Monday, January 23, 2012

Parsing PIPA

I've noticed that the attacks on PIPA (I'm going to disregard SOPA, an inferior bill) have not referenced the actual content of the bill; they reference exaggerate claims made by hysterics. So here, my readers, is the bill itself. Read it and judge for yourself:

http://leahy.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/BillText-PROTECTIPAct.pdf

First, let me say that, were I given the power to write an anti-piracy law, I would focus on stopping the flow of money to piracy sites, not on taking down the sites entirely. But let's address the complaints about PIPA.

1) Complaint: It was written by congresspeople who don't understand the Internet.
Really? Senators and Representatives actually delegate the writing of bills to their staffs. Do you really think their staff members don't know anything about the Internet? In any event, point something out in this bill that reflects a lack of understanding of the Internet, and I will apologize for taking issue with this claim. I've given you the link: Find the section, quote it to me, and explain why it reflects a lack of understanding of the Internet.

2) Complaint: This bill was custom-written by the big movie industry so they can protect their profits. 
In terms of wealth and power, the Internet industry has Hollywood beat. Would you rather own stock in Google or Paramount? Which is the bigger, more profitable, and more influential company? Why are one set of lobbyists and interests worse than the others? Do you really think there's no legitimate public interest in fighting piracy, just because piracy hurts Hollywood? In any event, this is simply a rumor. Even if it is true, point out the section of the bill that is objectionable because it was purportedly written by Hollywood. I gave you the link: Exactly which part is evil because of this supposed fact?

And, as I have said, this isn't just about the movie and music industry. They are the biggest players, in terms of money, but the interests of thousands of individual authors are in peril. Ignore us in your fight to protect piracy, and you are making Stalin's argument: To make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs. I, my friends, am the egg in this analogy.

3) Complaint: This bill would destroy innovation, and allow YouTube and Facebook to be taken down.
The bill specifically says that it applies to foreign sites "dedicated to infringing activity." On both points, YouTube and Facebook and the vast majority of sites on the Internet are safe. Nor does the bill include anything endangering individuals who post links, or even upload material. The bill says it imposes no new criminal penalties for copyright infringement. Individual uploaders would be as safe as they ever were.

4) Complaint: This bill would silence speech, and allow un-Constitutional prior restraint of speech.
If PIPA does this, then no law against piracy would stand scrutiny. But it's not true. By being aimed at foreign sites dedicated to infinging activity, the bill targets sites that are stealing other people's speech—that are actually doing harm to freedom of speech—not sites that provide original speech of their own. This is why the "prior restraint" claim is hogwash. You can't be guilty of restraint of speech, when the target isn't making any speech—just selling someone else's. In fact, the bill requires a hearing before a judge before any action can be taken, and specifically allows the target to fight any take-down in court.

Imagine if this protection were allowed to burglars and thieves of physical property. Imagine a truck being backed up to a bookstore, and thieves broke into the store and began hauling out books and software boxes, and putting them in the truck. The police would have to say, "OK, keep stealing while we find a judge and have a hearing. If you're still here when we get approval to stop this operation, then you'll have to give up the books, but we won't be able to arrest you."

Of course, what happens in the real world is, if police happened on the scene, they would arrest the thieves without a prior hearing. If police discovered a chop-shop or fencing operation, they would shut it down immediately, impound the property, and arrest the perps running it; only then would it go to court. I'm often told that the Internet has changed things. Yes: with the Internet economy so large a part of the overall economy, intellectual property should be treated as fully the equivalent of physical property, deserving of the same protection. PIPA actually provides less protection for intellectual property in digital form than existing law does for intellectual property in physical form.

5) Complaint: This bill would give moral support to the censorship efforts of China and other dictatorships, which block access to sites they find politically objectionable.
This is the silliest of all arguments against PIPA. Read PIPA. There is nothing in the bill allowing the blocking of sites because of their content. The act is specifically and clearly aimed at sites that are "dedicated" to stealing copyrighted material. The aim is to support the publication of material, by protecting copyright. Again, to use an analogy, this is like saying we can't criticize China for censoring the publication of certain books, because we have laws against the theft of physical books. Ridiculous.

Kim Dotcom. Credit: 3News in New Zealand
I'll say it again: Piracy destroys freedom of speech. The pirate takes away my right to control the publication of my work. The pirate, by distributing my work for free, damages my ability to profit from it, and profit allows me to create new work. Piracy tends to silence me. And who profits? Felons like Kim Dotcom.

I'm a little tired of the argument that has been spoon-fed to the public by the Internet giants: "Yes, piracy is a problem, but I offer no solutions, and in the meantime let me keep pirating." 

1 comment:

Nicky P. said...

I had to laugh when the internet was all atwitter about how Facebook would disappear and Wikipedia would die if the bills were passed. I was inundated with requests to sign online petitions to help save the internet as I knew it. I politely declined. The gorilla in the room is that piracy exists. It's theft. And yet, as you wrote, no solutions were offered by the Giants of the Net or by their adorable petitioners. It is, alas, not to laugh but to weep.