In recent weeks, the news with the most dangerous implications for human liberty did not come from anywhere between the eastern Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush. Rather, it developed within the short distance between Big Business, USA and Washington, DC.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and companion Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) introduced respectively in the House and Senate of the US Congress were on the verge of being pushed to a favourable vote when a public backlash temporarily arrested further progress.
I draw attention to the use of the word “progress” to clarify that I am using it in the sense of the advance of a cancerous growth. “Temporarily” is emphasized in recognition of the fact that elites do not give up easily. You should expect minor revisions and further attempts at passing some unwieldy version of these bills. Vigilance is indicated.
When it appeared that SOPA and PIPA was all but a fait accomplis, protests led by Wikipedia and several social media sites erupted on 18 January. The backlash was so great that voter-conscious politicians quickly withdrew to reassess their original zeal in sponsoring legislation that had been lobbied for by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and other media dinosaurs.
The most objectionable aspects of the proposed law are its provisions to force search engine services, payment processors and internet service providers to block any users from accessing offending sites—all without due process. Offenders would include those accused of illegally providing material or information protected by copyright and patent laws in the US.
As argued by the sponsors and defenders of the proposed law, the primary targets of the legislation are foreign criminals. Billions of dollars are allegedly lost to copyright and patent holders as a result of the actions of these foreign criminals. So serious is this problem that civil liberties need to be curtailed domestically.
It is a complicated matter with many people potentially affected by it. This may partially explain the groundswell of opposition.
The typical government solution is its sledgehammer touch—force, applied indiscriminately with its justification couched in vague, rubbery terms that provide work for bureaucrats and lawyers to parse into practical application. Meanwhile, the corporate lobbyists and career politicians help to rewrite legislation in their own favour from time to time.
The existing laws of copyright and patent are becoming ever more difficult to enforce and defend given their origins in monopoly privilege and royal decree. Knowledge and creativity may stand on their own merits; they may not require the “protection” of government in a legal sense.
Regardless, what is needed is more thought and logical reasoning without the heavy hand of legislation freighted with its unintended consequences, foremost of which is the curtailment of individual liberty and human capital. For that, no one needs SOPA or PIPA.
©Copyright 2012 Edward Podritske
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Keep in mind that ACTA, the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement brought to us by the EU, is equally threatening to our online liberty.