the YouTube user, is held directly responsible. This is a simple but earth-shattering change, essentially causing sites like YouTube and Facebook to police its users content, constantly checking and censoring offending material in order to save their own asses. This suffocates innovation by requiring huge preventative measures of websites. And again, this isn’t actually stopping the piracy, just cutting off linkage to it.
SOPA includes an “anti-circumvention” provision that essentially makes it as bad to show people how to work around its laws as it is to directly break the law. If you send a tweet linking to a violating website, Twitter is legally obligated to remove it immediately, lest Twitter as a whole get completely shut down. Again, with no due process whatsoever. How many people use Twitter daily? That’s a lot of self-policing.
2. Dick-lomatic Immunity
Well what about ISPs then? Surely Comcast, Verizon, etc. are shaking in their boots at the mere thought of having to police every one of their millions of customers? No, of course not. In fact, under SOPA, provisions are in place to protect ISPs essentially so long as they do the government’s bidding. The Electronic Frontier Foundation considers this the “vigilante provision”:
Another dangerous provision in PIPA and SOPA that hasn’t received a lot of attention is the “vigilante” provision, which would grant broad immunity to all service providers if they overblock innocent users or block sites voluntarily with no judicial oversight at all. The standard for immunity is incredibly low and the potential for abuse is off the charts. Intermediaries only need to act “in good faith” and base their decision “on credible evidence” to receive immunity.
This creates a huge imbalance of power, and an even huger perversion of the Constitution. That whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing? F--k that. Think about this provision for a second. While everything is supposed to of course be under the guise of “good faith”, it essentially gives institutions such as the MPAA and RIAA the ability to create a literal blacklist of sites they find in violation—and keep in mind that there’s absolutely no judicial oversight here—and ISPs will actually be encouraged to comply to avoid court and any legal issues themselves. The DMCA that I talked about earlier is already abused ad infinitum, and SOPA proposes we give those offenders more power?
Under SOPA, Tim Allen could financially suffocate both AiPT and YouTube for this video. All to support his ungainly, crippling cocaine addiction.
It’s scary to think about. This isn’t just a plea from an Internet nerd to save his LOLcats. It’s a plea for the preservation of some of our very basic human freedoms given to the people, not to money-hungry corporations who essentially control the government through their unlimited lobbying.
And possibly the most important of all..
1. Won’t Somebody Think of the LOLcats?!
TL;DR: SOPA Sucks. And if anything in this article is factually incorrect, well, Wikipedia’s down today. What do you expect me to do? Actually know things?