Monday, January 16, 2012

Reason #111: Continuing Education

Read this sentence very carefully: "Much more education for Members of Congress about the workings of the Internet is essential if anti-piracy legislation is to be workable and achieve broad appeal."

I haven't been as attentive to the whole SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) issue as some folks - anyone with a Facebook account is bound to have at least one or two friends who can't shut up about it. Part of it is that I myself am not familiar enough with the exact specifications of the legislation to make broad declamatory pronunciations about the death of the internet. But most of it is that I just don't think you can really legislate the internet.

This is a feeling I've had more and more since my early twenties - my world view is such that I perceive certain things as being inevitable and unassailable in modern society. Civil rights (gay marriage being the prime example right now) are one. Thomas Friedman's flat world (connectivity, outsourcing, rising living standards, etc) is another. That's not to say that fighting for gay marriage, or against outsourcing, isn't a valid enterprise (indeed, I think gay marriage is inevitable largely because of how vocal its citizen supporters can be), it's just hard for me to work up much steam about it.

In my opinion, the internet is the harbinger of a post-national Planet Earth. Not only does it not have borders, it functions in a way that's antithetical to the entire idea of borders. So while punishing a Walmart for selling bootleg DVDs would be a reasonable and just thing to do, punishing a search engine (i.e., limiting its free speech) for linking to a site that hosts bootleg files doesn't seem quite as morally clean, is it? Maybe someday there will be a fair way to manage online piracy, but not as long as we're working with an outmoded paradigm.

What was I talking about? Oh, right, Congress.

The quote that started the post is from congressman Darrell Issa's announcement that SOPA is being put on hold until greater consensus on the bill's details can be reached - government speak for "never". But even if something eventually moved forward, just hearing someone in government flat-out admit "we're not informed enough about this issue to throw our votes at it yet" is pretty heartening, if you ask me.

It's worth noting that Issa also has his own version, the OPEN Act, and the Senate has its own version, the Protect IP Act. SOPA seems by far to be the furthest along the tubes at the moment, which is why the Obama administration has bothered to release a statement expressing its own reservations, and Jimmy Wales is going to shut down Wikipedia for a day in protest, directing visitors to call Congress instead.

I'd love to know how many Wikipedians get redirected only to think "SOPA? Hmm, I should look that up on Wikipe--son of a bitch!!"

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