December 19, 2011

Stop the SOPA Before It's Too Late

In case you haven't heard, the House of Representatives in the old country are going to vote early this week on passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). As the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, the law is basically a cowtow by the corrupt US government to lobbyists in the film, media, and pharmaceutical industries. The law would not only allow for the federal government to seek court orders against sites that stream content that is under copyright, but to file court orders against search engines (e.g. Google) and payment systems (e.g. PayPal) that do business with these sites--very Orwellian stuff.

Hot Air has some good analysis on what the SOPA is really about:
In other words, a site like YouTube could be shut down just because one of its users posted content that infringes copyright laws. As critics have pointed out, that’s akin to punishing a car company because a car user crashed his vehicle into another person’s vehicle. In other words, to critics of the bill, SOPA is not about piracy — it’s about censorship.
If you enjoy websites with user-generated content (Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, etc.), it may be a good idea to write an angry letter to your congressman regarding the havoc that SOPA will wreak on the way we get information in the 21st century.

Piracy of digital goods was a longstanding problem even before the internet came into popularity in the 1990s. I seem to recall the silly DRM of early games like the original SimCity, where you had to type in a code based on some cardboard readout included in the software packaging. Unfortunately, laws like the SOPA and various DRM schemes do nothing but inconvenience honest users. In the developing world where piracy flourishes, the problem is that legitimate content is way too expensive for the average person to afford.

Hopefully, we will see a new distribution system whereby citizens in countries with lower GDPs can purchase digital goods on a sliding scale. This would be a mechanism to undermine the root cause of piracy and for creators of content to make a few bucks in the process. Until then, we will continue to see these ridiculous lobbyist-created laws that could potentially ruin the internet.
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