Thursday, January 19, 2012

SOPA Opera

Should the Senate bill called PIPA or the House version called SOPA emerge as the law of the land (and probably a few other lands as well) odds are you won't like it, whether you're a downloader of music or a blogger who may have borrowed a photo you found on Google or elsewhere. Neither bill is there to address the concerns of the public, but rather the (you guessed it) big corporations hell bent on retaining every last crumb, every last cent of potential profit from every word or image or sound they can claim as their own in perpetuity.

In my opinion, it's gone far past any position I could call reasonable. I've given many a guffaw when nearly every image one could call art has to be blurred out when shown on television and although I'm sure an effort will be made to blame yet another corporate triumph on "the Liberals" and of course "that Obama" this "intellectual property" and "artist's rights" crusade is a trend that started twenty years ago or more. There's always a noble purpose, of course -- like protecting the interests of widows and orphans of dead artists and writers and such noble purpose often devolves into huge lawsuits like the squabble between France and Spain as to which one can be the executor of the Salvador Dali estate in the absence of any widows or offspring. I remember the difficulty of using an image of a work of art to sell it because whoever owned the rights to a long dead artist's work might sue you even though your efforts were actually supporting the price of the commodity. It's nearly always about money and lawyers, no matter what it's dressed up as.

But my disdain for monster corporations stomping all over Congress screaming "mine, mine, mine" isn't my main concern. I'm more worried about the enforcement, which seems to allow huge fines for downloading some two and a half minutes of some Cramps tune from the early 90's or, God forbid, a little night music by Mozart, but about the next increment of surveillance and the possibility of making the Internet a very, very inhospitable place for non-corporate bloggers and providers of information like Wikipedia. While people of all political persuasions dislike the idea of Big Brother watching us, perhaps too few are watching Big Brother, Inc.

People often learn from mistakes, but it seems corporations do not. Prohibition and the war on drugs and stringent gun control and the war on pornography have hurt far more than they have helped and they haven't helped very much. Draconian penalties don't reduce crime and as a great article at today points out this morning, this War on Piracy isn't likely to stop, slow down or to have any effect.
"SOPA and PIPA are just the next steps in this larger enforcement agenda. Whatever happens to them, online enforcement will remain a very slippery slope, with attendant risks of censorship, surveillance, and the loss of due process. Because nothing in SOPA or PIPA is likely to stop piracy, there will be strong pressure to keep sliding."

Individuals will be scapegoated and ruined, lawyers will buy gaudier cars and cuff links and the free flow of information we have learned to rely on will dry up while more and more ordinary citizens will be made into criminals. The inevitable failure of this new, expensive enforcement crusade will only be used as proof that we need more of it, if history is a reliable teacher, and the true danger here is that it will, and I'm certain of it, be another stepping stone to the corporate police state. These are measures the public by in large does not support, but of course the public is distracted at the moment by the Republican freak show and revival meeting -- and of course congress listens to the representatives of industry instead of representing us.

I'm old enough to remember the movie industry's attempts to block cable TV and video recorders. I'm not old enough to remember how the advent of phonograph records and later radio broadcasting would, so they said, demolish the music industry, but I do remember the push to add a tax onto VCRs to reimburse the movie studios God given right to profit. I do remember how the music industry effectively prevented Americans from owning Digital Audio Tape machines and I remember how FedEx and others insisted in adding a tax on Fax machines to stifle competition and I remember how all these things not only failed but also how in the long run some of this technology was a huge boon to industries that were terrified of them.

Face it, the Internet is terrifying to a lot of entities, many of whom don't have anything like the public interest in mind when they propose to bend it to their will or destroy it. This thing of ours has more potential for good than the printing press and the spectacle of corporations crying about too much regulation calling for the garroting of that good in the name of a guaranteed right to a profit is as disgusting as anything prompting my gag reflex these days.

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