Friday, November 18, 2011

American Censorship Day

Okay, so I dropped the ball on this American Censorship Day post that I tried to make  a couple of days ago.  My blog was scheduled to automatically make a post on the 16th in order to make everyone aware of American Censorship Day, but somehow I messed it up (or, less plausibly, blogger might've screwed it up), and the post never appeared.  So I missed the official American Censorship Day.
But I feel like this day was meant to draw attention to an important issue, and I still think people should know about it.
The issue being addressed with American Censhorship Day deals with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)that recently went before the House Judiciary Committee (on the 16th- the day I meant to make my post).  SOPA is nominally designed to protect intellectual property, but it's opponents say that the bill is overly broad, affects too many individuals who aren't engaged in any sort of intentional, profit-driven piracy, and implements penalties which may be far too harsh to fit the severity of any infringement.  The bill would place responsibility on social networking host companies to make sure that users of their sites are not posting materials that infringe upon copyrights.  The bill also makes unautohorized streaming of content a felony.
The bill apparently would give the government the power to require host providers to shut down web sites after an allegation that intellectual property rights have been violated.  The accused site would then have an opportunity to respond to the accusation, but it's not clear how long it would take to restore access to sites if there's been a misunderstanding and/or if no actual legal infringement has occurred.  Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and AOL have joined forces to oppose this legislation.  Understandably, I think, they don't want to be held responsible for policing the content of their patrons.
I have some sympathy for the film and music companies who are undoubtedly losing revenue due to online piracy and streaming, but I think the bill has problems.  To being with, it works by threatening lawsuits against every host site that fails to block a user whom an allegation is made against.  Without some kind of due process occurring first, individuals with personal sites (sometimes which help them make a living) could be blocked even though the claims against them aren't valid.  Host sites are likely to be put in the position of having to be overly inclusive if a large number of claims pop up, because they won't want to risk all of the lawsuits that they'll otherwise incur.  The host sites may not be able to refuse to block sites even if allegations don't sound valid because the host would still potentially incur the cost of litigation (even if they're utlimately in the right).
Mostly, though, I just feel like this bill is a poor response to the way that the internet has organically developed.  I strongly suspect that this bill won't stop the people who are making real money off of piracy (who will find a way around the internet protocols or restrictions placed on host sites), and instead we'll end up with a bunch of sites that end up blocked because they used a piece of a song or a part of a video as part of some legitimate discussion. 
There needs to be balance, for sure.  People shouldn't be able to freely generate profit off of other people's work without reimbursing the creators for it (especially if the creator is losing marketshare in the process), but I'm just concerned that legitimate discussion about media will end up being stifled and that smaller sites and blogs that never really turn much profit at all will be impacted more than the true pirates (many of whom operate overseas) who are making money directly by stealing intellectual property.  Annnd, I guess at this point in my life I'm more worried about the censoring of internet content than I am about whether or not Hollywood is able to make enough money off whatever new CGI spectacular they're cranking out next.
That's it.
Any thoughts?

ALSO,  Amy made amazing gumbo last night!!  Amazing!!!


The League said...

In 2003 I attended a conference where the heads of the RIAA and MPAA (Jack Valenti at the time, an incredibly well-connected fellow), sat on a stage in front of roughly 12,000 university IT people during a keynote and in the ballsiest move I've ever seen in person, told them they were going to find a way to sue them if they didn't start blocking pirated media.

This has been a long time in coming. And its finally going to force the conversation we should have had about this when Napster showed up.

Seven years ago I might have had a different opinion regarding what was possible, but the genie is out of the bottle. The only answer carriers will have is going to be to shut down the internet as we know it, and the consequences are going to be absolutely crippling.

I wrote my representative on this one, but I am also aware that 99% of reps (a) have no idea how the internet actually looks out there, and (b) that they don't really care so long as intellectual property owners keep chucking money their way.

We can hope the executive branch strikes down such an unworkable bill, but I'll believe it when I see it.

J.S. said...

I agree with you. It's worth noting, however, that groups like Napster have already been driven out of business or rendered moot because there already are intellectual property laws in place that are governing the internet, and although they're not perfect, they're not without teeth, either. I'm not sure what the solution is because the technology seems to always stay one step ahead of the law. In the end, we really might be looking at a situation where the entire idea of intellectual property has to be reexamined and reevaluated (and no, I don't think IP will ever be/should ever be worthless, but things are definitely changing).