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Roundtable: What Do SOPA and PIPA Mean for the Internet

Aaron Steinfeld

Google's Response to SOPA and PIPAWelcome to today's hot topics: SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). Is anyone REALLY for it? Sure, I can defend aspects of it. I'm sure anyone can. Shouldn't a company who produces music be allowed to regulate how it's used online? Of course... but how much is too much regulation, and when does big brother get too much of a watchful eye? Frankly, the very concept of corporations being able to control what I think and say online thoroughly irritates me, and cynically I know that some disgruntled punk somewhere will make it his life's prerogative to make sure I never quote their lyrics and reference their music. Ugh, I could editorialize, but I'd just be ranting, so yeah, let's move on to the REAL main event here:

Wikipedia and other websites pulled their virtual plugs on Wednesday, January 18th in protest of SOPA and PIPA. Will their collective voices be heard, or are SOPA and PIPA necessary legislations?

Are you still unclear about what SOPA and PIPA are and how they work? Check out our previous educational post on the subject.

Ready, set and read!

"Although I certainly see the danger in piracy online, the web has always been free from over regulation (quite honestly, it’s probably the main reason why it’s grown at all).  As it relates to SOPA and PIPA, I definitely don’t support any of these provisions as they currently exist—they encourage online censorship, create cyber security risks, and possibly allow for the destruction of start-ups by big corporations/organizations. If things like this get passed, say goodbye to Internet publishing (as it is now), and say hello to tons of allegations of 'infringed content,' a lack of due process and blacklists. If you haven’t gathered, I’m glad to see that this is causing a commotion online. It should. And hopefully it won’t be the last protest." ~Bea (beabroderick)
"Everything in this country is regulated. The FCC regulates radio and TV, the FDA regulates food and drugs, the SEC regulates the markets – everything falls under one government body or another – except the Internet. All of these government entities were the result of legislation that was created to protect the 'greater good.' I believe legislation to regulate the Internet is inevitable, and a new government agency may even be created to enforce it.
However, neither SOPA nor PIPA will be that legislation.
I agree with this statement from Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, from an interview with the Wall Street Journal: '[SOPA] is poorly constructed, quite dangerous and won't actually address the real problem of piracy... Internet policy shouldn't be set by Hollywood. To date, they've only really heard from professional lobbyists and Hollywood, and haven't heard from people about how they use the Internet and why it should remain the way it is.'
This point is critical. I spent the past year closely following the Department of Labor as it tries to update its rule defining who is a fiduciary, which will affect how financial advisers do business. The DoL issued a proposal and set a time frame to collect comments from the public, specifically from industry professionals. The advisory community agreed that the definition created in 1975 needed to be updated (much like tech-executives agree that piracy needs to be stopped), but the consensus was that the DoL’s proposed rule was way off the mark. So the Department withdrew its proposal and is currently revising it. I believe the same process should be implemented here. It is a slow process, but one that is necessary to make sure the legislation solves the problem – not creates a new one.
The argument from SOPA’s sponsor, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex), that Wikipedia’s blackout is nothing more than a 'publicity stunt [doing] a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts,' is unfounded. If Wikipedia and other sites didn’t do something big to get everyone’s attention, these bills could have been passed without anyone knowing about them.
I believe that much more transparency is needed. Look at the bill itself: H.R.3261 -- Stop Online Piracy Act. Who is going to read that? For something that could potentially impact everyone who uses the Internet (so virtually – everyone), this should be easier to digest." ~Nicole (nicole-bliman)
"I’m opposed to SOPA/PIPA for a variety of reasons.
1) It would, in essence, stop the free exchange of information. Information is knowledge and knowledge is power. These bills would take away the ability to access this power and essentially halt progression.
2) It’s virtually impossible to enforce. The Internet is not isolated American phenomenon, therefore how do you enforce this globally? Better yet, how do you enforce it domestically. If someone files a complaint against another person for a violation, where is the case heard? Would you be required to fly across the country for a trial? Also, how many cases would impede an already overwhelmed judicial system.
3) The economy. I understand that the entertainment (music, movies, etc.) industry has taken a huge hit with sites like Napster (believe me, I understand all facets of this as I formerly worked with the head of the Recording Industry Association of America who led the case against Napster – and won). However, how does a free market function without competition? Again, going back to progression. Ideas have always been taken and modified to be better. That’s the point.
4) As you can ask any college student or job applicant, the Internet is public domain and anything placed there is public. If you don’t want your ideas to be taken, don’t put them out in the public domain.
5) Where do we draw the line? Do we sanction the WSJ and NYT for quoting a celebrity without permission? It seems a bit too communist to me. How does the US expect to impose restrictions on the internet? I don’t want to say that the US government has a 'Fools rush in where angels fear to tread' mentality, but... if the shoe fits. We absolutely shouldn’t try to regulate an entity (the internet) who’s sole purpose is to provide information and access to information without limitation." ~Chris (dchrisbrown)
"'Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.' (Joseph Heller, Catch 22)It’s become axiomatic in the modern world that a certain degree of paranoia is a sign of a healthy mind. Read some ancient history and you’ll discover there’s actually nothing new about 'healthy' paranoia. I couldn’t help thinking about Joe Heller’s now famous dictum from Catch 22 as I watched events surrounding proposed antipiracy legislation unfold this week in the press and across the web.
The megaliths I call Big Web (Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, et al) earned praise among much of the population for their willingness (along with some 10,000 other websites) to go black this week in protest over two pieces of legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act. Both pieces of legislation, with little difference between them, were designed to stop foreign-based websites that sell pirated movies, music and other products from doing so. The bills would allow the Justice Department to seek a court order requiring US search engines to scrub the sites from their results, among other measures.
Watching all these industry players converge on an act of grass-roots cultural disobedience was impressive, even stirring. Trying to Google some research for this blog on Wikipedia only to helplessly watch the results page vanish into a dark splash of ominous warnings about censorship was like watching someone drive their brand new car right through the garage door. Jarring and funny and weird all at once. What sticks with me is the confusion. Here’s my take on Big Web’s response to the legislation:
  • It’s censorship. News alert: The federal government already has the power required to shut down a US-based website that is serving up pirated content. They just can’t directly do the same to foreign sites such as Pirate Bay.
  • It flouts due process. Regard for due process is why the proposed bills require DOJ to seek a court order before they can proceed with anything.
  • It will dangerously compromise security. This arose because the legislation as written would employ something called DNS blocking when an offending site comes up. DNS blocking is also a prime avenue for hackers to deceive Internet users and do bad things. This objection was already moot when Big Web went to black. Both the White House and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee have said DNS blocking is off the table; the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman has gone on the record saying they will not implement DNS blocking without careful study of these concerns. Consider it dead there as well.
  • It will encourage authoritarian countries to become even more oppressive in dealing with Net content they don’t like. So, in other words, China, North Korea and other bad actors are just waiting for the US to encourage them before they double down on censorship? If that’s what you think, I’ve got very upsetting news for you about Santa Claus.
The facts as I see them are:
  • We love getting stuff for free. I know I do. Especially cool movies and music and stuff that otherwise, well, costs money.
  • Making things free in a free-market economy that is based on capitalism puts me in mind of John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty, a classic treatise on freedom of speech and the government’s rights to intervene in the life of its citizens. To paraphrase Mill, who doubtless would have been enthralled by the Web, my right to free stuff on the Web stops at that point where it impairs another’s right to earn a living.
If you’re paranoid, you’re in a bad state. If you’re paranoid and being followed, you’ve got serious problems. If you’re paranoid, and being followed, and society consistently undermines your ability to make an honest living, you need to get that fixed." ~Brian (brianhickey)

My peers above raised many great points. What do you think? CJP

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