(I had planned to publish this post and its second part in January 2012. For reasons that will become clear in the second part, it took over a year to complete the process I began in December 2011. — A. D. C.)
The Halt Lead the Blind
Things can move quickly in the legal sphere when it involves intellectual property. Not only that, but IP-related legislation, both actual and proposed, all too frequently imitates Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock‘s fictional young nobleman by passionately “riding madly off in all directions.” This makes it (a) hard to keep up, and (b) difficult to determine and pursue a consistent, principled set of policies in relation to all of this.
As my readers know, I’ve long supported the basic premises of copyright law, having found them essential for my own survival as an independent/freelance writer, subsequently redefined as a “content producer” and a “maker of intellectual property.” As a journalist and scholar, I also recognize the necessity of the “fair use” exception to the copyright law, which enables a reasonable amount of quotation on my part from the work of others (and, even-handedly, a comparable amount of citation of my work by others) for the purposes of analysis, commentary, and parody.
And I have no dispute with the copyright law’s eventually transferring copyrighted IP (including mine) to the public domain, where it becomes available for use by all without restriction, after a period of time during which its maker and his or her heirs and assigns get to enjoy the benefits of its creation. (Indeed, I found the prescribed copyright period sufficient in the period preceding the “Sonny Bono” extension thereof.) However, while I think the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) constitutes overkill in some regards, I’ve found from direct experience that invoking it almost instantly terminates online piracy of my own IP; some such instrument, therefore, seems necessary for the protection of myself and others from the thieving magpies infesting the web.
SOPA/PIPA: Just Say No
Since I find the DMCA entirely adequate for those purposes, I don’t see the need for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which to my way of thinking constitutes not just overkill but the equivalent of turning a blindfolded Dick Cheney loose with a loaded shotgun — a menace to society.
By contrast, an alternative bill, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, takes a much more sane, measured approach to the problem of online piracy andinfringement. Co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), this bipartisan House/Senate draft deserves serious consideration. Click here for a PDF of a draft, “Fighting the Unauthorized Trade of Digital Goods While Protecting Internet Security, Commerce and Speech,” intended as the basic for public debate of this bill, and click here for keepthewebopen.com, a remarkably savvy site set up as a forum for debate about this bill, including software that enables proposing revisions to specific clauses, as well as commenting on its components.
The initiation by the bill’s creators and sponsors of such a forum, with its invitation to participate in the bill’s making, shows an understanding of both the unique capacities of the web as a tool for social change and a respect for the populace that uses that tool and helps it evolve. With that act, these legislators demonstrate that they’re ready to earn the trust of the wired world — exactly the opposite attitude from that of the crafters of SOPA and its supporters (including Go Daddy), who take the position that they know what’s good for us.
Masterminded by Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, SOPA empowers both the U.S. government and copyright holders to seek court orders against any and all websites associated, even if unknowingly, with infringing, pirating, and/or counterfeiting intellectual property — even if they only linked to an infringing site. I’d be disinclined under any circumstances to take seriously any web-governance guidelines devised by a 64-year-old Tea Party and NRA endorsee from cow-country Texas and his DC cronies. Having read the present draft of the act carefully, I can say with confidence that, crafted as it was by Foggy Bottom geezers like the toupee-wearing Smith, clueless (as the hearings revealed) about even the basic workings of the interwebs, SOPA promises to create far more problems than it endeavours to solve. (The fact that Lamar Smith has been outed as a serial copyright violator himself doesn’t exactly engender confidence in his bona fides.)
Understandably, therefore, SOPA has raised a storm of opposition. Indeed, it’s so ineptly devised that the Obama administration has issued an unqualified denunciation of both SOPA and the equally dangerous Senate version of this bill, called the Protect-IP Act or PIPA. (See David Kravets’s January 14, 2012 report in Wired, “White House Blasts Internet Blacklisting Bills.”) The administration’s rejection of both bills severely embarrasses all those involved in their making — which was done, I remind you, at substantial expense to the taxpayers. Here’s a partial list of those websites and organizations that oppose SOPA-PIPA.
So it was with considerable chagrin that webmaster John Alley and I learned that Go Daddy (godaddy.com), the web-hosting service and domain-name registrar we used for this and our other sites, and for all our domain-name registrations as well, had come out in favor of SOPA-PIPA. Here’s the statement Godaddy filed with the House on behalf of SOPA. This resulted in a boycott in which Go Daddy customers transferred over 100,000 domain-name registrations from the company in a matter of days. That mass migration began on December 22, when the U.S. House Judiciary Committee responsible for SOPA (and chaired by Rep. Smith) released a list of companies that have publicly expressed their support for the legislation — almost without exception titans of the media and entertainment industries.
Go Daddy Blinks
While we were giving thought to switching to another hosting service and registrar, this boycott, and the threat of massive further customer migration, led Go Daddy to reverse its stance and officially withdraw its support of SOPA on Dec. 23, effectively apologizing to the internet community for approving it in the first place and promising to endorse revisions of this legislation, or any similar bills, only “when and if the Internet community supports it” — which, knowing the “Internet community” as I do, will happen on the proverbial chilly day in the hot place. A few days later, Go Daddy formally announced its opposition to SOPA, with this short statement in its forum from Warren Adelman, Go Daddy’s newly appointed CEO:
Go Daddy opposes SOPA because the legislation has not fulfilled its basic requirement to build a consensus among stake-holders in the technology and Internet communities. Our company regrets the loss of any of our customers, who remain our highest priority, and we hope to repair those relationships and win back their business over time.
This reversal of position and act of contrition would seem to resolve the matter, though some of the departed domain-name owners, including Wikipedia, swear they won’t be back, and others still intend to leave Go Daddy, partly out of understandable distrust in Adelman, and also as a consciously punitive measure. As Jeff Gamet at The Mac Observer put it, “The fact that Go Daddy helped craft the bill’s current wording hasn’t helped the company’s case, either.” A loosely organized boycott took place on December 29, with tens of thousands of transfers out. Given that Go Daddy is the registrar for over 32 million domain names, the migration — which I’ll estimate at 100,000 — represents a mere drop in the bucket. (In fact, Go Daddy took in more domain-name registrations during those days than it lost, leading John P. Mello, Jr. of PC World to announce on December 30 that “‘Move Your Domain’ Campaign Against GoDaddy Flops,” hardly the case if it forced a mortifying public reversal of corporate policy.)
However, a number of major websites — including Wikipedia, Reddit, and Boing Boing — along with 10,000 others declared a 24-hour blackout on Wednesday, January 18, 2012, and followed through on that symbolic action. As a consequence, U.S. congressional and senatorial supporters of both SOPA and PIPA began to run away from these bills just as fast as their little legs can carry them, starting with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who’s actually disowning a piece of legislation he himself had co-sponsored. Talk about egg on your face; this doesn’t look good for the newbie getting groomed as the Republicans’ poster-boy Hispanic.
On Jan. 18 the New York Times reported,
With the growing reservations, a bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously and without controversy may be in serious trouble. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader and Democrat of Nevada, has scheduled a procedural vote on the Leahy version for early next week, but unless negotiators can alter it to satisfy the outraged online world, no one expects it to get 60 votes.
“I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor,” Mr. Rubio wrote. “Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.”
Shouldn’t this right-wing Floridian Speedy Gonzales cop to his central role in creating this fatally flawed bill and hustling it through the Senate, instead of pretending that this is all the doing of Harry Reid — not coincidentally, a Democrat? This was a classic case of “We’re from the federal government, and we’re here to help.” and it has Rubio’s name and modus operandi all over it. You can run, little Speedy, but you can’t hide.
And indeed, on January 20, 2012 Harry Reid in the Senate and Lamar Smith in Congress tabled the vote on both bills. In short, it died in committee — with the taxpayers having funded both its production and the days spent touting it by the witless Lamar Smith and his co-sponsors.
(Part 1 I 2.)
This post supported by a donation from the Estate of Lyle Bongé.