Monday, November 28, 2011

Why I’m Scared of the SOPA bill

Benetech, is a leading nonprofit organization based in Silicon Valley. We write software for people with disabilities as well as human rights and environmental groups. We’re against piracy, and have made commitments to authors and publishers to encourage compliance with copyright law.

So, we shouldn’t have anything to fear from a bill entitled “Stop Online Piracy Act,” right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

We’re getting very worried that our organization and the people we serve: people with print disabilities (i.e., people who are blind or severely dyslexic), and human rights groups will be collateral damage in Hollywood’s attempt to break the Internet in their latest effort to squash “piracy.” And, if we’re worried, a lot of other good organizations should start getting worried! Let me give two specific examples that came up in my first conversation with a lawyer about the proposed bill:

1. Stopping fund raising and subscription revenue for Bookshare, the largest online library for people who have print disabilities.

Bookshare is an online library for people who can’t read standard print books. We provide accessible ebooks that can be spoken aloud, turned into Braille or large print. We serve over 150,000 students with disabilities alone with free online services funded by the Department of Education (however, nothing contained in this post has anything to do with our funders). We also have thousands of adults with disabilities that pay a $50 a year subscription to be able to download all the books and newspapers they can read. Ironically, many of these users might buy commercial ebooks, but the anti-piracy technology built into many ebook systems are not compatible with the technology these users employ to get the books in Braille or synthetic speech.

Bookshare is legal in the United States because our copyright law includes an exception that allows nonprofit organizations like Benetech to make accessible versions of books for people with print disabilities without requesting permission or paying a royalty.

We frequently get emails or letters from authors, agents or publishers who don’t know much about people with disabilities or about Section 121 of the copyright law, calling us pirates and asking us to cease and desist from making their books available on the Internet. Often, these communications come in the form of what’s called a DMCA or take-down notice. Now, we have a nice little letter thanking them, explaining that we only help people with bona fide disabilities, that it’s legal, that we’ve worked with the big publishing associations and with authors groups, and wouldn’t they like to help us in the future by adding more of their books voluntarily to our collection. Most of the time, that works great, and we end up making a new friend after they dig a little and find out that we are closer to Florence Nightingale than the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Sometimes, we have to spend time talking a newbie lawyer down from high dudgeon and explaining that there really are such things as exceptions and limitations in copyright, and do they really want to have their client be the first author to attack the rights of blind people to be able to get Braille? And then they go away. Because that’s a lawsuit they are unlikely to win, and it would be a professional error to waste their client’s money attacking a library doing legal things.

However, SOPA apparently has shoot first, ask questions later provisions. If any single publisher or author of any one of the more than 130,000 accessible books in our library gets antsy, they can send a notice to VISA and MasterCard and say, stop money from going to Benetech and Bookshare. No more donations to our charity. No more subscriptions from individual adults with disabilities.

No need to send us a letter. Or file a DMCA notice. Or do any real research. Just send out a bunch of notices and get all those pirates! Except, we’re not pirates. But, now the burden of proof has shifted to us: we’re presumed guilty, and we have to spent time and money defending ourselves. Sounds kind of un-American, doesn’t it?

Now, apparently, we can file a counter-notice. But, my guess is that the credit card guys are going to play it safe and stay away from turning “pirates” back on, and we’d end up in court arguing to be able to get our ability to receive funds for our socially beneficial work, not only to help people with disabilities but also our work to help environmental and human rights groups.

Yet another example of bills written to catch criminals, that do very little to stop them, but end up screwing up law-abiding organizations.

2. Endangering Human Rights Activists.

Benetech is one of the largest developers of software for human rights activists around the world. We develop free and open source software to help groups capture the stories of human rights abuse, and store and back them up securely in another country. Wonderful stuff. We work all over the world, and our Martus software has been translated into Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, Khmer and other languages.

The U.S. Department of State just funded us to help LGBT groups in Uganda securely capture documentation of abuses against those communities (again, our funders are not responsible for this post). We work in North Africa Latin America, Asia: most of the places where large scale human rights abuses are going on. And, in many of these places, we’re helping the activists avoid censorship and surveillance by the government. It’s also crucially important to be able to assure the confidentiality of witnesses and victims both to protect their privacy (i.e., victims of sexual violence) and their safety (do you want the police to know that you have testified to an illegal killing by the police?).

So, another example of potential collateral damage from SOPA. The problem is that we provide technology that allows for security, privacy and circumvention. We do it for human rights groups. But, when asked if we know whether or not there are “pirated” copyrighted materials, we can’t say. Because, if we make software that promises to keep your life or death sensitive information secret to the best of our abilities, we won’t build a back door in for Syria, or China, or the U.S. government or even (heavens!) Hollywood.

Apparently, one of the provisions of SOPA is that technology and servers and websites that can be used for evading controls on piracy can be shut down by the Attorney General. Unfortunately, safeguarding human rights information can’t be distinguished from piracy, if the contents are encrypted. So, our software, and the TOR network servers we and others operate, and other similar technologies, can get shut down in the name of protecting Hollywood.

Let's Not Do This Stupid Thing, and Avoid Breaking the Internet

In conclusion, I can’t imagine that breaking the Internet, making charities waste money fighting thoughtless and careless allegations, and making it easier for repressive governments to suppress human rights groups, was what was intended when this bill was drafted. Our concerns are just one set out of many. Engineers have described this bill as “breaking the Internet,” because complying with it requires major (and not good) changes in how the Internet works today. Most tech companies think this is the most counter-productive job and innovation killing bill they've seen in years. And, tons of human rights groups have protested against the U.S. starting to act more like China than the home of the free. The costs and impacts far outweigh any (unlikely) benefit Hollywood would receive. Let’s not do this as a country.

Background information:

Electronic Frontier Foundation has great information on SOPA and related bills, including this one: SOPA: Hollywood Finally Gets A Chance to Break the Internet. If you're so moved, here's where EFF points you to taking action by contacting your elected representatives: Take Action | Electronic Frontier Foundation.

21 comments:

Copyright Alliance said...

If Bookshare is currently operating legally in the United States, it would have nothing to fear from SOPA.

Given some of the threatening rhetoric surrounding SOPA, however, it is appropriate to consider the types of sites this legislation does and does not target.

SOPA does not target legitimate sites that are currently operating in the US, thus Bookshare would be outside of its scope.

SOPA does target sites that are “dedicated to theft of U.S. property” – namely, sites that are “primarily designed or operated,” have “only limited purpose or use other than” infringement, or are “marketed” for infringement, certainly not Bookshare.

Jim Fruchterman said...

I appreciate you reaching out to comment on my post, but I don't see a substantive response here to my two keys points.

Are you saying that an author who mistakenly thinks we're stealing US property, can't send a notice to payment agencies asking to discontinue payment services, based on their mistaken assessment that we are a site that are “primarily designed or operated,” have “only limited purpose or use other than” infringement, or are “marketed” for infringement? Because my point was that I get DMCA takedown notices and nasty letters all the time alleging this.

And, I notice you're silent on shutting down TOR servers designed to foster anonymous communications, which we use for helping human rights groups and others probably use for copyright infringement. Is TOR protected in this bill?

Copyright Alliance said...

SOPA sets up a notice/counternotice process similar to DMCA under which you would have the ability to contest the allegation, just like under the DMCA. If you contest the allegation, the copyright owner would have to go to Federal Court to get an order from a judge (with all the usual due process protections under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure). We think Federal Judges have been pretty smart about not allowing dubious claims of infringement under the DMCA, and believe the same would be true here. There are also provisions in SOPA to allow you to get damages, including costs and attorneys fees from a copyright owner who asserts a frivolous claim.

With respect to your concerns regarding human rights groups, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put this false dichotomy between upholding human rights and intellectual property to rest in a letter October 25 to Rep. Howard Berman, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee . In it she writes: The State Department is strongly committed to advancing both Internet freedom and the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights on the Internet. Indeed, these two priorities are consistent. The protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights on the Internet is critical for the United States, for its creators and inventors, and for the jobs it promotes and the economic promise it provides. There is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement and ensuring freedom of expression on the Internet.

No human rights group – or any other group for that matter – would be required to confirm that it is not working with any amount of pirated material, nor would its activities be jeopardized if it happens to transmit some material that ends up to be pirated. SOPA does not concern itself with that. SOPA only targets sites that are “dedicated to theft of U.S. property” – namely, sites that are “primarily designed or operated,” have “only limited purpose or use other than” infringement, or are “marketed” for infringement. It stretches the bounds of reason to concoct a scenario where a human rights website with minimal infringing content could meet the bill’s definitions of a foreign infringing site or one dedicated to theft of US property.

Also, Benetech mentions that it was just funded to help LGBT groups in Uganda. It will be happy to know, then that many in the LGBT community support the Stop Online Piracy Act. One of the reasons for this support is that piracy particularly hits the LGBT creative markets, and foreign rogue websites that sell LBGT films and books without the creators’ authorization threaten the vibrancy of the legitimate LBGT creative marketplace. Taking indie LGBT filmmakers out of the market or impeding the ability of LGBT authors to publish future books limits the options of LGBT consumers, limits the diversity of stories and voices in the marketplace, and has a detrimental impact on the understanding of social issues affecting the LGBT community. Many in the LGBT community argue that online piracy threatens not only the livelihoods of artists in the LGBT community but may also silence the voices of this community.

Copyright Alliance said...

Additionally, SOPA would hardly “break the Internet,” as detractors have asserted, if ISPs are ordered not to bring subscribers to sites that a court has specifically found to be illegal. Particularly because many “rogue sites” appear to be legitimate, a message conveying that a particular site has been blocked by order of a United States District Court can have an important educational effect for subscribers, who can turn instead to legitimate sites.

Also, the type of DNS filtering contemplated in the bill is a popular approach that some DNS service providers already use to protect their subscribers from websites known to be the origin of phishing attacks and other malicious activity. In addition, for the last few years many large ISPs have offered “DNS Helper” or “DNS Assist” services that deliver search results when a user tries to access a domain name that does not exist. Many of the same critics of filtering rogue sites today argued that those services would trigger a mass exodus of users from their ISP’s DNS services and break the Internet. It simply did not happen.

Some have attacked the rogue sites bills by saying that they would allow the same “process” for curtailing access to a site - DNS blocking – as the Chinese use to block numerous sites from their population. (The Benetech author says, “And tons of human rights groups have protested against the U.S. starting to act more like China than the home of the free.) It’s important to note the United States currently uses some of the same technical “processes” to track drug smugglers and terrorists that China and Iran use to monitor their entire populations. Legal wiretaps on drug lords are a good thing, wiretaps on millions of citizens to keep them repressed is a bad thing. Likewise DNS blocking that happens all the time today to accomplish very useful things – blocking child porn, malware, hacking, etc. is a good thing. DNS blocking to eliminate all references to Tiananmen Square is clearly a bad thing. We need to make that obvious distinction and move on. SOPA isn’t going to hand the Chinese the moral high ground on Internet freedom. As mentioned before, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already stated in no uncertain terms: “There is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement and ensuring freedom of expression on the Internet.”

Jim Fruchterman said...

Thanks again for investing the time to post on this topic. It took me a while to notice this response: Google put it in the Comment Sp*M bin. Seems ironic to me, given Google’s strong objections to the bill.
In short, I’m not buying what you guys are selling. I put forward some really specific concerns, and you evade focusing on the concerns I raised, other than to say, don’t worry, trust copyright owners to do the right thing.
Today, when I get a DMCA notice alleging copyright infringement for activities that I know are permitted (on advice of counsel, of course) under US law, I can respond without taking down the content. This is because I’m in the unusual position of operating the website hosting the content.
But, in the case of SOPA, the people who have their finger on the all-important money supply (Mastercard and VISA), don’t know us from Adam. And, these major institutions seem to be highly deferential to IP owners (after all, you guys have a lot more lawyers). From what I’ve seen of people trying to assert copyright exceptions (we use one to operate Bookshare), they’ve needed to get legal aid to make their cases. I just don’t understand why groups like mine will need to put up with a new level of legal harassment.
As far as human rights groups, I brought up TOR. Twice. And, the State Department is funding TOR. Are you guys claiming that TOR and similar technologies would have nothing to worry about from SOPA? Then, let’s write that into the law: we’ll call it the TOR exemption provision. You have ignored this, and talk about defending human rights websites. I wasn’t talking about websites. At all. But other people have, and most major human rights groups have come out strongly about SOPA because of this concern. That’s the Internet blacklist issue that has so many rights activists and technologists up in arms. More on that in another comment. Feeding me some bland generality that the Secretary of State has said is a dodge. If you can’t respond on the TOR point, then you haven’t responded.
I recently spoke at the Silicon Valley Human Rights conference, which brought together human rights activists from around the world to meet with tech companies. The collateral damage to human rights by IP enforcement was a frequent and constant theme. For some reason, suppressing human rights, activists and freedom of speech to make Hollywood a little more money seems like a poor bargain to me.
Your LGBT claim is pretty weak: you answer my “protect vital human rights information” case with some LGBT people are worried about losing out financially. Which is my critique of SOPA: what’s more important? Human rights, like the right to not be tortured, abused, or discriminated against, or the right of some people to make more money? How many LGBT rights groups have expressed their support for this bill?

jem said...

As there is a small number of large scale payment processors -- VISA, MasterCard, AmEx, PayPal, Diner's Club(?), etc. -- and that passage of some version of SOPA would seem likely, wouldn't it make sense to be pro-active and contact the legal department of those processors to be on record as to your compliance with copyright laws in USA?

Jim Fruchterman said...

JEM, that is an idea that we might try to pursue if this thing comes to pass. But, my guess is that it probably won't work. These companies are about building systems to follow. The way the bill is structured with extensive immunity for the payment processors from following through on these orders and incredibly short timetables (5 days) makes it likely to look like DMCA notices on big websites: shut it off right away, and make it hard to consume legal bandwidth to undo the deed. It makes sense if you're MasterCard or VISA.
And even if Benetech could pull off preemptive protections through pulling strings and evading systems designed to prevent end-runs, what about the many organizations that aren't sophisticated about this stuff and get into deep trouble before they figure out what hit them? Although I have to protect my organization, I feel I have a responsibility to the social movement to speak up on behalf of the many orgs who have no idea how this might make their life miserable.

jem said...

Well Jim you and others certainly have a right to speak up... And Senator Wyden can use all the procedural moves if there is no cloture vote. But even the Mozilla website says that some version of the bill SOPA/SIPA likely will pass as that is the mood in Congress.

Maybe there is a need for a reference service that hosts relevant copyright data for a payment processor to access within the 5-day window to which even the not-so-sophisticated website can register especially those with human rights exposures.

Jim Fruchterman said...

I am responding to the third comment by the Copyright Alliance. Sorry to be slow about this: my main job is not lobbying!

Responding on the technical issues, you assert in your comment that the detractors are incorrect and that SOPA would hardly break the Internet. So, who would your average techie believe on this point? Lobbyists for copyright holders, or the leading engineers responsible for the Internet?
My bet would be on technical experts, unsurprisingly.

So, who objects to SOPA (and the related Protect IP Act from the Senate with similar provisions) on technical grounds? Many, many people, but let’s start with three of the most respected people in the field of the Internet:

• Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet. A smart and technically competent fellow. Apparently, he’s said that the PROTECT IP Act in the Senate and Stop Online Piracy Act in the House 'won't solve the problem' posed by online copyright piracy. The legislation could even damage the underpinnings of the Web, he said. However he works for Google, which strenuously objects to the bill. Of course, Google has a reputation of being one of the most stellar Internet technology companies.

• Steve Crocker, one of the key technical figures in the creation of the Net, and a chair of ICANN, the people behind the Domain Name System (DNS). In a paper co-authored by other leading Internet engineering lights, they said: “[T]he mandated DNS filtering provisions found in the PROTECT IP Act raise very serious security and technical concerns. We believe that the goals of PROTECT IP can be accomplished without reducing DNS security and stability, through strategies such as better international cooperation on prosecutions and the other remedies contained in PROTECT IP other than DNS-related provisions. We urge Congress to reject the DNS filtering portions of the Act.”

• Tim O’Reilly, the leading technical publisher for software developer, Internet thought leader and the coiner of terms like Web 2.0 and open source. “[F]undamental elements of that Internet architecture are under attack. These legislative attacks are not motivated by clear thinking about the future of the Internet or the global economy, but instead are motivated by the desire to protect large, entrenched companies with outdated business models that are threatened by the Internet. Rather than adapting, and competing with new and better services, they are going to Congress asking for protection. If they succeed, they will vitiate the Internet economy.”
So, we have pretty detailed statements from the very top of the engineering profession about why this proposed law is bad from a technical standpoint. Forgive me if I continue to be unconvinced by assertions from non-engineers that this really isn’t a big deal.

jem said...

from http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/11/piracy-blacklisting-bill/

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) whose district includes Silicon Valley, expressed alarm that Google was the only company invited to testify against the bill. Google was peppered over and again by lawmakers asking why it it doesn’t simply stop rendering infringing sites in search results.

“The search engines are not capable of actually censoring the World Wide Web,” Lofgren said. “We need to go after people committing crimes.”

Katherine Oyama, Google’s policy council, responded at one point:

“We don’t control the World Wide Web,” she said, adding that Google does not know what sites are hosting infringing content unless the rights holder tells Google. When that happens, she said, Google usually stops displaying results pointing to that particular page within six hours.

The MPAA’s O’Leary countered later that, on a Google search, the in-theater-only movie J-Edgar has “a better chance that the Pirate Bay is going to end up ahead of Netflix” on a Google search.

***

So my non-techie question is when will all those Internet pioneers you referenced come up with a SOPA/SIPA counter-proposal to help those who are claiming billions of dollars per year in 'theft' of intellectual property.

Jim Fruchterman said...

Rep Issa and Sen Wyden have been floating ideas for a revised bill that would focus on real abusers, rather than catching a whole bunch of organizations that are pretty much law abiding. I've heard they are coordinating with the tech companies who have led the opposition to the two bills.

jem said...

In the Wired.com article I referenced above, House Judiciary Chairman Smith says "I’m not a technical expert on this..." Most people aren't.

The groups that along with Rep. Issa and Sen. Wyden who are formulating a counter-proposal would do well to stay away from the comments of Mr. O'Reilly above that the IP owners are incurring losses due to their obsolete or outdated business models.

Given the mood in Congress, it may be difficult to pass legislation acceptable to both Houses that these 'large entrenched companies' should just resolve that they must continue to incur these large losses with no help from Congress.

That is easier for *most* people to understand than DNS registries, ISP numbers, or proxy servers, etc.

jem said...

That's OK ... This is legislation. This is not whoever has the best technical/IT-engineering argument wins. Arguing about obsolete business models to most persons is like blaming-the-victim and is not IMHO going to change a lot of Congressional votes.

Valdemar Van Hout said...

Do you ask permission from each author before making their work available? If not, then it is theft.
I would not want my work freely distributed without my consent - and I'm a severely disabled combat veteran.

Jim Fruchterman said...

Wow, Valdemar. Theft. Big and evil word.

Is it theft to quote a sentence from a book? Lend a book in a library without permission? Read a couple of pages of a book in a bookstore and then decide to not buy it? If I hear a preacher make a great point, is it theft to repeat the idea?

Jefferson made this point most eloquently. "He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me."

His point is that "intellectual property" is not like real property. It is not rivalrous: I can use the same idea, or the same words, without stopping other people from using it. And, the idea that ideas, and the text in books, and the words in a song are the equivalent to my car or my house, is frankly, scary. In a world of the Internet, which makes spreading knowledge and ideas so much easier, that we will begin to treat ideas like real property is scary in the extreme.

Especially when people label legal activities like making books available to blind people theft! It's an impoverished culture that believes that denying people access to knowledge is justified, and calls it theft!

jem said...

From Above: "And, the idea that ideas, and the text in books, and the words in a song are the equivalent to my car or my house, is frankly, scary."

I would guess to the author who has spent years on research and writing of a book and expects to use any proceeds from that endeavor to put his kids through college that s/he DOES see that work as property.

You are heading with the above toward a rather libertarian notion of intellectual property rights. I have said that is like someone stealing the eggs from the owner of the hen-house and saying it really is not stealing as the other guy still has the chickens.

A. Fong said...

Quoting Copyright Alliance:

"If you contest the allegation, the copyright owner would have to go to Federal Court to get an order from a judge (with all the usual due process protections under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure)."

I don't think this is accurate, at least in the bill I read. There's nothing in SOPA that obligates a payment processor to unblock a site upon receiving a counter-notice. The payment processor MAY unblock, but there's nothing saying it MUST unblock. In fact, SOPA specifically immunizes the payment processor from blocking any site it reasonably believes in engaging in infringing activity. Presumably, a notice under SOPA is sufficient to establish reasonableness.

There have also been a number of DMCA abuses. See Lenz v. Universal as a classic case of overzealous enforcement. So I think people are rightfully concerned about whether broadening the existing system is appropriate.

"It stretches the bounds of reason to concoct a scenario where a human rights website with minimal infringing content could meet the bill’s definitions of a foreign infringing site or one dedicated to theft of US property."

As Jim pointed out, the concern isn't about sites per se, but about the technological tools (such as TOR) used by dissidents to access those sites. Sec. 102(e)(4)(A)(ii) of SOPA makes it illegal to distribute “a product or service designed or marketed for the circumvention or bypassing of measures” used to block access to infringing foreign websites. A product designed to bypass filtering of human rights websites is also designed to bypass filtering of infringing websites. Will SOPA go after distributors of dual-use technology? If it does, that's bad for human rights. It it doesn't, the provision is pointless.

Jim Fruchterman said...

Sorry, JEM, the henhouse argument doesn't actually fit very well. The guy has the chicken and as many eggs as he might want: it costs nothing and takes no time to make a million eggs. That's why ideas are different, which is Jefferson's point.

Great points, A. Fong: the existing DMCA system mostly works, and yet is subject to abuse. Why give these guys another tool, much more far reaching in its impact, to hassle people?

jem said...

That's fine if you think the 'eggs' metaphor doesn't work... You say nothing about depriving an author of a livelihood.

If you want to espouse the same positions as those of the von Mises Institute that is also fine but I do not think many of your Supporters would subscribe to those positions... nor will those notions likely get you very far in Geneva.

http://mises.org/journals/jls/15_2/15_2_1.pdf

BTW if you think it takes 'no time' to make a million eggs I guess you have never worked with chickens.

Jim Fruchterman said...

I'm a pretty constant advocate for balance in dealing with intangible property. Never advocated for impoverishing authors. The goal of intellectual property law is (and should be) to establish balance between the interest of society at large and the individual author or creator of content.

SOPA/PIPA tip the balance too far in one way. A declaration of the idea of intellectual property as non-existent tips it too far the other way. Of course, at Benetech we prefer open and free to closed and proprietary to the greatest extent practical. That's why we write software under the GPL license and use the Creative Commons license as much as possible, because they make it easy to declare our intent to make the software and content we create to be freely available to everyone on the planet!

One of the essential parts of this social bargain (which dates back in the case of the U.S. to the time of Jefferson, one of the reasons advocates for IP balance tend to quote him liberally), are limitations and exceptions. I don't think quoting from a book deprives an author of his or her livelihood. I don't think singing a musician's song in the shower needs a toll booth. I don't think posting a Youtube video of my baby dancing to a Prince song deprives Prince of a livelihood. I don't think making copies of books for blind and print disabled people deprives authors of a financial opportunity, either. And, authors and publishers apparently agreed on this last point when they supported the enactment of the Chafee Amendment in 1996.

One obvious goal of Hollywood with PIPA and SOPA is to put pressure on legitimate actors that they can't put in the courts. An individual might win a fair use law case, but pay the MPAA or RIAA a few thousand bucks for the privilege of not being bankrupted on the way to a possible (probable in many cases) win. Your website might contain a million legitimate pieces of content, and a few pieces of infringing content, but just about anybody with an interest in the infringing content (bounty hunters?) can take down your entire website. This is why Wikipedia is against these bills. Policies against copyright abuses, using copyrighted photos, an active community working to ensure compliance: just might not be enough in the SOPA/PIPA world. And the punishment is deletion of your domain, or stopping of your financial support. Pressure to change behavior not because you'd lose a law case (what motivates Wikipedia and thousands of organizations like them, including Bookshare), but because the copyright vigilantes can threaten you with oblivion before you even get to court.

Daniel Saner said...

Jem, physical and intellectual property are two entirely unrelated concepts, you can argue all you want but that fact won't change. No one claimed IP is not worth protecting, and important for the livelihood of many content creators. IP is not unprotected, but it is protected through entirely different laws than physical property, owing to their non-compatibility. That's why violating physical property rights is called "theft", and violating intellectual property rights is called "infringement". Because it's far from the same thing, and trying to convince people otherwise through faulty comparisons is futile. Equating copyright infringement with theft disqualifies your entire argument, since it means that you either don't understand the fundamental differences between them, or worse, try to maliciously mislead people.

One thing the two do have in common is that they are both subject to the same constitutional framework. One effect of that is innocence until proven guilt. In the realm of IP, this has already been severely perverted through DMCA, which for the questionable amount of good it has done, it has shown a huge and non-theoretical potential for misuse. SOPA and PIPA try to raise this to the extreme, by giving a few content providers almost complete control over the most important, global tool of communications, without so much as a hint of a burden of proof. Because that's the reason why that should rest on the accuser: so that the big company with much money and many lawyers, who is in the wrong, can't harrass the small company with little money and no lawyers, who'd actually be in the right, out of business through a mere accusation. The idea that these measures would only be taken to fight actual copyright infringement is an illusion. And even if it weren't, don't kid yourself by thinking that this will benefit authors, musicians, or any of the actual creative people behind the works. Supporting these bill are organisations representing only "big content", which don't give a hoot about culture or artist's reimbursement. These are the companies that tie struggling artists in lopsided contracts with the promise of "making them big", then keeping them in debt for decades to reap in all the profit, and tossing them by the wayside when their earning potential fades. Creatives who want to live off their work would be wise to be very, very skeptical about any legislation these corporations endorse.