SOPA and PIPA Explained

SOPA and PIPA are copyright bills that are coming up to a vote soon in US Congress. SOPA – the “Stop Online Piracy Act” – is the House version, and PIPA – the “Protect IP Act” – is the Senate version. You may have heard SOPA and PIPA mentioned in the news recently. You may also have noticed that over 7,000 sites around the Internet were inaccessible yesterday (January 18). Those 7,000 sites were protesting by self-censoring, and yesterday alone over 7 million Americans called their representatives in opposition to the SOPA and PIPA.

Someone asked me to provide a non-technical explanation of these bills, to understand what is at stake.

SOPA and PIPA are intended to protect copyrighted materials and stop piracy (as their names would suggest). However, what they do to combat piracy is to create a national censorship system. On the frontside of the Internet, search engines like Google and Bing would be required to remove listings for any sites accused of containing links to infringing material. On the backside of the Internet, servers known as nameservers would be required to block access to any accused site. A nameserver is the technology that tells your web browser where to go when you type “google.com”. This level of nameserver-level blocking is already prominent in countries like China and Iran.

An earlier copyright law from 1998, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (or DMCA), required copyright owners to request that material be removed from websites and services. In SOPA, that requirement would be directed to the websites themselves. All websites and services would be required to immediately remove links to copyrighted materials, or else their domain would be blacklisted and their site shutdown. Most user-generated content sites such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Vimeo and Flickr would be forced to shutdown, as it would be technically unfeasible to keep up with enforcement on such high traffic sites. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ would also likely not be able to continue operations, as any post or comment that contained a link to copyrighted material could potentially shut down the entire site.

Protecting copyright is important, but far-reaching censorship isn’t the way. We can take action and prevent these bills from becoming law. Wikipedia has provided a ZIP lookup tool to point you to the online contact forms for all your representatives.

Some Thoughts on Copyright

Cory Doctorow, a co-editor of Boing Boing and a published author, has a little FAQ* over on his Overclocked book site. I’ve quoted it here and added a few things in bold, which really make this a great copyright liberation manifesto for the new digital millennium. After arguing with a friend about possible legislative reduction in copyright extensions, and the expansion of Fair Use rights, I figured it might benefit a lot of people to be exposed to the hidden copyright reform wars. By the way, if you haven’t read Overclocked or Little Brother, do it. Now.

I think the idea that [writers, musicians & artists] deserve to get paid sounds great, but the truth is that most [writers, musicians & artists] — nearly all [writers, musicians & artists] — have not been paid through history. The Internet doesn’t change that. But it does make it possible for [writers, musicians & artists] to earn their living in new and exciting ways. That’s what I’m doing here. If you have a scheme to provide full employment to [writers, musicians & artists], I’d love to hear it, but I think you’re going to have some problems getting it rolling.

Giving [writers, musicians & artists] more copyright doesn’t make them more money. You could give me ten million years of copyright and the right to personally impale anyone who makes an unauthorized copy of my work and it wouldn’t change the word-rate at Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (nor the song-rate at iTunes).

More copyright just means that working [writers, musicians & artists] have to go through more permissions-clearance hell when they want to create new things from old. More copyright means that dead [writers’, musicians’ & artists’] works vanish from the historical record because their idiot descendants turn into lunatic saber-rattlers, or because no one can figure out who the right idiot descendant is. More copyright means that the public is denied the benefit of the 98 percent of works in copyright that have no visible owner, and that are out of print.

… from the Overclocked Blog Archive

Also see Creative Commons, the best way to retain ownership of your work while releasing it to the public for mashups, reworks, and republishings.

* I realize his post came from Jan 07, but I only just yesterday read all the short stories from Overclocked, when I happened upon this information.

In Defense of Complaining

Should companies be immune from complaints? Cory Doctorow put together an answer to that question. Cory is one of my new heroes, I think.

I’m always astounded by this reaction. Companies aren’t charities. They’re businesses. It doesn’t matter why they’re offering an unacceptable product — all that matters is that the product is unacceptable. Companies aren’t five-year-olds bringing their fingerpaintings home from kindergarten. We don’t have to put on a brave smile and tell them, “that’s just lovely dear,” and display their wares proudly on the fridge. I don’t care if Apple adds DRM because Lars from Metallica has incriminating photos of Steve Jobs, I don’t care if Sony BMG put a rootkit on its CDs because they were duped into it by a trickster spirit that appeared to their technologists in a dream. I care whether their product is worth my money. It’s the market — there’s no A for Effort.

Even weirder is the idea that companies shouldn’t be criticized because in a market, you should just take your business elsewhere. Free markets thrive on good information. For a market to function, customers need to have good information about which goods are worth buying and which ones should be avoided — that’s why we complain in public, to help companies make better decisions.

Link to article (via BoingBoing)