January 18, 2012
SOPA and PIPA are two pieces of proposed legislation designed to "stop" Internet piracy… in the most hamfisted way imaginable. As Mitchell Baker explains:
Assume there's a corner store in your neighborhood that rents movies. But the movie industry believes that some or even all of the videos in that store are unauthorized copies, so that they're not being paid when people watch their movies. What should be done?
SOPA/PIPA do not aim at the people trying to get to the store, or even the store itself. The solution under the proposed bills is to make it as difficult as possible to find or interact with the store:
- Maps showing the location of the store must be changed to hide it.
- The road to the store must be blocked off so that it is difficult to physically get to there.
- Directory services must delist the store’s phone number and address.
- Credit card companies would have to cease providing services to the store.
- Local newspapers would no longer be allowed to place ads for the video store.
- To make sure it all happens, any person or organization who doesn’t do this is subject to penalties. Even publishing a newsletter that tells people where the store is would be prohibited by this legislation.
Just substitute "corner store" with "website" and I think you can see where this is going. These bills are so rife with potential for abuse and misuse, so clearly dangerous to the very fabric of the Internet, that frankly I have a hard time getting worked up about them. The Internet is under constant siege by large companies, and will be for the forseeable future. This is nothing new. These bills will be defeated, because they must be.
Instead, I'm scratching my head and wondering how such boneheaded bills made it this far in Congress. I can think of a few reasons:
- Average people don't understand how the Internet works and thus can't comprehend the danger.
- Nobody pays attention to what our government does until it hits them in the pocketbook (or below the belt).
- These bills were pushed through by highly paid lobbyists for the entertainment industry.
I often bemoan the state of Slacktivism on the internet, where changing your Facebook or Twitter picture is considered a valid and effective form of protest. But this time, I am happy to say, was indeed different.
Perhaps because of the obvious danger of these bills, geek websites and communities banded together weeks ago to protect themselves and the greater Internet. Like many other technical communities, we wrote about it on our blog, talked about it on our podcast, and even put up a little banner on Stack Overflow for a day. Users were encouraged to call, fax, and write their representatives in Congress and express their concerns. And they did, in droves! But outside of our technical geek ghettos, there was precious little mainstream coverage of this dangerous legislation.
That is, until major sites like Wikipedia, Google, and Craigslist joined the bandwagon today. Most notably, Wikipedia actually went dark for all of today, January 18th, rendering all of English language Wikipedia inaccessible. That turned the tide, and transformed SOPA/PIPA into something that average people would actually talk about and care about. There's no better way to raise awareness of the danger these bills pose than blacklisting one of the greatest resources the Internet has ever produced.
While SOPA/PIPA are still alive -- barely -- for now, I think it's safe to say that they are well on their way to defeat. I'm glad to be a part of that, however tiny, but I cannot in good conscience celebrate.
Yes, we likely succeeded in defeating these two specific bills and galvanizing the political will of major Internet communities, including our very own Stack Exchange. These are good and noble and just and necessary things. They are things to be proud of. But instead of celebrating, let's take this time to reflect and ask ourselves a deeper question: how is it that these dangerous bills came to exist in the first place?
First, and again, this is a critical battle to wage and win. SOPA is just the latest, but in many ways, the most absurd campaign in the endless saga of America’s copyright wars. It will be yet another failed attempt in a failed war, and I obviously believe it should be opposed.
But second, and as you describe, this isn’t my war anymore. Not because my heart isn’t in it, but because I don’t believe we will win that war (or better, win the peace and move on) — even if we can win battles like this one — until the more basic corruption that is our government gets addressed. That’s the fight I have spent the last 4 years working on. That’s where I’ll be for at least the next 6.
For this is what I know: We will never (as in not ever) win the war you care about until we win the war against this corruption of our Republic.
Of course, as my book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It, describes, this is an insanely difficult, possibly impossible, fight. But whether difficult or not, it is the fight that must be waged.
We have done much. But in our celebratory enthusiasm, please take a moment to hear out Mr. Lessig, and appreciate just how far we have yet to go.
So yes, join us in fighting the obvious insanity of legislation like SOPA and PIPA that threaten the open, unfettered Internet. But please, please also join us in attacking the far more pernicious problem of lobbyist money subtly corrupting our government. If we don't deal with that, we will never stop fighting bills like SOPA and PIPA.
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Posted by Jeff Atwood
Nothing drives home the loss of Wikipedia like clicking on slacktivism and remembering, "Oh right, the sum total of human knowledge has the day off today."
It's not just big businesses like media companies that care about this. It's the people in power that want to hang on to it. The problem is that big money and big government *want* the Internet reigned in and be controlled. It's key to controlling the masses.
Attempts to get this sort of bill passed will keep coming up until at one time it'll go through due to a 'national emergency' (remember the Patriot Act) or other manufactured threat.
But the problem is that the lobbying money is there for a reason. If spending a million dollars on buying off Congressmen - sorry, I mean, campaign contributions - can make you a billion dollars, you'd be insane not to do it. The Congressmen, of course, want to be bought off, and have zero moral incentive not to be bought off. (If you think that people go into politics because of their angelic nature, I suggest remedial psychology classes.)
So the only real way to get the money to stop coming into politics is to stop the money going out the back end. If the government didn't have an essentially unlimited amount of money to spend, and an essentially unlimited power to spend it, then there wouldn't be nearly the lobbying there is now, because it wouldn't pay off. (Would you spend a million dollars to make back less than that?) That's essentially what happened before the expansion of government starting in about 1913 or so: there was little reason to lobby because government could have little effect on economic outcomes.
So if you want to remove the lobbying, you have to reduce the power of government. And frankly, most of the people most concerned about the lobbying are least concerned about how powerful government is.
How such boneheaded bills make it this far in Congress Reason 4: It's an excuse to extend governmental powers over the general population, online piracy is a mere excuse.
I'm pretty confident that I'm not the only one that sees an ulterior motive in most "security", "anti-terrorism" or "think of the children" legislation.
Yes, it's basically a conspiracy theory, but it's not without historical precedent.
"But please, please also join us in attacking the far more pernicious problem of lobbyist money subtly corrupting our government."
While I'm not a fan of "corruption", I don't see how this can be done without limiting the money that any individual can contribute to the political process. So much political speech has been limited in the name of "fighting corruption", just as internet speech could potentially be limited in the name of "fighting piracy".
I hate SOPA/PIPA too, but many of those protesting it have no issues with the limit of political speech. Concerning internet censorship, many people have (rightly) appealed to higher ideals of free speech. Maybe because it would affect their internet experience. They don't do so when it could influence a political outcome in a way they do not like.
We do not have a problem with "lobbyist money subtly corrupting our government". There's nothing subtle about it.
As badly designed as this bill is, to the fact that even with all the stuff they proposed, it just won't work, and piracy would still be rampant, I don't hear anybody suggesting any alternative solutions to stopping Americans from accessing copyright infringing sites which are located off of American soil.
Sure you could go after individual users of the site, but that would be way too troublesome. It would be like going after the casual drug users while completely ignoring the huge drug cartels. The cartel could always find more customers. They could try to work it out with whichever country the site is located in, to get the site shut down, but many of the countries that host these sites couldn't care less about the pirate web sites.
If the bill was exactly the same, except that "copyright infringement" was replaced with "human trafficking", most people wouldn't be against it. And sure, copyright infringement isn't as serious as human trafficking, but they are both illegal. And I'm sure we all wouldn't want PayPal et al providing payment services to human trafficking sites, and we wouldn't want Google paying AdWords revenue to human trafficking sites, and many people would probably go so far as to say that the DNS for human trafficking sites shouldn't even resolve.
So, badly written law, really shouldn't be passed, because yeah, the way it's written, sites like StackOverflow could get taken down for a very small copyright infraction*(see rant below). However, nobody seems to be coming up with any other solutions either.
*Not that I personally believe it would happen, takedown requires a court order, and the judge would take one look at the site, and know that it isn't a pirate haven. The content in question would probably be taken down before the judge had a chance to even look at the site. A judge would have to be completely out of his mind to block a legitimate site in this matter.
In response to @Sadastronaut, some countries do limit political contributions. Canada has very strict rules about campaign contributions. Basically no corporate, union, or non-incorporated association may donate any money. Zero, Zilch, Nada. Also, Individuals may only donate $1200 in any one calendar year. Sure there's probably people who ignore the law, or find creative ways around it, but it's there.
Don't assume SOPA and PIPA are done for yet. Only a few senators have switched sites. PIPA will be discussed on January 24th, and SOPA on February. Until both bills are killed once and for all we cannot celebrate.
I don't think "average people" really get what's going on with Wikipedia. Half my Facebook stream today was basically “oh no, they've shut down Wikipedia :(”. Luckily, the other half was “hey, I can bypass that SOPA screen on Wikipedia”.
SOPA and PIPA are two pieces of proposed legislation designed to "stop" Internet piracy.
Perhaps this legislation was "intended" to stop Internet piracy, but hardly designed to.
Kibbee has a point; the fact is that Copyright means its holder has an exclusive right to make any copies of a work, with a few exceptions.
Of course, the only way to enforce these laws is with draconian methods, even harsher and more intrusive than SOPA.
Which means that supporting Copyright but not the laws required to enforce it is an hypocrisy, no less than voting for high governmental spending and low taxes.
From there, one has two honest alternatives. One of them is supporting SOPA and its ilk.
The other, is to drop the facade and defend the elimination of copyright.
The influence of lobbyists is only a symptom, not the cause of the disease.
In a populist democracy with a mixed economy, every group that participates in the political system is a “special interest”, with the incentive and the power to use the political system to extract benefits for its members at the at the expense of everyone else. Corporations, unions, disease-awareness organizations, “minority” groups, and anyone who organizes around a common cause has the power believes that their fate or cause is more legitimate, important, and “special” than that of everyone else.
The welfare and regulatory systems are the primary means to coercively redistribute property and confer monopoly benefits to various groups. In a mixed economy, everyone is constantly on the defensive against organized groups extracting benefits from him, and on the offensive attempting to use the coercive power of the state to extract benefits from others. Interventionism creates a vicious cycle hardly unique to corporations: first a lobby tries to extract special privileges from some politically neutral group, the group hires lobbyists to defend itself, and ends up using the influence it has gained to extract privileges at the expense of another neutral group, which must defend itself in turn.
The existence of “special interests” is just a symptom of the disease: the growth of government power to a degree that allows those in power to violate our rights and steal our property for the benefits of their constituents. Populist “maverick” politicians who claim that they will “fight special interests” and “change the culture in Washington” are just attempting to subvert the power of the state to favor their particular constituency. Campaign finance regulations are just monopoly privileges created by the political élite to hide corruption from the public and make it more difficult for those without political connections and money to get elected and in order to defend themselves or join in the looting.
The only solution to the problems caused by interventionism is to end interventionism – to separate government and economy. Take away the power of the government, and you will remove both the incentive and the power of the “special interests.” As long as governments try to control people and businesses with laws that go beyond the protection of property rights, the “special interests” will have the incentive to control governments.
This is an attempt to use the strong arm of the State to support a broken and outdated business model. This legislation was purchased by vested interests to maintain those interests. It has been building for a long, long time and will not stop here; win or lose.
Positions of influence are also part of the money trail but much harder to track as they are far less explicit, if equally obvious.
Former Senator Chris Dodd is now the head of the MPAA and has the gall to call today's blackout "an abuse of power."
SOPA has received far more attention, but it's evil twin is equally as egregious.
The author and sponsor of PIPA Sen. Leahy of VT takes 50 cents for every Vermonter from the Movie/Music/TV industries in 2010.
Rupert Murdoch's Twitter Tantrum of 2012 is understandable. I get angry when I pay for things and they don't get delivered, too.
It is a combination of direct money and indirect. Influence within and outside of "the Belt."
It really is time for corruption in government to be treated as treasonous.
Banning lobbyists isn't the real solution either. If you have a strong opinion on some matter or another, there is nothing in the world which prevents you from grouping with other like minded individuals and pooling your resources to lobby Congress or giving to lobbyist organizations dedicated to that advocating that position.
This bill will just be put in again without as much coverage later when the fan fare dies down. A bit cynical but that seems to be the way government works. They don't really care. But I'm glad you guys put up a fight.
The main problem that causes this is the people let government use aggression as a means to an end. It is not until we believe that love is the ultimate answer that we will truly be able to overcome these attacks on our freedoms, truly, it is the enemy within that will be our downfall and that enemy is ourselves individually.
I have some sympathy with Kibbee's comments. Just ignoring the copyright problem outright is very trendy, but it's not just going to go away.
This guy on The Register (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/01/17/beyond_sopa/) has some interesting points.
XKCD manages to make a decent living without worrying about people copying his stuff, but I'm not sure that approach could work for all content creators.
So, as Jeff says, they'll be back.
When I have travelled to the US I find the openness of corruption in everyday life shocking.
I stay at a hotel and ask for a taxi. As I get into the car the driver is busy passing cash to the doorman as payment for selecting his company. Paying a bribe so that the next taxi request will also go to their company. Why should your politics, which relies so heavily on corporate "donations" be any different.
Could not have stated it better myself. Thanks.
Consider Heroic's point.
What you hint at wanting in your book "Republic Lost" is that YOUR idea of democratic government (by legal per-person limits on campaign donations) would somehow be better than the current. Somehow, the information problem that precludes wise government would be overcome (Hayek - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Hayek#Spontaneous_order).
As Heroic also states,
SOPA/PIPA are endemic to any government that views itself as the "controller" or "captain" or "manager" of society. That is, government with power for ANYTHING is a government with the power to do crappy things.
While your specific calls for campaign finance reform are more practical than my very general rebuke, I still ask you:
Given a government with ample power to write so many laws, taxations, etc. how do you plan to simultaneously dampen all people's willingness to influence that power to their own ends?
...oh, and vote for Ron Paul!
@Ben Simkins: that link is dead
(must be SOPA)
rendering all of English language Wikipedia inaccessible
It wasn't inaccessible, everything was there, just like any other day, with a simple overlay and hidden content. Everything could be restored to normal within 15 seconds of opening the page. I guess that was intentional, they didn't black out totally. Good thing "average" people didn't know how to see the "real" content, cause it defeats the purpose.
Corruption is in Europe as well. My favorite one are Software Patents being discussed and passed at European Commission for Fisheries (3 times). At least there is European Parliament which stops most of this nonsense.
You are clearly right. The effort should not stop here but I feel I have to quote one of your former congressmen.
"These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world... and then we fucked up the endgame." - Charles N. Wilson.
I'm afraid that the same thing is going to happen again. And again.
I think Cory Doctorow explains this situation quite well. It's because politicians don't know how to tackle the issues of technology like they do with other problems. I agree lobbying is a huge problem and I don't think we'll actually win any "war". What I do think will happen is there will be some slippery slope in that something similar but not as radical as SOPA/PIPA pass which leads to other bills to fix the issues with the previous. It won't be until the congressmen or the average joe can't go to wikipedia to do a quick query or youtube to pass some time on lunch break because the sites are sued out of existence that someone it will really become an "issue".
"But please, please also join us in attacking the far more pernicious problem of lobbyist money subtly corrupting our government."
If you think fighting lobbyists is the answer, then you probably also think cough medicine is good for tuberculosis.
Lobbyists are a symptom of the problem. The real problem is the centralization of power far beyond anything imagined by those who founded our government. The whole point behind the separation of powers and the checks and balances placed on our federal government is to prevent exactly what is happening today.
You can't pass enough anti-lobbying laws to fix this. We need to fight against the notion that every problem needs to be addressed by an all powerful government. Face facts--politicians are too stupid and too easily corrupted to be trusted with anything important.
You have your cause and effect backwards.
Money flows into politics because that's where the power is. Expanding government power always brings in the desire for more influence. Further expanding the power of government to regulate political speech and campaign money will only further increase corruption.
The same people howling most about SOPA/PIPA are the people who want the government to come in an enforce regulations over "net neutrality". They want to expand the power of government to run the Internet, yet start crying when the government comes in to start to run the Internet.
For the record, I'm against SOPA/PIPA AND enforcement of net neutrality regulations.
Great article. Yes, stopping SOPA isn't really the problem when you look at the big picture. The bill will just be altered and passed when the media isn't looking, secretly tucked into some other bill at the last moment, or something like that.
The only way to stop the corruption in government is to stop voting, or, write in a candidate, anyone besides a republican or democrat. If no one went to the polls on election day, or no one voted for a democrat or republican, it would be a huge victory for the people. But, we all know that it will never happen.
People are too caught up in the soap opera that is politics without even realizing they are being completely duped. Left/right, democrat/republican, doesn't matter. Both sides are owned by the same corporations/lobbyists, etc. They only differ on the surface, look deep down and they are two arms of the same beast, with the same agenda. On the surface, they take a different path, but both paths lead to the same outcome.
That is why nothing ever changes, regardless of who is in power, and why only those two parties are even given the chance of winning. It's all a game, and the only way to stop it is to stop playing.
It really bugs me when people talk as if fixing "lobbyist money" will make it All Better.
There is no incorruptible interest. Even if campaign finance reform fixes today's problems, you'd then have to keep an eye out for tomorrow's.
Vigilance is the price of liberty. You're going to have to read politics and history and economics and current news to properly watch your government. Government will never "just work". Any claim to the contrary is just someone's rhetorical device.
This is not a fight for/against human liberty, it is a fight for/against the freedom of objects becoming, well, what they want to. The fight against the concept of universal computation, will be lost. That is not the point. The point is, how much suffering and cruelty can or can not be avoided, in the process of defeating stupidity.
Thank you for this post and for posting the Lessig video.
How did these dangerous bills come to exist in the first place? There's a dark secret that Wikipedia, Google, and TED aren't telling you. WE are responsible for SOPA. When WE torrent a movie because "information wants to be free" or "Hollywood is a bunch of fat cats" we are breaking a social contract. When we hand our family member a DVD full of free books for the new Kindle they got for Christmas, we are putting a nail in the coffin of the free internet. Want to stop SOPA? Respect the rights of artists to distribute their works as they see fit.
I'm no fan of SOPA/PIPA. It's draconian. And I'm even less of a fan of Son of SOPA or whatever may come next. And there's only one way to stop it. Show respect. Otherwise, we're going to get exactly what we deserve.
"Average people don't understand how the Internet works and thus can't comprehend the danger."
Spot on, but a little inaccurate. These are dumber than average people when it comes to the Internet, we are talking about lawmakers and congressman.
"If no one went to the polls on election day, or no one voted for a democrat or republican, it would be a huge victory for the people"
ok suppose for a moment there were 100 people in america (because this is a mater of ratios not bulk numbers a simplification is apt)
suppose 60% of them didnt vote the number of voters drops to 40 people. of those 40 people 16 vote democrat, 24 vote republican. the republican candidate and the democratic candidate both want to do terrible things to the internet.
now those 60% who abstained from voting did so because they didnt like either politician's stance on the internet.
the result is a candidate who wants to do terrible things to the internet is elected, the 60% abstaining didnt do anything useful.
now strictly speaking the 60% wouldnt do much useful for voting for one of them either, the solution is this one:
"write in a candidate"
but i would go further, dont just write in any candidate, find one that matches your views that you can get behind, and if you dont find that person run yourself. you will never get the approval of the mainstream media but that's the great thing about the internet...we dont need it.
or find someone you can get behind and convince him to run and support him.
the political system isnt blocked out to us lesser beings, we can run, we can win. the outpouring of sopa opposition has shown that WE are still in control that WE when we raise our voices together can still effect change.
and i dont just mean president, there is too much focus in people's minds on the president but he is just a figure head, i mean all levels of government: mayor, governor, local state senator, congressional representative, national senator (each state has a congress with a senate and the nation has a senate comprised of 2 senators per state), school board member.
the cost of liberty is eternal vigilance, people have to pay attention to what the government is doing, they need to get involved in the government. they need to vote for people who are on their side no mater what the political party, they need to run for offices and attend meetings. because no mater what the zeitgeist might be today we have seen many times that the voice of the people still elicits fear in the politicians (such as nixon having john Lennon deported so he wouldnt rally the hippies to vote against him, the recent upheavals in tunsia, egypt, and throughout the middle east, and the opposition to this bill) as well it should, they should always know that they are in office to represent US, that it is WE who elect THEM and that this is still a republic by the people, for the people, and answerable TO the people.
thats how you prevent corruption in the government, if you do not get involved you make the government your parents and have no right to complain when they treat you like children.
Love your blog posts: always rich with ideas, references and overall a great read.
I like this article, as I'm with you on the danger of these bills, and that we need to address the underlying causes. Will read Lessig's book... however I'm a bit surprised that you mention Slacktivsim here. Yeah, you mentioned this was a good case, though isn't every effort a good one? How can we say 'just' posting a link, or changing our status message is futile, irrelevant, or not good enough?
I say this simply as I found out about these issues from a friend who's been repeatedly mentioning the words SOPA and PIPA online, and finally thought, jesus what's this all about. Reading that link was what seeded my interest, and eventually I participated in a rally in NYC.
Sure these are not sustained, all-in acts of devotion, and public consciousness in general is fickle - but they have worth, particularly if the numbers are amplified - and that's where social networks have power. Further, it's hard to trace cause and effects, and how can we know or measure the effects of seemingly tiny actions like a well-crafted status message?
This has already been happening for years. If you are selling beef, lamb or rice to Iran, you are aiding terrorist. You will be prosecuted. If you are not in US, you cannot enter US markets, or become US overseas suppliers. Any international finance organization like banks can not do business with you, otherwise, they will be fined by US government.
SOPA and PIPA and alike simply followed the same logic or US convention.