Wednesday, December 28, 2011

SOPA, Censorship, the Twits in Washington, and a Ranting Lemming

Will you sleep more soundly tonight, knowing that the American Congress is protecting you from big, bad pirates? And those dastardly delinquents who wantonly post photos of kittens online?

The Lemming won't.

Beware: Congress is in Session

"No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session."
(Gideon J. Tucker in Final Accounting in the Estate of A. B. (1866))

Particularly with a presidential election coming up in 2012, quite a few incumbents are wondering if this is the year when their constituents get fed up: or whether their party will hang onto whatever they grabbed in the last election.

With everyone from the top chair-warmers to the least-senior member of the House hellbent on either getting their own butts replanted in Congress, or helping their party reelect someone else - there's likely to be some weird legislation proposed, to show how hard the folks in Congress are working.

Like SOPA. The Stop Online Piracy Act. Beloved by record labels, movie studios and TV networks.

SOPA, Censorship, and Congress

It's not that the Lemming doesn't like Congress. For what it's worth, the Lemming is fairly confident that quite a few members of Congress stay sober for days at a time, and really believe that they're doing something constructive with other people's money.

SOPA is (probably) intended to protect the intellectual property rights of MGM, Warner Music Group, and CBS.

So far, that's not a problem for the Lemming. Who knows? Content providers at the other end of the influence spectrum might benefit: at least as a side effect.

Copyright, and other intellectual property rights, are important to the Lemming. But so is freedom of speech.

Let's look at what our betters in Washington are up to:

From Talkies to File Sharing Sites

Back in the 'Good Old Days,' someone wanting to see a motion picture had to go to a theater and pay for a ticket. The theater owner, distribution company, and movie studio brass all got a piece of the action. Truck drivers, concession clerks, and yes-men got a few cents on the dollar, too, in their paychecks. Then big, bad television came along.

As movie moguls adjusted to broadcast television: cable came along, and once again 'civilization was threatened' by something new. Somehow, we survived.

Then the Internet descended on entrenched corporate bigwigs.

Information Age technology and social structures have made it possible for folks to share enormous amounts of information: quickly; efficiently; inexpensively; and without the permission of America's traditional information gatekeepers. (See "What is an Information Gatekeeper?," Another War-on-Terror Blog (August 14, 2009))

The Lemming likes the Information Age: particularly since the Lemming isn't quite on the same page, ideologically or otherwise, with America's 'better sort.' And that's almost another topic.

Protecting Hollywood From Movie Lovers

The dark side of Information Age technology is that almost anyone can, with very little specialized equipment or training, copy anything that's 'digitized:'
  • Books
  • Movies
  • Software
  • Photographs
  • Music
  • The inside of a bubble gum wrapper
  • Anything
Some of that information is, or should be, protected by copyright, trademark, or other existing intellectual property rights laws.

As a result, folks who once paid for a ticket to see a movie, or sat through a minute of commercials for every two minutes of programming, can now - legally or not - download pretty much the same movie for next to no cost.

Here's how SOPA is supposed to work, to protect MGM and other copyright holders:
  1. Force ISPs to block access to Domain Name System servers to infringing foreign sites
  2. Force search providers to make such sites that have been flagged as infringing undiscoverable
  3. Force payments processors to shut down the ability for infringing sites to make money
  4. Force Internet advertisers to cease doing business with an infringing site
  5. Prevent its service from providing advertisements to or relating to the foreign infringing site that is subject to the order or a portion of such site specified in the order
    (Source: ReadWriteWeb)
Okay: SOPA will give us a Federal bureaucracy with the power to stamp out file-sharing sites, keep Google from showing us websites that the folks in Washington don't think we should know about, and keep money flowing into a few corporate offices?

Who could possibly find a problem with that?

Protected From the Wicked, Wicked Web?

It's been quite a few years, since the Christian Coalition and the Feminist Majority joined forced to 'save the children' from the wicked, wicked Web. The Lemming isn't making that up, by the way. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (March 9, 2008))

The point of that reminiscence is that, when old-school folks see something new coming: quite a few try to get 'the government' to protect them from folks who have kept up with the times. It's understandable, maybe: but that doesn't make it right.

Intellectual Property Rights, Censorship, and the Lemming

About once a month, the Lemming has a guest post on another blog: but apart from that, what the Lemming posts or publishes is either a sort of micro-review, like most of this blog, or original content with the occasional cited quotation.

The Lemming is a 'content provider,' so intellectual property rights are important to the Lemming. Some effort goes into writing a post, or making a picture: and the Lemming thinks it's reasonable that whoever created the organized information should be rewarded. Or at least acknowledged. That's why the Lemming puts links to wherever the text or pictures in micro-reviews came from.

Then there's the 'I stole it fair and square' school of thought, whose adherents seem peeved when someone objects to publication-without-credit. Or payment.

Maybe the Lemming's old-fashioned after all: but it seems that acknowledging authorship or other creative credit isn't unreasonable.

What seems to be worrying folks about SOPA is censorship.

That's not, the Lemming hopes, what SOPA's supporters want.

But the Lemming remembers the 'good old days' when 'dirty' movies and shows were "banned in Boston." And there were odd views in 'nice' television, about pregnancy, and double beds.

A few decades later, and we had 'thought police' on campus, and legal sanctions against "hate speech."1 All of which isn't censorship: just ask the folks doing the censoring, and they'll re-educate you.

The End of Civilization?

Even if SOPA passes, and America gets 'protected' from photos of kittens and bunny rabbits, and pirated movies: life will go on. The Lemming thinks that, given the value Americans and others put on showing photos of their rabbits, sounding off on Congressional shenanigans, and passing jokes along - after a few more election cycles, and maybe the equivalent of the Army-McCarthy Hearings, a new set of Congressional twits will undo some of the damage.

The Lemming also thinks that we'd all be better off - with the possible exception of a few old-school studios and networks - if SOPA doesn't pass.

A few quotes from news and views, the usual links to related posts, and the Lemming's done.

GoDaddy, Boycott, and SOPA

"Reddit Users to Target Supporters of SOPA in Congress After Successful Boycott of GoDaddy"
Tech, Forbes, (December 28, 2011)

"When revealed that it was a supporter of the internet censorship legislation bills SOPA/PIPA, Reddit users and a few big names in the internet business including Wikipedia decided to boycott the web-hosting company.

"They threatened to pull their domains, stop using GoDaddy, and get their friends and associates to do the same.

"Within a couple days, GoDaddy had reversed its position despite the fact that it had helped write SOPA and was exempt from its rules and regulations. The boycott had been a wild success, forcing the company's hand much quicker than anyone had anticipated...."

Somehow, the GoDaddy connection with SOPA has captured old-school journalists' attention. Understandably, perhaps, considering the GoDaddy's sexy commercials. Imagine! Using attractive women to market something!

The Lemming uses some of GoDaddy's online services: but not because of their commercials. The Lemming went through the usual 'due diligence' process, and found that GoDaddy had a very favorable benefit/risk/cost ratio.

Moving on.

Beware the Foreign Pirates?

"Online piracy a hot issue for Congress in January"
Mike Snider, USA TODAY (December 28, 2011)

"A hot issue awaits Congress when it returns in January: online piracy.

"Both houses have bills to combat copyright infringement of movies, music and other intellectual property on rogue, non-U.S.-based websites.

"Powerful interests are facing off over the proposals: Content creators, led by Hollywood and the music industry, are pushing for the most stringent measures. Opposing them are tech and electronics giants.

"Sixteen tech companies, including Google, PayPal and Twitter, took out newspaper ads this month charging that the bills would 'give the U.S. government the power to censor the Web using techniques similar to those used by China.'..."

Okay, the Lemming acknowledges that USA Today cites some of SOPA's downside. But - "online piracy;" "rogue, non-U.S.-based websites;" "Content creators, led by Hollywood and the music industry;" "tech and electronics giants?"

Sorry, but the last that the Lemming heard, the real "content creators" still don't get paid all that much when a studio condescends to use what they've created. Yes, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have done pretty well. But most screenwriters, musicians, actors, and all the rest of the folks who actually create what the studio's marketing department sells?

Intellectual property rights are important: but so, in the Lemming's opinion, is the notion of rewarding the flunky with the ideas: not just the guy in the corner office.

SOPA: There's More than GoDaddy Going On Here

"On Eve of Net Boycott, Dump GoDaddy Exodus Begins"
Perry Chiaramonte, (December 28, 2011)

"It's a boycott of viral proportions., one of the largest domain registrars on the Internet, stands to potentially lose thousands of customers on Thursday, Dec. 29, after the company gave and then repealed its support for a controversial bill before Congress that many fear could heavily restrict the web.

"On the eve of what has been dubbed 'Dump Go Daddy Day,' -- pronounced "imager," it's one of the largest image hosting sites in the world, responsible for an astonishing 28 terabytes of bandwidth and nearly 200 million page views today alone -- has already changed its registry entries, foreshadowing the potential negative effect of a boycott set to begin Thursday morning.

" originally supported the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) -- which opponents say will hinder free speech and infringe on first amendment rights -- but quickly recanted its position when the call of a boycott circulated.

" 'The outcry kind of forced our hand,' imgur founder and owner Alan Schaaf told 'I'm against the SOPA act and imgur as a company is against it. We just feel it is terrible that would support this legislation.'

"SOPA would make websites responsible for illegal copyright content uploaded by any user, making it difficult if not impossible for companies like Imgur, YouTube, and Facebook to operate...."

Taking a deep breath and counting to 10: the Lemming repeats what was previously reported. GoDaddy originally supported SOPA. Then, as the online equivalent of an angry mob with pitchforks and torches approached the gates, decided to be sensible.

That's one of the things the Lemming likes about the Internet today: even if all three broadcast networks and The New York Times decide that The Masses shouldn't know about something: Americans can still find out.

We're not limited to what a relatively small number of people, mostly in the New England states, think we should know.

With something like SOPA 'protecting' us? Maybe not.

Related posts:
News and views:

1 Laws against slander and libel were already on the books. What "hate speech" regulation did was allow criticism of the dominant culture's beliefs to be defined as 'hateful.' As a marketing ploy, labeling criticism as "hate" was an effective way to mask censorship.


Brigid said...

Missing a period: "Somehow, we survived"

Are there supposed to be two plurals here? "Force payments processors to shut down"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

P.S. Good grief. Again?!

Brian Gill said...


One period added. And, yes: the "payments processors" are processors of the payments variety. Awkward phrase, perhaps: but that's what the post said.

As for 'Good grief. Again?!' - I'm exasperated, but not surprised. Congress has a whole lot of folks who apparently either don't understand technology, or do understand it and don't like it.

I've discussed, elsewhere, how time zones and demographics gave a great deal of power to editors of The New York Times and a few other east coast gentlemen's clubs.

And that's almost another topic.

I can understand Congress wanting to force 'The Masses' out of the Internet: but I don't approve.

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