What the web is saying about SOPA & PIPA

Updated: In the wake of a weekend announcement that the White House wouldn’t support SOPA as written as well as the canceling of the DNS provisions in the bill, the web has shifted attention from the Stop Online Piracy Act to the Protect IP Act. Plus, more and more sites such as Wikipedia and Scribd are joining Reddit, The Cheezburger Network and Tucows in site-wide blackouts set for Wednesday as pressure mounts for others to do the same.
As the politicians change their focus, the web community is struggling to keep up. Update: SOPA bill sponsor Lamar Smith (R-TX) said Tuesday afternoon that the bill will be debated in the House Judiciary Committee sometime in February. Meanwhile the larger issue of protecting intellectual property on the web and the religious war between the content and the Internet industry will likely to continue to rage, no matter what’s said about these bills. But there’s a lot of nuance here, which is what I’ve tried to highlight in the stories I’ve selected below. For those who want to get into a complex issue, dive on in.
Danah Boyd, a social researcher, breaks down the attempts to regulate piracy on the web into two very different issues; piracy as a competitive issue, which she generally (but with caveats) equates with software piracy vs. piracy as a cultural issue, which she equates with media piracy.

As we go deeper into an information age, I think that we need to have serious conversations about what is colloquially termed piracy. We need to distinguish media piracy from software piracy because they’re not the same thing. We need to seriously interrogate fairness and equality, creative production and cultural engagement. And we need to seriously take into consideration why people do what they do. I strongly believe that when people work en masse to route around a system, the system is most likely the thing that needs the fixing, not the people.

Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, is concerned that passing SOPA and PIPA will continue the U.S. exportation of IP laws to other countries and force them to answer for IP violations in U.S. courts.

Not only is it likely that the U.S. will begin to incorporate SOPA-like provisions into its IP demands, but SOPA makes it a matter of U.S. law to ensure that intellectual property protection is a significant component of U.S. foreign policy and grants more resources to U.S. embassies around the world to increase their involvement in foreign legal reform.

Ars Technica reports that Paul Brigner, the MPAA’s tech policy chief, said on Tuesday that DNS filtering is off the table in its current form. But Ars wondered if it would be back and quoted Brigner as saying:

“We need more than just following the money and addressing search results.” Brigner said, arguing that the remaining provisions of SOPA and PIPA, which deal with ad networks, payment networks, and search engines, would not satisfy Hollywood. So the MPAA may be back in future sessions of Congress lobbying for DNS filtering or something like it.

Over at The Register, Andrew Orlowski calls Silicon Valley to task for refusing to compromise, or even listen to the issues and concerns of content owners over the years, which has led to the current-day war of mutual destruction over IP. This one may make ardent SOPA suporters angry, but there’s a grain of truth here, although I do wish Orlowski proposed more of a solution. Here’s an excerpt:

For years, copyright industries avoided old-age wrinkles by using enforcement to retain control – working against the grain of technology, rather than with it. Copyright industries are not natural enforcers, when they try it, they’re quite spectacularly clumsy. Take your pick from from an unsavoury list over the years that includes remote kill-switches for media, or creating and distributing millions of spoofed music files containing noise, or plans to insert spyware onto your PC that locks your computer or deletes your music. All pretty dumb. More recently, they’ve started to work with the implications of digital networks: with UltraViolet you buy a license, rather than repeatedly purchasing limited rights over and over again. That’s a step forward.
And it’s the sort of progressive thinking conspicuous by its absense in Silicon Valley, and its armies of ‘copyfighters’. They love the war too much for it to end. And to keep fighting, you must avoid thinking about constructive, mutual agreements.

Finally, Cory Doctorow, author and co-editor at BoingBoing, offers the picture of a war on computing to arise in the future, with this fight over how the digital revolution has changed copyright as only a minor skirmmish. For his dystopian vision, read more here.

The triviality of copyright tells you that when other sectors of the economy start to evince concerns about the Internet and the PC, copyright will be revealed for a minor skirmish—not a war.
Why might other sectors come to nurse grudges against computers in the way the entertainment business already has? The world we live in today is made of computers. We don’t have cars anymore; we have computers we ride in. We don’t have airplanes anymore; we have flying Solaris boxes attached to bucketfuls of industrial control systems. A 3D printer is not a device, it’s a peripheral, and it only works connected to a computer. A radio is no longer a crystal: it’s a general-purpose computer, running software. The grievances that arise from unauthorized copies of Snooki’s Confessions of a Guidette are trivial when compared to the calls-to-action that our computer-embroidered reality will soon create.