What’s SOPA All About?

I wish I could take credit for writing this, so I’ll just have to be content with the fact that my son wrote it.  Don’t just read it – do something to stop SOPA and PIPA!  Little by little, the US Government has taken away our rights and freedoms by pretending to give us “safety” or because “we know what’s best for you.”  Thomas Jefferson put it best – “The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small élite”  Keep giving up your rights and the country that you and your ancestors thrived under will not be there for your children and grandchildren!


What’s SOPA All About?

by Nick Whittenburg on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 9:26am

Hey there. I figure many of you lost your daily time-wasters from this SOPA blackout thing, so I’m inviting you to learn a little bit about what’s happening and why it’s important. Yeah, it’s long, but it’s easy to read, it’ll take less than 10 minutes, and I think you’ll have a much better understanding of why people are upset and how this affects all of us – not just us nerds working in the industry. I’m not here to preach and I’m certainly not starting a political argument; rather, I’d simply enjoy knowing that I helped some friends understand why this matters.

This is a complex issue that I’m about to boil down to its simplest form. If you’d like more technical information, it’s already widely available. Google it while you can.

In A Nutshell

Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) are new pieces of legislation targeting the very real and troublesome issue of online piracy. This has been talked about for some time, and copyright owners already have the means to pursue shutdowns on illegal content. If you want to see what they’re already capable of, go to atdhe.net, a site previously used to stream live American Football games.

What makes SOPA/PIPA different is that they aren’t designed to bring down the illegal content, but rather they’re designed to block the “facilitation” of accessing the content. In other words, censoring links, ads, and entire domains (anything .com, .org, .net, and the like). If you’re not going to read this whole thing, here’s the best way I can break it down:

  • If you’re a romantic: This will censor our one truly free & open medium.
  • If you’re a cynic: This will put the Web in the hands of people who make decisions with their wallets.
  • If you’re a student: This will make launching a new career in relevant industries far more difficult and costly.
  • If you’re a businessperson: This will destroy the Internet‘s current status as a vital economic tool.
  • If you’re a developer: LOL SUCKS BRO

What It Might Do

Unfortunately, the way these have been written is so broad and uninformed that there is no way this will go into law without being abused. The average age of Senators and Representatives are 60 and 55 respectively, and primarily come from backgrounds in law and lower-level politics. Young people – how useful do you think a technology guide written by your parents & grandparents would be? Congress is applying provisions and regulations on an industry of which they have very little understanding. Sorry Dad, but your generation has no place in regulating the Web. None at all.

Here’s a bullet list of situations that are possible (others say probable, others yet say guaranteed) due to the technical ignorance of the authors:

  • The US Government (Attorney General’s office, specifically) will be able to blacklist entire domains, meaning they can authoritatively decide that no one can link to ‘Site A’ at all, ever, regardless of whether or not the individual links lead to any copyright-infringing content. If you’re not in favor of censorship, this should piss you off.
  • Sites like Google, Reddit, Facebook, and virtually anything with user-generated content will be forced to spend extremely valuable development time implementing new back-end techniques to ensure these links aren’t showing up on their sites. If you’re not in favor of hindering valuable American businesses, this should piss you off.
  • Major copyright owners like MPAA and RIAA, known for sueing working-class families for hundreds of millions of dollars over trivial downloads, will also be able to get in on the action of serving court orders. They’ve taken advantage of every flaw in copyright regulation, and they’ll do the same with Internet regulation. If you’re not in favor of corporations abusing flawed policy, this should piss you off.
  • New startups will have significantly more initial overhead (explained below), crippling the power of the Web as a business tool. If you’re against dragging down one of a small handful of succeeding industries in an otherwise bleak economy, this should piss you off.

What It Will Do

The most romantic notion about living in the Internet age is that it’s a truly free & open global medium. Any message can be communicated to the entire world. As soon as you allow our politicians to have any measure of control over it, the whole system becomes susceptible to lobbying and before long decisions are being made based on the weight of their wallets over our rights and best interests. We’ve seen it in plenty of other industries, and now they’re coming for the Web.

The Internet has also revolutionized commerce in nearly every modern industry. You don’t need a big music label to release your debut album. You don’t need Hollywood for millions of people to see your film. You don’t need a single physical store to sell your products across the world. This global connection is the reason why we see companies grow from a garage to a multi-billion-dollar corporation. The Web provides us with an accessible, low-cost, universal way of entering virtually any market.

This is very much in danger under the provisions of SOPA/PIPA. New startups couldn’t simply build a site and start making money. Instead, they’d be forced to implement costly censorship techniques, and pay exorbitantly for legal counsel that shouldn’t be necessary. This prevents the Web from being the business outlet that it currently is, and that myself and countless other young professionals in a struggling economy are banking on having a career in. One day I want to make my creative services available all on my own – if something like this is made law, I’ll likely end up doing so outside of the US.

What It Won’t Do

Here’s the real kicker: this will do virtually nothing to stop piracy. This system of blocking and censoring is one than can be easily circumvented by those who know what they’re doing. Hell, even if they block a domain entirely, I can still access the site with nothing but the IP address. I’ll spare you the more technical details – again, if you’d like to know more, Google it. But this is one thing I’m 100% on – supporters are promoting it as protection for American intellectual property, yet it provides none. This is what really infuriates me, as it will get the typical “This is for ‘murica, greatest country in the world” spin and instantly convince the lowest common denominator that it’s in their best interest.

What Do You Want Me To Do?

Look, I know as well as anyone that sometimes it’s just easier to pretend like something won’t affect you and ignore it. I do it all the time. I’m not a political activist for much of anything, and I’ve certainly never cared this much about legislation before. Maybe it’s getting older, maybe I’m selfish, maybe I’m just frustrated that this could even be considered a solution by the leaders of my nation. But I can’t sit back and watch this one happen, and I hope you won’t either.

I’m not going to send you to a bunch of sites and sources, you’re going to see plenty of that today. If you visit Wikipedia, you’ll get your representative’s contact info, and if you click the black bar over the Google logo, you can sign a petition. It will feel futile, but it’s pretty much all we have.

If you’re mad, stay mad, because the bill will be revised again and again until we forget it was even a thing and then they’ll sneak it right past us. They’ve already tried to kill the hype of the protest by announcing SOPA was shelved, even though the main sponsor has since said that work will continue on it in February. This isn’t going to happen soon, but it’s going to happen eventually if we don’t pay attention. And then you’ll just have to come with me to Australia or some shit.

Thanks for reading. If you have questions, ask away. I’ll be working from home today (a luxury I can afford thanks to the Web as it exists today) but I’ll hop on here afterwards to answer anything I’m qualified to.

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