Understanding Congress' anti-piracy nuclear option

Posted on Tuesday, January 17th 2012 at 3:52 p.m.

Since late last year, Congress has been working on crafting legislation that would give U.S. law enforcement agency extraordinary powers to fight online piracy.  The House version of the bill is called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate version is called the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).   Under the guise of preventing piracy, the act wil have numerous unintended consequences that will ultimately change the basic nature of the Internet and restrict many of the freedoms we have come to enjoy on the Internet.

At LiveGeekOrDie, we believe that piracy is wrong.  Piracy isn’t some sort of god-given right or some way of “sticking it to the man;” piracy exists because people are cheap and unwilling to pay the market price for a product.  We believe that content creators (although not necessarily providers) should be paid a fair wage for their work and their creativity.

That being said, the fight against digital piracy has been characterized by over-reaction ever since it became possible to create exact digital copies of software, music, or movies.  The megacorporations who produce the vast majority of the content we consume have engaged in legal battles demanding exorbitant settlements from suspected pirates and encumbered digital media with DRM that has punished legitimate users more than prevented illegitimate ones.  Falling sales have been fully attributed to piracy, without regard for the possibility that consumers are getting fed up with the bland content that is being marketed.

Now content providers are turning to the US government to provide a legislative solution to their dilemmas through the two pieces of legislation linked above.  The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justices have already engaged in activity against suspected copyright infringers through the Operation In Our Sites program, which could be seen as a preview of what could possibly happen should SOPA/PIPA become law.

This video does a good job of quickly explaining the implications of SOPA/PIPA:

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo  .

Regrettably, some of the legislators in the LGOD area are either co-sponsors of the bill or supporters.  In the Senate , the following New England Senators are co-sponsors of the bill: New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte; Vermont’s Patrick Leahey; Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse; and Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal.

Fortunately, many people are standing up and making their opinions of the proposed legislation heard.  The Obama Administration has stated “we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression … or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet.”  The following companies have also stated their opposition or lack of support:

  • Sony Electronics (note: Not Sony Entertainment)
  • Nintendo
  • Electronic Arts
  • Microsoft
  • The Business Software Alliance
  • Epic Games
  • Riot Games
  • nVidia

Many popular internet sites, including Reddit and Wikipedia, have announced their intentions to black out their sites on January 18th in protest.

The pressure has had an impact: PIPA sponsor Patrick Leahy and SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith both announced their intentions to remove DNS blocking from the legislation.  However, until the legislation itself is cancelled, people who oppose the provisions of this legislation need to contact their representatives and the companies who still support it. 

Geeks have been characterized as an apathetic and lazy lot who care only about entertainment and memes. The fight against this ill-advised legislation has demonstrated that we are anything but.

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