Intellectual property: every author, artist, manufacturer, and creator needs to feel that their dreams hold worth; they are valuable. The United States has some of the most supportive, and harsh, laws to protect intellectual property and copyrighted materials. We’ve even managed to practice enforcement and regulation of these laws within something as all-encompassing as the internet, since 1998. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, companies are protected from charges of “contributory infringement” on content uploaded by users … only as long as they follow the ‘alert’ procedure and remove the content that encroaches on copyrighted property. Yet, for some, these procedures aren’t quite enough … but at what point do we validate the exchange of property ‘worth’ for individual rights?
Logging on last week, you may have noticed some uproar about two particular Acts up before Congress and Senate: Stop Online Piracy Act, aka SOPA, and Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, aka PIPA. If you missed Wikipedia’s downtime, or Google’s black band … you most likely didn’t miss just about every media outlet discussing those who are against, and those who are for, the Acts finding success in positive tallied legislative votes. Surely the barrage of opinionated information and inconveniences are over, right?
Wrong. This coming week PIPA goes up before Senate, and SOPA may be stalled … but it most certainly isn’t dead, yet.
Watching the drama unfold, listening to the ‘experts’ — their informative legal voices trying to summarized and explain, while President Obama is promising to practice veto power, and a roar of ‘No!’ rises from the depths of Facebook … all the while, the average internet user doesn’t understand the inner workings of hacked and/or bootlegged property, or how sites such as The Pirate Bay can even find ways to appropriate copyrighted material in the first place, not to mention how these Acts are supposed to stop rogue sites outside the of U.S. from selling their stolen treasures. Heck, the titles of the Acts themselves are misleading … who wouldn’t want to support stopping online piracy, or protecting intellectual property? I know as a writer, these concepts are extremely important to me.
The road paved with these confusing, miscalled, ‘good’ intentions … lead to broad proposals that give certain individuals the power to dictate what sites should be accessible by the American people. How can the Acts allow this blatant violation of freedom of information and speech to happen? Quite simply: They were intentionally written in such a bewildering manner that the circulative arguments and loopholes could be potentially overlooked … until they are ready to be exploited.
As, Joichi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, explains, “SOPA accelerates the process of copyright removal, with a mechanism that permits copyright holders to obtain court orders against sites hosting copyrighted materials and have those sites rapidly blocked. Scholars of online censorship, like Rebecca MacKinnon at the New America Foundation, worry that SOPA may be popular with the Chinese government as with the copyright holders who are lobbying for the bill.
US law already permits the seizure of domestic domain names that are used for piracy, and the US seized 150 domains in November. SOPA is an attempt to enforce copyright provisions across international borders by prohibiting American internet users from accessing certain foreign websites, like The Pirate Bay. In effect, it would create a firewall to prevent users from accessing prohibited intellectual property, much as China’s “great firewall” limits access to politically sensitive information.”
Theaforementioned’exploitation’ begins at home, with sites such as Google, and YouTube … where those filing complaints of copyright infringement can’t physically stop the outside-of-the -U.S. ‘rogue’ sites from trying to sell their ill-gotten gains; but they can stop the site’s IP addresses and Domain names from showing up in United States’ citizen’s searches. Yes, folks — what we have here is a slippery slope that isn’t too far of a slide into full blown censorship.
As a writer, trying to make her living off of the dreams she slaps on to a piece of paper, I find comfort in knowing that I have rights to protect my intellectual property … much like Lucy’s little brother finds comfort in his blue blankie. Although, as these Acts stand, written in seemingly foreign tongue, the nightmares of unconstitutional regulation (removing our rights to freedom of information and speech) are such that not even that comfy little blanket can possibly sooth.
What can we do to protect these rights? Protest. Contact your local representative, and voice your fears.
Selected resources on SOPA and PIPA
Liz Dwyer, “Why SOPA Could Kill the Open Educational Resource Movement”, Good Magazine.
Julian Sanchez, “SOPA: An Architecture for Censorship”, Cato Institute.
Dan Rowinsky, “What You Need to Know about SOPA in 2012”, ReadWriteWeb.
“Internet Blacklist Legislation”, Electronic Frontier Foundation, EFF’s email campaign against the legislation and EFF guide to meeting with your representatives.
Charles Cooper, “One early winner in SOPA protest: Wikipedia”, CNet.
John Gaudiosi, “Obama Says So Long SOPA, Killing Controversial Internet Piracy Legislation”, Forbes.