On SOPA, online piracy, and today’s blackouts

I’m not angry enough about SOPA to suit some of my friends, but I’m plenty concerned about it.

I’m also concerned about the problems that the poorly designed and overreaching Stop Online Piracy Act (plus the less discussed Protect IP Act) was designed to address: piracy and intellectual property infringement.

At this point, it’s clear that neither of those bills will pass in their current form.

And it’s seemed pretty clear to me for a long time that opponents’ worst-case scenarios are simply not going to happen. The genie is out of the bottle when it comes to the flow of information — we’re going to keep seeing a more and more connected world for decades to come.

An aside: As a college instructor, every semester I deal with issues that arise at the intersection of technology and intellectual property. Too many students treat the internet casually and bounce from one site to another, accumulating facts and opinions along the way which may not be clearly categorized in their own heads. What idea was theirs? What idea was someone else’s? When does that person deserve credit for his or her words or ideas?

Part of the screen today when you visit Wikipedia's English site

The internet invites the same casualness with movies, videos, songs, and photos, and it invites criminal behavior from those who want to profit financially from others’ work. There is simply no way that we’ll easily deal with the problems. We need to figure out how to educate people better about intellectual property rights and expect more from citizens. And we need to tailor laws — maybe a lot of individual ones — to allow enforcement of various patents and copyrights against those who are cheapening their value and in some cases personally profiting.

SOPA and PIPA are not those laws.

If you go to Wikipedia’s English homepage, you can click through to one working Wikipedia article about the overreach of SOPA and PIPA. From that piece:

SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won’t be effective at their stated goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn’t being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won’t show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.

For more background, check out the Washington Post’s SOPA protests shut down Web sites. From that piece:

This fight is over two similar bills: the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect IP (intellectual property) Act. Both are meant to attack the problem of foreign Web sites that sell pirated or counterfeit goods. They would impose restrictions forcing U.S. companies to stop selling online ads to suspected pirates, processing payments for illegal online sales and refusing to list Web sites suspected of piracy in search-engine results.

The idea is to cut off the channels that deliver American customers, and their money, to potential pirates. But tech companies see the laws as a dangerous overreach, objecting because, they say, the laws would add burdensome costs and new rules that would destroy the freewheeling soul of the Internet.

Btw, in case you’re wondering (and I hope someone is), bloggers’ uses of snippets of information from elsewhere is acceptable under fair use guidelines.