Did you know that there’s an argument for the United States Postal Service to be blamed for attempts to poison senators and media companies with Anthrax? It’s an argument that would place the deaths of five people, killed by a weaponized disease in the hands of the Post Office.

If you didn’t think something along the lines of ‘that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever read’ when you looked over those sentences, you have a very twisted view of the world and should probably seek medication. But you know what? It’s true. It takes a very twisted, neigh corkscrew logic to see it- but it’s there. And you want to know what’s scary? The American senate is debating the future of the nation’s internet access based on that precise logic.

Confused yet? Good. Grab a drink and get comfortable. This won’t take long.

In 2001, Anthrax spores were mailed to several American media companies and two senators. I’ll spare you the details, but there’s more information on Wikipedia for those of you who were still a glint in the milkman’s eye back then. But suffice to say, who do we blame for those deaths? The nutter who sent the letters right? And probably whoever got him the Anthrax. Would it occur to you at any point to blame the Postal System for being the medium by which the attack took place?

Now, when a person buys a bootleg DVD from a dodgy market stand in Croydon, who do you blame? The person who made the copy? The person who bought it? The person who sold it? All of the above? That would be my answer too. But how about the company that made the blank DVD that was used in the copy? I mean, by creating such a device they effectively enabled the piracy to take place. No blank DVDs, no DVD copy, no piracy. This is what we call logic kiddies.

Need another example? How about a group of thieves ram-raid a shop (this means breaking in by driving a car through it). Who is to blame? The thieves, the shop owner? Mall Security? How about the car salesman for providing the thieves with the tools to commit their crime?

But Evis! You cry with indignance and self inflated importance- ‘That’s just stupid. It isn’t the fault of Samsung and Ford that someone is abusing their product!’ And you’d be right. People are punished for the CRIME, not for the means used to commit it- and the people who created the means certainly are not blamed unless they were involved in other illegal practices. But this is the batshit moon logic that the US House of Representatives now has to consider.

The Digital Millennium Copyright act grants certain websites such as YouTube exemption from responsibility if users upload illegal and/or copyrighted content. Provided of course that they remove said content when notified that it exists. It’s called the ‘safe harbor’ and it is vital to enable websites like YouTube, Digg, Reddit and so forth to operate. The amount of submissions that these sites get is astronomical- it is simply not possible to vet every last submission. Not without employing so many people you’d be bankrupt pretty much right away.

The system isn’t perfect. For one thing it means someone has to actually notice and report the content, and then the site has to take it down. By which time the content has spread to a dozen other places and been accessed by thousands of people. But can you think of anything better? The supporters of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) think so.

They want to do away with the ‘safe harbour’ part of the DMCA, forcing sites to vet every last submission or risk being sued into the ground. Oh, and on top of that they will censor any site that hosts, shows or links to pirated material or- and here is the kicker ‘counterfit gooods’. Censor as in- you will not be able to access this is you live in the US. At all.

So, basically this act, should it pass would trigger the following: YouTube as we know it would be killed. As would almost every social networking site (including Facebook and Twitter) unless every single post you make is checked, lest it contain a link to the latest shitty Hollywood blockbuster. And you thought privacy terms at the moment were bad?

In fact, any free and open platform from 4Chan to your blog could be targeted. Did your blog link to a 30 second clip from a movie? Well done- under the provisions of this act the US Government can now order that your blog be struck from the DNS system and made inaccessible to people within the US. It will be another nation to have a ‘Great Firewall’. The other often cited one being China. But hey, when China does it it’s because they have a totalitarian government with an abysmal human rights record and no freedom at all right? But when the US does it, it will be to protect you from… uhhh… accidentally watching a film you haven’t paid for? Thinking that you could buy a genuine new iPhone 4Gs for $50?

This act isn’t about you America. It was never about you. It’s about business and profit- just like it always is. The administration doesn’t give a fuck about you, your rights or your safety online. This isn’t even about tightening the law. This is all about gouging away at anything that eats into the profits of these companies- these companies who pay you minimum wage, offer no benefits, fire you if you form a union and con you out of any entitlement you might have. They don’t give a fuck about you, why should you give one about them? If these businesses looked after you than maybe I would encourage you to support them. They don’t though, so that’s that.

Look, Piracy is illegal. Piracy does costs jobs, and it does cost money. It may not be as terribly damaging as groups like the RIAA and MPAA want you to think, but it does damage the economy. We should combat it; we should try and stamp it out. But not like this. Businesses should be trying to coax people away from piracy with new practices- not encouraging the government to censor mass communication to take that opportunity away. The digital age has been here for over a decade (longer even) and these companies still don’t know how to react to it. Instead of embracing it they fight it. Instead of realizing that the rules of the game have changed they continue to below at us waving their out of date rulebook around like a bloodied sabre.

The internet can be your friend. Digital downloads have made services like iTunes a fortune and Video Rentals via Xbox Live are a nice earner for Microsoft. The internet is the future and you can’t sweep the future under the rug with legislation and lobbying. Maybe if people don’t feel that your products are worth paying for you should experiment with why- and then try something new. It says a lot that the companies opposing this are the ones who are most closely tied to the internet. They can see the damage it will do, whereas the RIAA and MPAA can’t see past the 0’s on their profit margin.

Piracy will never be stamped out entirely. No crime ever will. All that SOPA will achieve is marking the US as taking its second step on the road to totalitarianism. The first was the ham-fisted attempted to censor wikileaks. Don’t forget America, it will only be a matter of time before this act, if it passes, will be broadened to include ‘matters of national security’. Such as photos of police pepper spraying an 80 year old woman. Such as reports of how the latest war is *really* going.

Always remember, the means are not the crime.
Powered by Blogger