SOPA: Stupid Online Persecution Act
Before I go into this, I'd like to point out the irony. All yesterday, whilst my homepage was down in protest of SOPA, the nature of my website called for Google AdSense to display an advert for a blatant music and video piracy service. That's just Google for you.
Now, for those who are unaware, the Stop Online Piracy Act (abbreviated, SOPA) is a bill going through the United States Congress whose name makes it sound like its primary function is to end the online proliferation of piracy of music, films, videogames, and any other copyrighted material (like photos, novels, illustrations, and artwork). At face value, this is a good idea. However, if one examines the wording of the bill (which some other people who are much more well-versed in politics than I am have looked into extensively at this point), one would find that it is phrased vaguely enough to ultimately permit the censorship of American websites. The slogan which people like myself have adopted is, "Don't Censor the Web". Some people have posited that the United States' internet presence will decrease exponentially if the bill is passed. Others liken a post-SOPA America to China, Iran, or some other country who prefers to control their online image.
"Well, isn't this a bit dramatised?" Not at all. The fundamental nature of SOPA's inner workings is that someone has but to make a complaint about a website to the authorities and that website will be shut down and its webmaster will be fined. To that effect, websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Flickr, Photobucket, Webshots, and possibly thousands of others would either be scared into self-policing user content or would shut down of their own volition to avoid a potential fine.
It's interesting, this. In music, we use the term "fine" (pron. "FI-ney") to denote the end of a song, because in Italian it translates to "the end". However, in one of its several English definitions, to "fine" is to charge money for an infraction of a rule or a law.
Under SOPA, the fear of fines will be fine of the Internet. Yes, I know, it's a bad joke. SOPA is also a bad joke.
But, I'm a composer, so this can't possibly affect me, right? An anomalous experience I had with Pangaea is a good example of how it CAN and WILL happen to me.
A few months ago, either a computer algorithm or a fellow composer who also composed a song called Pangaea called out my song on YouTube. I was notified by the website that the copyright status of my song was in dispute and if I could correct the problem. Under SOPA, I would not have been notified until YouTube had already deleted the video and blocked my IP address. Despite the fact that, to the best of my certain knowledge, my Pangaea is 100% original and entirely of my own composition, I would have been disallowed from posting any new material to YouTube because of what was, quite probably, a computer glitch. I would have needed to spend thousands of dollars in attorney fees just to get my privileges back. I don't have thousands of dollars. I only have a couple of hundred. Does the term, "starving artist", mean anything to the government? Doubtful. They'd just say I should get a "real job" and quit spending the taxpayers' money.
In this way, I and thousands of other small business owners would be unable to do business online. Say, for example, someone creates an Amazon.com account to sell some stuff. Say he was a clerk at a record store in the early 1980s and was allowed to take home fifty unsold copies of Devo's New Traditionalists when the store ended business. He's had them stored away in the attic, still shrinkwrapped and in playable condition for all these years and now he wants to sell them as collectibles. A snitchy type brings this to the attention of Warner Music Group who still holds the rights to the album. When the seller refuses WMG's demand for its "deserved" 75% share of the profits from the unsold records, they call him out on infringement. Under SOPA, Amazon would be required to terminate his account and block his IP address.
Another thing which is worrysome is that the bill does not clearly define "copyright infringement". In fact, by some interpretations, it allows anyone with an issue about a small thing to claim infringement of intellectual property when, in fact, no such infringement is taking place. Say I call President George W. Bush a retarded cowboy whose dyslexia made him declare war on the wrong country and had to pay for his mistake by mooching billions of dollars from American taxpayers, sending the nation into a certain death spiral. Someone else, perhaps Mr. "Mission Accomplished" himself, could take offence at that and call me out on intellectual property infringement. Under SOPA, that kind of thing would be all that is needed for my website to be taken down. No investigation would take place to see if the claim was legitimate... strike that. No investigation could take place because of SOPA's inherent unenforceability. Who's going to get paid to follow up on all of these claims? No one. It's a waste of money and Congress knows it. A conspiracy theorist would claim that Congress just wants an excuse to turn America into a police state.
Of course, as a fellow blogger put it, "You know how American politics work. There's a secret meeting in the men's room, money is exchanged, hands are shaken, and hey-presto! here's a new law to tack onto the constitution."
The point is, despite its good intentions, SOPA will only serve to curtail our most fundamental human liberty: freedom of speech. Even though my homepage is back up, the fight isn't over until the bill is voted down. Contact your local representative and remind them that SOPA isn't just unconstitutional, it's philosophically unsound.
Posted by jsebastianperry
at 00:01 CST
Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2012 19:54 CST