SOPA: Not Mexican Soup

We’ve got friends from many different backgrounds. Sherman here is about as different as we can tolerate without thumbing the selector switch off safe. He’s one of those genuine big brain types you love to hate (given the chance we’d have gleefully picked on him in school back in the day). As you may have inferred, we’re borderline Luddites here on the Mad Duo team (grunts: Luddites), which is one of the reasons we keep this guy around. It damn sure ain’t his politics (he’s a filthy liberal, and only the fact that he’s a hard-working military man who can shoot straight has kept him from our own version of an honor killing).

So when we finally decided to weigh in on all this SOPA BS we figured it would just be easy to have him do it for us and just not use the parts we disagree with, and although it CURRENTLY appears to be a dead issue, you can bet it’s worth our input (or input from an authorized lackey we plagiarize). Now, on its surface, House Resolution 3261 sounded like a good idea, but then again so did changing the Army to the ACU, making porn stars wear condoms and using Tiger Balm from Martha’s to add some spice to our one-handed web surfing…we asked our abject minion good friend Sherman to opine…‘specially ‘cuz SOPA’s supporters are bound and determine to bring it back, maybe as soon as this year (and will no doubt continue to do so until they get their way or are caught up in one of our future assclown pogroms…Grunts: pogrom, substitute in hippie or assclown for the target).

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SOPA: A Polarizing Issue on Piracy

Reprinted with permission of the author and Pygmalion’s Geas, except for the parts we shamelessly changed to serve our own subversive goals.

I’m not one to talk politics here, I generally try to stick to Science (!) as a topic, but SOPA has me bothered.  It has bi-partisan support and opposition, so I urge you to read this with an open mind, regardless of how wrongheaded you are.

Most of the time, with issues this polarizing, just a cursory look is all that’s required to determine which side is just out of their heads.  Then you can kind of find a middle ground, located somewhere within, or at least leaning towards the opposite side.  Here, it took a lot more work, but only because I remembered how awful the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) was. [That was an issue that created a situation where we ‘hobbyist’ programmers wanting to create our own DVD playing program for personal use would have been facing potential Federal (piracy) charges.]

The last time politicians were trying to stop piracy, personal liberty and innovation took a hard blow, so the shrill arguments against this year’s incarnation of Governments Against Rampant Piracy rang truer than they otherwise might have.  Reading about the Stop Online Piracy Act from most sources wasn’t going to get me any closer to the answers, either.  So I choked down the full text of the SOPA, and I can tell you this: it is chock-a-block full of loopholes and vagaries. (Grunts: vagary.)

It is going to be good for at least two types of people: lawyers and pirates.

On their face, opponents of SOPA may as well be doomsday prophets, and while I doubt it will go that far personally, it potentially could.  Not all the way to doomsday, obviously (Mayans have that covered), but their claims are in no way as far-fetched as I’d like.

There are two problems here, and they are, I think, fundamental to understanding the problem SOPA tries to stop.  First, pirates are motivated, and not just by not spending money—many are ideologues who have embraced freedom of speech or something similar as their vanguard, armored in self-righteousness and “fighting the good fight”. They actually thrive on and seek out the persecution layered upon them.  [Note: idealists are incorrigible, especially true zealots, whether socio-political or religious.] Others are simply motivated by the challenge, and others still by the sheer thrill of breaking the law.

In the end, all have strong personal reasons (strong, which does not necessarily good or right) for doing what they do.  And, as mentioned above, they often thrive on their persecution. More importantly, they frequently survive it; they learn how to strike from the shadows.  They learn how not to get caught.

Legal ambiguity (coupled with plenty of off-shore servers eagerly awaiting paltry sums of American dollars) only helps them evade capture—and while this bill does an admirable job of attempting to ensure quick action, the reality is they would be caught up in a legal quagmire as thousands of reports rolled in, many from legitimate sites, all of which would have to be sorted, evaluated and then individually shot down as being illegal.  Then those very sites, particularly the pirate sites, would spring up again, just days (or even hours later), under a new IP address, where they would just have to be rooted out again [note: think of the legal enforcement as Sisyphus, but picture the boulder as kind of nerdy looking, some zits, never touched a boob or a baseball and making more money drinking Mt. Dew in mom’s basement than we make wearing the uniform…the Duo.]

Meanwhile, the legitimate sites would be frozen, and may or may not be agile (or too law-abiding) to simply switch to a new server.  Let’s not even look at the biggest points of concern, sites like Youtube and Facebook– where even uploading a 30 second clip of a copyrighted song could technically get you shut down. Sure, the good senator assures us that those sorts of sites have “have nothing to be concerned about,” but…well, if there’s anything we can trust, it’s the assurances of an American politician.  Just like the WMDs in Iraq or Gitmo being closed.

Besides legal vagueness, the biggest problem with SOPA is it violates the Presumption of Innocence (generally considered, if not explicitly stated, as a Constitutional right).  You know, the Constitution? Good intentions are wonderful—there are plenty to see from the hand-basket, I hear—but they don’t substitute for the burden of proof that should rest with the accuser.  Under SOPA, I could claim your site was peddling illegally reproduced photography, dispatch a series of letters attesting to this ‘fact;’and the ISPs would have to blacklist your site.  Then you would have to demonstrate you weren’t the purveyor of purloined pictures, and in the intervening timeframe your site would remain blocked.

Note—by demonstrate, you would have to prove a series of credentials (including signing a letter under threat of perjury) that you were indeed not intentionally perpetrating the alleged activity.  Of course, if I am the accuser am wrong, it’s just my bad.  Whoops, sorry. No penalties on my end.  But you, the defender, could inadvertently perjure yourself; you could end up with a heavy fine or even jail time (and your site will have been down regardless).

On the other hand, common people don’t usually benefit from vague legislation and ambiguity either; in my above example, mean-spirited or ideologically opposed individuals could silence entire companies because, well, maybe they didn’t say Christmas frequently enough or for whatever other reason they wanted to make baseless accusations of copyright infringement.  With proposed laws like SOPA, it’s not difficult at all to exploit the verbage for explicit reasons.

Another telling fact is that the support consists mostly of RIAA and movie companies, a few video game companies, along with a bunch of politicians (list of companies here).  Opposition consists of almost everyone else (Google, Facebook, Twitter, can’t find an exhaustive listing, but here are 40+, and a startling number of musical artists). Yes, it is with heavy heart I must admit that I am in the same camp as Justin Bieber on something. I’m sorry.

I’m not saying that we should give up trying to defeat piracy, but when hare-brained schemes like SOPA come along trying to do it that does seem to be a viable option.

Of course, saying something is a bad idea is easy; coming up with options to fix the problem aren’t. I don’t claim to have all the answers.  With regards to piracy, I would say that games have managed to bounce back well from it. Online services like Steam and other systems do very well at limiting a rampant phenomenon.  However, they don’t do it by making it any more illegal—they do it by making it less interesting.  They’ve leveraged the social aspect of video games to make an environment where most people want to pay so they can play with their friends without limitation.  Exactly how movies and music could do that, I’m not sure, but unless the RIAA and the movie companies start trying something new instead of lobbying for more and more draconian legislation, nothing is going to change.

I am not a lawyer. (Nor am I a hippie, regardless of what the damned Duo might say.)  I read the text of the Stop Online Piracy Act here, and you can too.

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The Mad Duo would like to thank Sherman for his input on the matter, Godless liberal heathen that he is. This diatribe, lengthy and a little too smart but informational, has earned him a reprieve from this month’s hippie hunting efforts at Breach-Bang-Clear. Follow him on his personal blog at Pygmalion’s Geas.

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