This is not a comment on SOPA itself, but a comment on other comments about it:

What has emerged on the Internet is this system in which people who want to help piracy, or who are at least indifferent to it, start websites which allow anonymous users to upload and share data. If that data is copyrighted, making the data exchange illegal, the owner of the website can say: “Well, it’s not my fault!” Well, yes it is; you’re the one allowing people to anonymously share data on your site. You don’t have to do that. I can understand the argument that you shouldn’t be swiftly punished for an infraction you weren’t even aware of, but I don’t accept the notion that all website owners out there are truly doing what they should to stop piracy, or that there’s not much we should do about it. If drug dealers are ridiculously easy to find, shouldn’t they be ridiculously easy to arrest? Yes, and they are. Hence their usual discretion. If piracy sites are ridiculously easy to find (which they are, just Google around), why aren’t they easy to stop? I don’t know. I’m tempted to say it’s because a lot of people just enjoy pirating stuff and eating up my bandwidth.

I think people get easily paranoid. Even now, people can leave drugs in your car and get you arrested. Or they could just go ahead and stab you if they wanted to hurt you. If we’re thinking worse case scenarious, the physical world already provides plenty of them. That’s what makes many of Hitchcock’s movies so compelling. But we’re used to living with those risks; if it’s a new digital risk, the worst case scenario suddenly seems more palpable, more threatening.

“The new Facebook is being created in a garage somewhere, and nobody will want to invest in it because they’ll be too scared that it will be shut down too easily! The Internet will die!” That’s ridiculous. Investors would have no choice. That’s like claiming employers would stop hiring people if our nation’s stupid degree system was retired, and the end of the world would follow. No. Employers are still going to need workers, and retiring the degree system would force them to change. If investors have to work within the confines of new anti-piracy laws, they will. They may upset about it, especially if they were hoping to go into the piracy business, but they won’t all suddenly just stop investing altogether.

Or: “My blog will be shut down because someone will post copyrighted content!” Yes, you’re little blog there is so important.

Then there’s the other argument that those who fully admit to being pirates often make: “If content providers would just give me access to their offerings at a reasonable price, I wouldn’t have to steal!” What they fail to realize is that if they all collectively just stopped consuming the content altogether, the content providers would have no choice but to change their distribution business. But that requires too much organization and discipline, which most people don’t have, which is why unions exist in the labor force — people can’t make intelligent collective decisions otherwise. (Not that unions always make intelligent decisions, but that’s beside the point.) And this digital content is not like food. You don’t need it to live. Maybe you should just do something more useful with your time? I just can’t sympathize much with your plight, and the legal leniency of piracy sites is not worth defending for your sake.

All that said, I don’t know enough about SOPA to comment on it specifically. The arguments, however, should’ve been centered around its details in enforcement and how to make sure it’s not easily abused, not its principle of making website owners responsible for content, or making shut downs easier to enforce. If you disagree with our need for such a bill, you’re either a pirate or an idiot.

Categories: Stupid things

2 Comments

Scott · January 21, 2012 at 10:41 PM

First of all, you miss the point of the opposition. It’s not really that websites owners are responsible for the content on their site, even when it’s anonymously added to the site. They are already responsible for that. The point is that under SOPA and PIPA, a mere allegation becomes grounds to shut down the entire site, not just the offending material. For instance, I use Mediafire to host my (and our) PowerPoints and the Nerds in the Mist video for my website. It is legitimate and legal, as I own at least part of the copyright for that content. However, if someone else hosts a single episode of a television show or a scanned comic book or even a mislabeled mp3 that is legal somewhere else on that site, the site can be seized and my legitimate content disappears forever, and also becomes potentially subject to a government investigation into whether or not it is an infringement itself (with no probable cause to invade my expectation of privacy).

S P Hannifin · January 21, 2012 at 11:18 PM

Well, the opposition doesn’t have a single point; different critics make different arguments. That the “mere allegation becomes grounds to shut down the entire site” is a question ease-of-enforcement. The point is not to shut down something like Mediafire if it has mostly legitimate users, but to shut down or at least block access to blatantly obvious piracy sites without all the legal international-law red tape. (At least, that is the supposed point; that issue itself is a different argument which I am certainly too ignorant to comment on.) That it would allow Mediafire to be shut down too easily is a fair and valid criticism, but, unless a ton of people are using Mediafire to pirate stuff in an obvious manner, I don’t understand why something like that would be at the top of people’s list of things to worry about. The argument would have to be about how allegations are acted upon, how exactly decisions are made after the allegation is made, not that they’re acted upon at all.

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