If you are a regular internet user, or even a regular user of other more traditional media, you probably couldn't fail to be aware of the blackout of several well known websites. Amongst the most reported was the blackout of Wikipedia. It's actions receiving a lot of media coverage here in Australia on the radio and television, coverage that was no doubt echoed around the rest of the globe...
The black out of Wikipedia, and several other high traffic sites such as O'Rielly, WordPress Reddit and Cheezburger, is in response to the proposed SOPA (Stop Online Piracy) / PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property) Acts. These Acts have respectively been proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and are considered by most to be ill conceived and not needed.
Although the intent of SOPA / PIPA is to prevent online piracy and sites such as The Pirate Bay from operating, the crux of the issue with the proposed acts is the apparent lack of due process laid down in their enforcement, resulting in the ability to be able to misuse the acts for purposes other than their original intent. This is of course very bad news.
The Digital Millenium Copyright Act
Application of the existing DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) has already seen many instances of the existing law being liberally applied without following any formal due process, resulting in unfounded Cease and Desist notices being issued and major inconvenience to those on the receiving end. The proposed SOPA / PIPA acts far exceed the scope of the existing DMCA Act, and without a formal process for their application have every chance of eventually morphing into a set of laws that bear no relevance to the original intent of the acts.
If like me, you do not live in America, you may think that the proposed SOPA / PIPA acts do not affect you. Well think again. There are several precedents where those falling foul of the DMCA in Australia have been extradited to America to face charges, resulting in custodial sentences. Admittedly, in each case the sentence was befitting of the crime, but it goes to show that the proposals do in fact have a very far reaching nature, and that operating a warez or torrent site in Australia, on Australian servers does not exclude you from might of American law.
Whilst stories of extradition of individuals under the DMCA are relatively uncommon, action against service providers is not. The easy target for enforcers of the DMCA is to target the hosts of infringing sites or the service providers of those guilty of dealing in the infringing data, the results of this are usually very effective, resulting in stopped services and almost instant solutions. The big issue with the application of the existing DMCA (act) is of course that the effected users have no participation in the process at all, it is a case of guilty until proven innocent. Basically if your site is taken down, it is up to you to engage lawyers, or enter into lengthy debates with your ISP to reverse the process.
So why is there a need for the new acts?
Like many others, I think that the new acts are mostly in response to the corporate giants feeling sore for the loss of sales to online piracy, the acts do not really protect the intellectual property of the 'little man' at all. Being a software provider I have been the victim of piracy myself, where others have taken my work and passed it off as their own. My attempts at trying to get the data removed from the offending sites by issuing a formal request was met with disdain, and short of employing expensive lawyers to act on my behalf (not really feasible for a $20 CMS extension) there was very little I could do. Generally under the DMCA, a representative of the copyright owner will contact the provider and make a similar request, this is long before a ceast and desist notice is raised, but with the weight of a large company behind such requests, most ofter this request is executed unchallenged.
Ironically enough, I have also been on the receiving end of such a situation. i designed some t-shirts for vdubber.com (a VW enthusiasts website that I run), and offered them for sale on the site through zazzle. The t-shirts contained the site's logo and a slogan which included the name of the auto manufacturer - 'www.vdubber.com - Next generation VW community'. One day whilst browsing through the site I noticed that the t-shirts were no longer available in store. There was no notification from Zazzle, no opportunity to put forward a contrary argument, they were simply removed. I then subsequently found out that an independent representative acting on behalf of VW had contacted them and asked for the t-shirts to be removed, which Zazzle had done without argument. Such is the perceived power of the DMCA. Needless to say, I no longer use Zazzle.
So what is the solution?
Hack, the current affairs program hosted by Triple-J radio here in Australia, had a reportage on the new acts and invited comment from the public. The general consensus seemed to be that the corporate giants were the main driving force behind the acts, and that they were in response to lost sales. Interestingly, many agreed that the solution was simply for these companies to change their business models to suit the new digital marketplace. If products were made more accessible, easier to buy and at more reasonable prices, the effect would be that many would favour purchasing these instead of pirated versions. A point in case raised by one listener was Adobe's products. In America one product retailed in their online store for $699, whereas in Australia the same product was Over $1000. Adobe had also taken great measures to ensure that Australian customers could not purchase the product through the american online store. (I know, as I've previously tried).
Digital music is probably the biggest culprit for piracy. But the shift from tangible goods towards digital goods has not really seen an accompanying shift on the business models of music providers. Steve Jobs has done a lot towards this transition with the iTunes store, but the prices are still too high for many, and the lure of free music from torrent sites is simply too great.
Online music today has no physical aspect, there are no manufacturing costs, no distribution costs, virtually no retail overheads (online hosting excepted) and more importantly it has exposure to a much wider audience. Many argue that online music should be much more affordable, and that reducing the cost and making it easier to download would see a rise in sales. But this requires a change in business philosophy, a change that still appears to be some way off. Is it greed? is it simply that corporate executives simply do not 'get' the internet? Who knows. One thing is for certain, and that is that the new SOPA / PIPA acts are not the way to go.
The stance taken by many in the blackout campaign, is that the new SOPA / PIPA acts will enforce its wielders with the power to censor, a direct contravention of the first amendment, and something that most patriotic Americans feel very strongly about. The introduction of similar censorship measures in countries such as Thailand has been met with a lot of discussion relating to the rights of website owners to freedom of speech.
Interestingly, censorship in Thailand often relates to items that directly contravene Thai law, for example certain content relating to their King. Similarly to America, both ISP's and individual's can be held accountable. So considering that Thailand does indeed have extradition treaties in place with both America and the UK, and the magnitude of offences in relation to insulting the King. Is it therefore reasonable for Thailand to expect extradition of any American citizens found to be in contravention of Thai law for posting something that offends their King? If you are American you will no doubt say a great big emphatic NO!
So why should there be one law for Americans, and a different one for everyone else? In short, there should not. Stop the SOPA / PIPA acts now by showing your support.
Here’s what else you can do:
1) Learn if your U.S. Representative or Senators support SOPA or PROTECT IP through SOPAOpera.org
3) Participate in Better Activism Day, a free livestream of experts discussing ways to "improve your power in Washington from people who’ve been successful at moving it."
4) Call or meet with your representatives in Congress. The single most effective action any concerned citizen who wants to talk to Congress can take is to see your Senator or Representative in person. Failing that, call them. Write them a letter. Make sure your voice is heard.
(credit to O'Rielly for above links)