SOPA and the Dangers of Internet Censorship

As of today, most everyone has heard of SOPA and PIPA, the House and Senate versions of a bill that are aimed to combat online piracy.  While most internet savvy people have been inundated with SOPA arguments for weeks or even months now, today marks the day that many of the major websites blacked out to protest this bill.  This is an important step to educate less connected and informed people about the dangers of this bill and the effects it could have on the internet.  Tons of people never venture far from Google nor are involved in internet communities outside of Facebook, and thus many people haven’t heard about it until today.  But when Wikipedia went down, and more importantly Google blacked out its banner, people started paying attention.

Though it is true that SOPA has been shelved, it doesn’t mean the bill is dead, and it’s primary sponsor, Lamar Smith, has stated it is his intent to revive it in February.  The sad reality is that there are politicians out there who support such nonsense and are backed by hordes of people who don’t understand the issue or just don’t care.  Apathy and assholes make quite the powerful couple, and we have no shortage of either in America.  Without the building publicity surrounding these bills, culminating in today’s mass blackouts, it is highly likely these bills would have passed without mention in the news, and the internet as we know it would have contracted an undiagnosed cancer.  As of now, it’s been caught early.  This is a good thing.  However, there is still an underlying sentiment among our political class that the internet needs to be regulated, and the failure of this bill doesn’t mean a cure.  It only means this specific bill is in remission while they attempt to craft a more palatable version of the same thing.

I honestly understand the rationale behind the bill.  The entertainment industry wants to be able to sell their goods instead of having them pirated to consumers who pay nothing.  But they are treating the symptom and not the disease.  The problem isn’t pirates, but the entertainment industry itself.  They have failed to adapt to the rapid progression of technology, clinging to outdated business models in a time where customers turn to piracy as a valid alternative.  If the entertainment industry were to see piracy as a form of competition, which it is, and work to compete with it and win, then the problems they face would diminish significantly.  In fact, those who most adamantly support a free market system fail to see the irony in their attempts to over-regulate the market itself.  Those who argue that competition improves products fail to realize that fighting piracy means monopolizing the source of entertainment, thus allowing that industry to stagnate in its outdated business model while consumers continue to look elsewhere.

"Though I'm not quite sure what the internet is, I strongly believe it needs me telling it how to run."

As an example, theaters are still popular, and many people still go to see movies on opening night.  However, unlike decades ago, they are not the only way to see a new movie these days.  DVDs are still popular, but they are not the only media people use to watch movies these days.  And though some indeed do wait two months for a movie to come out on DVD, many people are accustomed to the instant streaming of videos, and faced with either going to a theater and paying a days worth of work to see a movie and eat overpriced popcorn, or waiting patiently for an overpriced DVD to be released at Walmart, many choose neither and turn to pirating.  And why shouldn’t they?  We’ve got amazing technology at our fingertips, yet the entertainment industry remains squarely in the 1980’s in the way they want to give us their products.  The entire theater model is outdated – the prices charged and the overall experience is ill suited to compete in today’s world.  Why wouldn’t people pirate a movie in their own home, where you can pause it, eat your own food (which is better and at a fraction of the cost), and be comfortable, when the other option is having your wallet gorged and shoved into a room with a hundred strangers, where even taking a piss break means missing important plot points?

Though it is quite charming when usher's attempt to recreate the Hand of God scene from the Sistine Chapel.

You know what?  If you don’t want people pirating your movies, how about offering them in a way that people would prefer to purchase them instead of steal them?  Like streaming high quality movies from your studio’s webpage at low cost?  The good majority of people aren’t torrent savvy, and those who use torrents will continue to use them, SOPA or not.  But if you offer your products in a convenient way, just like all other industries are forced to do when adapting to new technology, you’ll end up recouping that money that was previously being lost.  Furthermore, people are less likely to go see movies when there is such high risk involved.  I don’t care to watch a bad movie on Netflix because my net loss was inconsequential.  But when I saw the G.I. Joe movie in theaters, I was absolutely livid because of the time and money I wasted in going to see it.  If you aren’t seeing an amazing movie every time you go to the theater (and no one is) then you’ve wasted tons of money on something terrible.  So why not reduce the risk and Google whatever movie you are thinking of and check it out first?  If the movie industry (and really, the entire entertainment industry as a whole) could better adapt to the way people consume media these days, people would be more inclined to give them their money in the first place.  Introducing draconian legislation to force people to either go without or to consume media in an inconvenient way means most people will either go without or choose to steal it.  Neither option is beneficial to the industry, and yet the only ones who don’t give a fuck are those in the industry itself.  It’s mind boggling to consider the complete lack of thought that “supports” this kind of legislation, though I doubt anyone is really surprised.

And I’m not sure how these pro-business folks think that the language in SOPA that forces websites into the shoes of regulators will make those businesses thrive or continue to innovate.  Pushing Google, with the force of law, to police the internet isn’t what Google created their business to do.  Creating a law that forces businesses to be the enforcement agencies of said law is almost unheard of in legislative history, and I think that’s what’s so baffling about SOPA as a whole.  And by allowing sites to be taken down with mere allegations of copyright infringement places said site owners in the awkward position of having to prove their innocence.  This unconstitutional shifting of the burden of proof is what makes SOPA such a poorly written and terribly designed law.  And the fact that for many people their websites are their livelihoods means that these laws have the power to shutter businesses based on the mere idea that a user on one of the sites may have linked to something arguably infringing on someone else’s copyright.  That alone should be evidence enough that this law is not only unworkable, but also unconstitutional based upon its striking lack of due process considerations.  But really, who needs to protect the little guy when they aren’t even the ones paying the lobbying kickbacks and funding the Super PAC’s that Citizens United opened the door for?

That’s the problem.  Now that Citizen’s United has been issued, now that “corporations are people”, and now that corporations can contribute unlimited funds into the political process, this is the kind of legislation we’re going to see.  Because the wealthier a corporation is, and the entertainment industry has no shortage of wealthy corporations, the more influence they are going to have.  Because the more they can fund a reelection campaign, the more those reelected with their help are going to favor those with the money instead of their own constituents.  What used to be considered bribery is now considered a first amendment right.  I consider it shameful.

As a personal anecdote, back before I started this website I was constantly looking up questions I had about the weapons in video games or ideas and concepts for future video games.  Not finding the exact things I was wanting to read, I figured I’d start creating my own content about the things I was looking for, and put it out there for anyone else who might be interested.  In fact, I was looking for information on the Klobb from Goldeneye back in September when I wrote my first article.  I wanted to know a little about the Skorpion it was based on and how the Klobb’s power in Goldeneye stacked up to the Skorpion’s use in other games.  I couldn’t really find anything spot on, so I decided to research it and make my own article about it.  From that, the website grew.  And Mortar and Pistol is still trying to find its place on the internet.  I do reviews of games, I write about guns, I write about things I think would be cool to see in future games and reminisce about old games that meant a lot to me growing up.  While this site is still extremely small, the number of readers has steadily grown over the past five months and I love writing for it.  With this site I no longer am just a consumer of the internet but a content creator as well.  And this was easy to do, because the internet is a place of freedom where innovation is not only encouraged but it is extremely accessible and easy to do.  What I fear is that if laws like SOPA and PIPA are passed, the internet will turn more into an App store than a place for everyone to speak their mind.  Pro-corporate legislation and regulation of the internet will expand business’s ability to control content at the expense of everyone else, turning what is currently a sounding board for everyone into a relationship between big business creators and voiceless consumers.  This website would surely die (not that that really matters in the big picture), but other far more important websites would as well.  Sites like Wikipedia, the largest collection of knowledge that has ever been created in history, which is completely free, wouldn’t be able to thrive as they currently do.  Contemplate that for a moment, the amount of information we have at our fingertips without having to pay for a cent of it.  It is staggering the effect user-created sites like Wikipedia have on our collective knowledge.  Regulation like SOPA would effectively destroy Wikipedia, as well as any other user-submitted content sites, because of potential accusations by corporation’s that that content is losing them money.

In the end, I’ve broken my first rule, which was to never talk about politics.  I could easily discuss the upcoming presidential elections on here and argue about whatever issues come up in the future, and it would make writing for this site far easier because there would be so much more content to write about.  But I’ve always strayed away from touching on politics because I feel there are only two outcomes:  I either preach to the choir and so why bother, or I make arguments to those who will never agree, and thus alienate readers.  Neither interests me.  I want to use this site to talk about my passions, which are mostly gaming, guns, and television.  But I felt I should address SOPA because it really does have the ability to directly affect this site as well as many other sites that I love, and because it really isn’t an issue of Republican versus Democrat.  The bill has bipartisan support, and it really boils down to being an issue between those who benefit from a free internet, and those who are too old and too stupid to understand it, or who are too bought to care.  It is an important issue and today with the blackouts, I think it is finally being given the attention it deserves.  We all benefit from a free internet, and SOPA will hurt us all as individuals and as a nation.

Thanks for reading,

Mortar and Pistol


5 Comments to “SOPA and the Dangers of Internet Censorship”

  1. At first, I thought, bahh! It’s americans that wanna do a storm in a water glass. It won’t affect the world, nor us Canadians. But then i read about our own politics in copyright infringement and how in the past we copied literally on U.S. of A for passing some bills like the C-11 bill aka the Copyright Modernization Act. More so, i read that all of the IP adresses are relevant of the American Registry for Internet Number, in a way then US can overruled laws in Canada with some jurisdiction. And that can be scary.

    It’s a great thing that a majority of Americans get up against the Sopa & PIPA bills. not that piracy isn’t a problem to be resolve and we must work on it. but trying to pull the string of liberty of expression is a dangerous way to do it. And again, pirate and felon will always find a way to do their thing. The only ones that will be punished by a law like SOPA are the just and honest people that don’t have the power or money to defend themselves.

    You have made a great article. thank. And sorry if my text is a bit off, but english isn’t my primary writing or language 🙂

  2. Thank you for reading! And though SOPA is an American law, it has potential consequences far outside of American borders. Take the case of a UK student who pirated movies. He didn’t break any UK law, but is currently under extradition to the US to face charges that could lead to him getting 10 years in an American prison.

    It’s a very serious issue. I appreciate your well thought out comments!

  3. What a well written article. I have only become aware of this recently (my teenager pointed it out to me, ha ha). It does worry me that personal bloggers or small businesses who are just trying to get their ideas out ther, could be sensored or pay higher prices to have their content approved by Google or other carriers. By placing the liability on the carrier, it is too risky to not monitor content from a business perspective. So much for sharing knowledge… If I write about something, would I have to pay to put a link or photo in? I can’t afford to do that. I think most bloggers do follow the courtesy of acknowledging where they got their info and even establishing links to other sites. This open exchange of information is much better in the long run. Piracy has to be dealt with in a different way. You had some good suggestions. I guess it all comes down to money.

    • I just don’t want to see the internet turn into a situation where we are all just the consumers of information provided to us because it is prohibitive (financially or otherwise) to create original content. As of now, people like me and you can write about whatever we want to and engage in the free exchange of information. But I fear if poorly written, draconian legislation is introduced, it creates a precedent that only corporations are in the position to create original content that we consumers receive, instead of now where anyone can contribute freely to the internet. I think it boils down to people trying to regulate something they don’t quite understand…

  4. Imagine if Michelangelo had to secure permission and pay for the ideas from the Bible he appropriated in order to paint the Sistine chapel.

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