Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Navigating the slopes of SOPA

In our attempt to insure copyright law adherence, the U.S. is embarking on passing a law tantamount to other absurd efforts to mitigate some of society’s nagging problems:
"In Colorado Springs, a 6-year-old was suspended under the school's zero tolerance for drugs policy when the boy gave another student a cough drop."
"High school student was suspended days before graduation for having a butter knife in her car."
"An 8 year-old boy was suspended from his elementary school for pointing a breaded chicken finger at a classmate and shouting "Bang!"
Anyone that flies knows the slippery slope of overcompensation.  The “Stop Online Piracy Act” or “SOPA” (H.R. 3261) is such an effort to address the legitimate issue of copyright infringement. 
There is little doubt, the electronic age has indeed opened a can of worms concerning copyrighted intellectual property, and short of awaking in the morning in a utopia, where all honor the intellectual property of all others, we must address it.
But, the electronic age has also provided mankind with access to incredible volumes of legitimately accessible information.  True, some of it is erroneous and questionable.  But, if any of my pre-electronic age research lead me to a brick and mortar library to read, for instance, “Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department” or “The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America”, this would be enough to show that the electronic age doesn’t hold a monopoly on erroneous information.  Information isn’t knowledge.  From information, one culls knowledge.
The most important thing that the electronic age has bought into existence is something the world hasn’t seen before.  This is something that can correct the conditions that slowed, and often stopped, the progress of worker dignity through the ages.  This is the ability to instantly communicate, en masse, the plight of the poor and powerless.  The internet goes a long way to leveling the playing ground between the powerless and the powerful.  The internet is power.  Think Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Moscow, the entire Occupy movement.  And then the on the heels of all of this, SOPA?
The more I read or hear about SOPA, the more I fear a dilution of the internet that would result in an essentially privatized internet where all information is bought and sold, and worst yet, intimidating users from freely navigating the internet, for fear of copyright infringement.
Repressive governments already have their own “SOPA” of sorts, if the citizenry are navigating the internet in a way deemed a national security issue; they simply turn the internet off or turn off access to huge portions of it.
I work in an industry, where due to emerging e-book technology, great effort is being concentrated to insuring and maintaining copyrighted intellectual property rights. Leave it to the parties impacted by emerging technology to first try to marry existing laws to the newly created issues.  Then let the courts address that which needs arbitration.  Where arbitration isn’t possible within the current laws, then highly focused laws can, and should be considered, not creating an overarching law to address this issue.
SOPA is the precipice of a very slippery slope.  The problem is that the times of giving careful consideration in the creation of laws are becoming less and less the case.  It is much simpler to impose zero tolerance, which is the hallmark of conservative thought.  Just look at the election laws being enacted in states across the country to address a statistically insignificant voter fraud issue.  These laws are commonly regarded as “voter suppression” laws.
SOPA, in its present iteration, may appear innocuous.  My fear is that given the current state of the politics in this country, this law could evolve into something that may become commonly regarded as “internet suppression” laws.

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