Stop SOPA, Hollywood’s attempt to kidnap what Google has rightfully stolen

This is pretty convoluted, as the title suggests. The short version is: there’s this really badly written bill that Hollywood is trying to push Congress to pass. Google says it’s the end of free speech for everyone. It’s not that simple, but if you can’t be bothered to read the rest of this article, just know that yeah, it’s a bad bill, and we need to stop it.

I am so all about protecting intellectual copyrights, and I aggressively protect my own. The problem is: it used to take some time for pirates to reproduce stolen content and market it. Now a movie can be filmed and uploaded to torrent sites, or sold on a website in a country where the US can’t enforce international copyright laws, in less than a day. I totally get that this is a problem for Hollywood, and that there’s little they or the government can do to fix the problem.

So for the past few months, they’ve been trying to get Congress to get Google to do it for them by not indexing them in the search engine. This is ludicrous on a few levels:

  • Google does try to avoid linking to pirate sites, as they have repeatedly told Congress, but they too are hampered by the fact that these sites come and go so quickly, and they have a vested interest in indexing sites rapidly for their searchers. Practically speaking, there is no one who can do much about piracy, and Google is no exception.
  • If Google could somehow magically instantly identify all pirates and not index them, Google is only 65% of the search market these days. And search engines are not the only way people find sites.
  • There are a lot of gray areas to this. If your YouTube video (Google also owns YouTube) featuring your cat playing the piano has a radio playing in the background, do you owe royalty payments to the performer on the radio who can be heard faintly? No one’s sure. And the whole reason bootleggers aren’t prosecuted is that they mostly copy shows that aren’t available on DVD or VHS from cable onto DVDs and sell the DVDs supposedly at cost. No one can figure out if this is illegal, i.e., if the copyright holder refuses to issue more than one season of Cagney & Lacey in any format, is it really illegal for someone else to provide copies of their home videos of it at cost of their materials?
  • I can just sniff concerns about Google Books in here, too, but I’m not sure where it fits in.

The problem with SOPA is that (a) Google can’t do what it wants, and it probably sets a really weird precedent to ask them to do what the government cannot and (b) it goes waaaaaay further than that, anyway. BoingBoing has a pretty good analysis of how broad this is:

…this law would give government and corporations the power to block sites like BoingBoing over infringing links on at least one webpage posted by their users.

…government and their corporations get unbelievable power to take down sites, threaten payment processors into stopping payment to sites on a blacklist, and throw people in jail for posting ordinary content…

My question on this point: the reason why the FBI and similar organizations can’t close down pedophile rings is that the criminals carefully hide their servers in countries that don’t comply with our requests. Short of sending Special Forces into countries where we have no right to be, and risking the start of war, we just can’t enforce US or international law without the cooperation of hostile nations. So, how does SOPA empower the US government or corporations to take down piracy sites in hostile nations? It doesn’t, of course. It just prevents US internet subscribers from accessing these sites, and that’s a clear attempt to back-end the FCC’s net neutrality laws (which, ironically, Google and Verizon didn’t like, either).

Never heard of net neutrality? Big companies want to serve up some sites faster than others, on some kind of pay scale. That would put sites like Hathor at the bottom of the heap, as no one wants to wait a long time for a page load and I can’t afford to buy you some speed. But hey, after the FCC decided to enforce net neutrality, Google found their own way to back-end it. All this year, they’ve been working on an algorithm change that privileges big brands over independent sites. :/

More from BoingBoing:

I’ve been trying to think about whether or not the world is going to end if this bill passes like it’s supposed to — and the answer is, “kind of yes”. When small sites, and it’s the small sites that get turned off in the night and no one for the most part notices, say my friend’s political blog or news site gets blocked by the US government and she has no way to get it back up even though everything she did was legal according to current law, and no one can help her except she can choose to file suit to defend herself, I feel like I die inside a little. Living in a country where you are being shut out and left powerless to really defend yourself is like living in another country, the ones you hear about. Life starts to feel shot when that happens, especially to our friends or our favorites sites.

Every site who has user-generated content, posts links or videos to anything copyrighted in it could face new legal threats.

Do I really think this law will be implemented in such a way that they would take down Hathor because we have Thursday Interruption or one of you guys links to a YouTube video in comments? I actually don’t. I think there would be a tremendous backlash if they did, and they may be thinking just clearly enough to recognize that. The problem is not in what will happen right now, but in what the bill allows for the future. What happens with this bill 5 years from now? 20 years from now? Even if Hollywood had the best of intentions not to abuse this law (LOL), what happens 25 years from now when a new generation is in charge – a generation that never knew a time before SOPA? They chip away just a little more of somebody’s rights to make a profit that Hollywood wishes they’d thought to make.

Or some politician with a racist agenda uses SOPA to control the media and consolidate power. We saw that happen a few times in the past century. And yeah, I carefully considered the comparison: I really do think SOPA could be abused this way.

One last thought. Consider this comment from “Teller” on the linked BoingBoing page:

Here’s the congressional money trail from SOPA supporters in entertainment and publishing.
How will they vote?

Top recipients for ALL supporting interest groups

Name
Amount Received

Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV]
$2,335,183

Sen. Charles Schumer [D, NY]
$2,016,955

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D, NY]
$1,650,251

Sen. Barbara Boxer [D, CA]
$1,163,223

Sen. Michael Bennet [D, CO]
$767,772

Sen. Patrick Leahy [D, VT]
$737,110

Sen. Robert Portman [R, OH]
$714,176

Sen. Mark Kirk [R, IL]
$471,721

Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR]
$423,313

Sen. Patty Murray [D, WA]
$413,000

Rep. Howard Berman [D, CA-28]
$454,598

Rep. Bruce Braley [D, IA-1]
$360,989

Rep. Michael Capuano [D, MA-8]
$320,580

Rep. Patrick Meehan [R, PA-7]
$249,800

Rep. Allyson Schwartz [D, PA-13]
$243,319

Rep. Eric Cantor [R, VA-7]
$239,300

Rep. John Barrow [D, GA-12]
$218,080

Rep. Gary Peters [D, MI-9]
$216,748

Rep. Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8]
$213,550

Rep. Carolyn Maloney [D, NY-14]
$209,610

I hope BoingBoing and Teller don’t mind that I copied that. I’m not doing it to profit off their content, you see, but to spread the word. But under SOPA, I’m not sure that would be legal, as it’s a pretty big citation.

Comments

  1. The Other Anne says

    Thanks for this post, Jennifer. I’ve been following this pretty avidly and it’s always great to get other perspectives, though the only perspectives I hear are of the “this is bad” viewpoint, they often have new reasons for that.

    I think this bill is scary and one major reason is how far reaching it is, and how it could effect those not even inside the US. I’m also THOROUGHLY disappointed in how many Democrats are behind the bill, though I’m not terribly surprised. :( Which makes me even more disappointed. I like to picture my internet like a big, open prairie, or sky, with nary a fence in sight, but this makes me think of suburban lawn sprawls and fences to keep everyone out and everyone in.

  2. I.A. Scott says

    Well this is pretty terrifying. I think you might be right with the comparisons with the European fascists.

    Ugh, and the paper trail…Excel tells me that this group of people are selling this law for a mere $13,419,278. Who knew US freedom was so cheap! Maybe if I start buying lottery tickets I’ll get lucky and can start buying some.

    Under British copyright law, there is apparently a right not to publish, so the bootleggers are infringing here, but it’s not like these laws are universal (although the US…or maybe just Hollywood has been pushing for law unification for ages).

  3. M.C. says

    I.A. Scott:
    Well this is pretty terrifying. I think you might be right with the comparisons with the European fascists.

    While I agree with the sentiment I have a problem with your choice of wording. Firstly: this kind of fascism is hardly an exclusive European problem. Secondly: Jennifer linked to one article about German fascism and one article about Russian fascism (which is in Asia, not Europe). And those kinds of fascism were widely different, escpecially regarding their gender politics.

  4. sbg says

    I haven’t read all the literature, but it’s coming across to me as Hollywood trying to save themselves by any means necessary. The problem is – it’s not going to engender warm fuzzies in the people they’re trying to rake money from for sub-par entertainment (how many times can a movie be remade, anyway?). Considering how scathingly negative people already are about Hollywood, they are doing no favors here.

    Removing free/bootlegged/downloaded streaming won’t make people be able to afford a $12 movie ticket every time there’s something they want to see. Cost =/= value.

  5. ValeriusNaso says

    M.C.,

    The eastern boundary of Europe is the generally consider to be the Ural Mountains, and has been for quite a while. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europe#Definition)

    Most of the population and industry of Russia has been west of the Urals, especially in Stalin’s day when Belarus and the Ukraine were part of the USSR and before Stalin forcibly relocated industry and people to the east.

  6. I.A. Scott says

    M.C.,
    I agree they’re different forms, but from the information control perspective they seem similar. (Maybe I’m wrong?)
    Whether Russia is in Asia or Europe seems potentially difficult. From a map perspective it’s in both, and I’ve met Russians who say one or the other. I’m sorry if I offended you.
    Stalin was lumped in with all the other horrifying figures of the second world war when I was in school (and in books I have read since then), so that’s why I phrased it like that.

    The Other Anne,
    Also staunch supporters of liberalism and capitalism. Somehow.

  7. says

    sbg,

    I don’t think most people really sympathize with Hollywood or the MRAA on the piracy issue for the reasons you mention, so yeah, making the internet even more confusing and scary isn’t going to make anybody like them more.

    Re: fascism – let’s just all agree that the word “European” didn’t need to be in there and, in hindsight, probably shouldn’t have been. My point was to provide examples of two tyrants who very obviously wreaked a lot of havoc and used media control to establish and maintain power. The fact that neither was from the US didn’t factor in, in my mind – partly because the US is young yet and partly because while we manipulate the hell out of the media to hide our own sins, there just hasn’t yet been an American Hitler or Stalin (i.e., a monstrous individual everyone loathes). But it would be dangerously foolish to think it couldn’t happen here. It certainly could, and I’d even argue it’s likely as this culture gets increasingly narcissistic, so we must limit the power we’re granting future politicians to what’s absolutely necessary for law and order.

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