Three Reasons Why SOPA Must Be Stopped (and why something like it is probably inevitable)

image Tomorrow is the day that a sizable portion of the internet is going black in protest of the egregiously bad, supposedly anti-piracy legislation SOPA. I thought I’d throw my thinking on the subject out there to kick off the much-needed protests.

There are three main reasons why I believe it’s imperative that SOPA, and its Senate equivalent PIPA, be stopped dead in its tracks. Just to be clear, my reasons have nothing to do with so-called piracy. For one thing, as I’ve repeatedly asserted, what’s being defined as piracy by the various media industries is anything but and, secondly, this legislation does absolutely nothing to prevent the real thing. Unless, of course, you consider making the whole of the web totally useless to the vast majority of people a means of fighting piracy. In that case, it’s certain to be wonderfully effective.

Reason 1- SOPA epitomizes the reality that Americans are no longer represented by our government

There is absolutely nothing in SOPA that benefits your average American at all. It is a bill who’s entire purpose is to shelter the media industry at the expense of the whole of the nation. It will cost jobs, it will stifle free speech, it will wipe out competition to legacy monopolies and directly lead to higher costs for just about everything. About the only thing it won’t do is stop piracy. No one outside of disrupted media companies thinks this is a good idea. If this bill were put up for a general referendum vote, it would lose by a landslide of epic proportions. On top of all that, the entirety of the tech industry is virtually unanimous that SOPA will threaten the very fundamental foundations of how the internet functions.

So, with so much destructive possibility and so much united opposition, how is this bill even still alive? One word–graft. Our legislative process is horribly compromised. The one and only reason SOPA exists is because media companies and similar entities have dumped millions upon millions of dollars on representatives’ doorsteps through lobbying and campaign contributions. The will of the people has become almost totally meaningless in the face of this kind of obvious purchasing of government favors. This detatchment between the interests of the people and the legalized bribery of the U.S. Congress is, alone, reason enough to stomp it out.

Reason 2- SOPA provides a framework for media companies to reconstitute their monopolies and eliminate wide swaths of independent competition

One of the worst aspects of SOPA is that is puts the onus for monitoring potentially infringing content on the host sites. This means that sites that use significant user-generated content will have to either pre-scan virtually everything posted there or face severe consequences if so much as a bad link slips through. The cost of this requirement will be prohibitive. But then, I suspect that’s the point. There’s even been several venture capital firms who have come out and said, in no uncertain terms, that if a bill like SOPA becomes law, they will no longer put so much as a dime toward any internet startups. That’s sure to do wonders for our struggling economy.

This imperative will make it significantly more difficult and expensive to operate social networking sites or any sites with independent content from users. It could, conceivably, kill popular services like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia, blogging hosts like WordPress, even self-publishing options at sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble would be at risk. Eliminate or significantly increase the barriers for entry for independent content on the web and guess who benefits? The very media companies lobbying so hard for this bill.

The consequences of being linked to infringing content could be expensive and severe. Worse yet, there’s almost no due process in the proposed system at all, and the entire burden falls on the host to prove innocence after the penalties have already been handed down. Given that some media companies barely admit fair use even exists (at one point, the Associated Press said that quoting as little as four words from one of their articles required a license fee) this is a system that seems almost designed for abuse.

Nothing threatens the future of media companies more than the new-found capacity of independent content creators to market and distribute their work. Eliminate or severely hamper the sites or services they use, and traditional media companies effectively wipe out that threat. SOPA has nothing to do with piracy and everything to do with stifling or outright eliminating competition.

Reason 3- SOPA provides a legal framework and process for goverment to stifle opposition and dissent

The past year has seen several remarkable developments in the capacity of citizens to organize in opposition of their governments. The Arab Spring, protests in Europe and the Occupy movement here are all clear examples. It is significantly more difficult for propoganda to go unchallenged than at anytime in history. If you don’t believe these developments are of the utmost concern to governments around the world, including our own, you’re kidding yourself.

The same provisions of SOPA that benefit media companies by squashing independent content also benefit any government looking to deceive or control its people. This bill would provide effective legal cover for our government to stifle dissent and make it much more difficult for citizens to exercise our Constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech and assembly.

And consider, when the legacy media once again controls the message, how we are informed, or even if we are, comes into question. If you need any proof of the dangers of allowing legacy media to control the conversation solely once again, look no further than their performance on SOPA itself and the equally questionable NDAA act recently signed into law. These are enormously important issues that threaten the fundamental nature of liberty and our nation yet they have both been largely ignored by the mainstream press. And once the media is given that control back thanks to this government regulation, what are the chances that they’ll significantly challenge anything it does in the future? Their very existence would depend on government stifling legitimate competition. Not only would the media industries be corrupting government by buying this legislation, they’d be compromising themselves by becoming dependent for survival on government regulation.

I can’t imagine a worse turn of events. Freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly all hindered dramatically and further cementing in place a system representative of the highest bidder over the best interest of the people.

Any one of these three reasons would be ample justification to kill SOPA and anything like it. Taken together, there can be absolutely no doubt that this effort needs to die a quick and dirty death.

Unfortunately, these very same reasons are why I’m almost certain a version of this will reach the President’s desk at some point, my guess being after the November election. The media companies will continue to throw massive amounts of money at representatives. Their only alternative is to adapt and compete in the current atmosphere, which many of them have already proven unwilling or unable. Their very survival may depend on changing the nature of the game, consequences to the rest of us be damned.

Government will continue to have a double motive. They will suck up all the money they can in lobbying and contributions. And as people get louder and louder in their discontent with the status quo, as is sure to happen, their motivation to stifle organization and dissent will only increase.

No, it will take a massive sea change in our government to prevent something like SOPA from becoming law eventually. Of course, this kind of far-reaching, self-serving and imminently destructive legislation may be the final impetus that spurs that much-needed change. We can only hope.

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Publishing Links of the Day: Journalism was failing before newspapers started to die off

I’m not a big fan of lobbying.  I think it’s pretty much buying influence and votes from our elected representatives.  And here is a rather interesting piece on lobbying that sheds a little bit different light on the matter. More than simply presenting lobbying as a pay for play scheme, this piece suggests that it runs deeper than that, with personal relationships between lobbyists and congressional staffers affecting the actual decision making.  Where this relates to journalism, however, is in the writer’s implications that the media have never delved deeply into the process of lobbying, presenting it as a strictly monetary relationship, quoting numbers but presenting no context.  Essentially, the press has dropped the ball and taken the simplest route.

And here’s another telling tale of the state of the press, constantly pointless polling. What value can their possibly be in something like this?  Yet the press and the government itself use these numbers to justify all sorts of things.  How do the people want you to pay for health care?  Tax the rich!  Absolutely.  Look at the numbers, people were good with the idea so long as everyone but themselves got stuck with a higher bill.  Sure, tax the rich, tax the drug companies, tax the insurance companies, tax the corporations, just so long as it’s not me.  Did they expect anything else when they asked the question?  The sad part is that health care reform supporters will be shouting these results from the halls of congress; “Look, see, the people want us to soak the rich to pay for this!”  What possible value can there be in out-of context questions of a random sampling of people who may or may not know anything at all about the specifics of the debate?  This kind of stuff is lazy and destructive.

It’s a popular trend today for those who are trying to “save” newspapers by spouting off about watchdog journalism and bemoaning the loss of actual invesitigative work that holds people in power responsible for their actions.  Without newspapers, we’re told, this essential service to democracy will wither and die, leaving us all the worse for it.  Well, excuse me if I find these arguements somewhat disingenuous and self-serving.  Newspapaers on the whole, have largely abdicated this role a long time ago, as profit margins based on advertising grew to garagntuan proportions.  In this day and age, very rarely do we see serious, legitimate investigative reporting, unless of course, we’re trying to sniff out the balloon boy hoax, or whether Brad Pitt has changed from boxers to briefs.

Accountability journalism of people in real power is all but dead in most quarters of the press, sadly, at a time when we need it most.  The death of newspapers will have no impact on this one way or the other.  They started to kill it off long ago, in favor of polling and easy-does-it stories that take the simplest route from point A to point B, without offending anyone who might affect the bottom line, of course.  I’ll believe that newspapers are worth saving when the press starts to turn that accountability on themselves.  When they start asking difficult questions and actually following up, when they stop asking loaded poll questions of random folks and presenting that as some sort of gospel truth, and, most of all, when they actually show a renewed desire to make the people in power uncomfortable again.  That’s the press we need right now.

You want to save newspapers?  Then do something useful again.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 5:14 pm  Comments (3)  
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