Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I'd like to take a brief side-road from the usual rural idyll to talk about the internet. I like to say something witty, educational, and entertaining here. I'd like to include links to others' witty, educational, and entertaining ideas. I'd like to do all these things, but it's too dangerous. Someone might claim I was using their idea without sufficient permission from them, it was their idea first, and was copyrighted. And if recently proposed and startlingly successful legislation becomes law, I could lose all access to this blog as a result. Thanks to our own dear technologically illiterate Senator Hatch and similarly misguided legislators, something called the Protect IP Act, or PIPA, is making its way through the U.S. Senate. It instructs U.S. law enforcement to disable websites which host, link to, promote, or otherwise misuse copyrighted information, based only on complaints from the supposed copyright holder. Apparently that bit in the Constitution (amendment 14) about not depriving citizens of property without due process of law doesn't apply here.

This legislation comes from the always innovative hallowed halls of Hollywood, where apparently the internet is considered, as Cory Doctorow cleverly put it, merely "glorified cable TV". Misguided Dept. of Justice button pushers could, on the strength of a complaint alone, disable my access to websites I use to get my job done. Or prevent access to digital information used for research, industry, or anything else. All to stop me from getting a bootlegged copy of whatever new movie I'm supposed to get excited for. The legislation would even prohibit the use of something called DNSSec, which is really the only tool ever created which could prevent many of the high profile business hacks that keep making news. If you've ever gotten the call that your credit card information was stolen by hackers, you might want to pay attention here.

To justify this heavy-handed power grab, promoters say similar controls already exist and work well in such bastions of democracy and human rights as Syria and China. I know that makes me more comfortable. Although the U.S. House version of the bill is essentially dead, at least for now, the Senate version is still going strong, and recently discovered information shows the U.S. has been trying to pressure Spain, and presumably other governments, to adopt similar measures.

I'll stop now before some Iron Felix wanna-be at Thought Police Central Command sees this and gets excited. Please contact your elected officials.

Update: KSL reports Senator Hatch, in a fit of clear and rational thought, has taken his name off of the list of PIPA's co-sponsors and decided to oppose the bill. Apparently Utah's other senator, Mike Lee, also opposes the bill; other reports I'd seen a few days ago suggested the contrary. This is welcome news.

Update the Second:We won. After several major websites (Wikipedia, among others) protested SOPA and PIPA by blacking themselves out all day January 18th, support for the legislation plummeted, as shown here:

Shortly thereafter, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he'd "postpone" a vote on PIPA, and later Rep. Lamar Smith, author of SOPA, pulled his bill in order to find a solution more people agree on. Because of the presidential election, and federal inability to focus on any single topic for more than a week straight, it will likely be some time before PIPA sees daylight again. Meantime, the entertainment industry claims there are some problems (like copyright violation) whose solutions "have no business being decided politically." Unfortunately for the MPAA, this is still (nominally) a democracy, where government derives power from the people, and the people have the right to decide, through the political process, whatever they want to decide. Whether the MPAA likes it or not. Former senator Chris Dodd, now president of the MPAA, made it clear that his organization won't continue to buy politicians if those politicians won't remain faithful lapdogs: "Candidly, those who count on 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake."

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