All systems stop

Wikipedia Blackout

Where you gonna go for your facts now, huh, journalists?

Parts of the web were down yesterday because people who own websites were protesting SOPA. So I suppose I should do a post on that…

To be frank I’ve been avoiding discussing SOPA. Not because I don’t think it needs to be discussed – even with the internet exploding about it, there are quite a few folk I’ve run into in the last couple of weeks who have never even heard of it. The way that some media outlets have just completely ignored it up until now feels almost Orwellian. So do the measures that SOPA contains. If you don’t know what it’s about, let these lovely people tell you:

But I digress. The reason I’ve avoided writing about SOPA on here is because I doubt my thoughts about it are going to go down very well.

I remember when Napster let the genie out of the bottle all of those years ago at the dawn of the millennium. I remember there was a debate at the time about whether or not it was immoral or should be made illegal. Yes, blink and read that again. There was actually a debate that raged about whether or not helping yourself to the intellectual property of others, without their permission and without paying for it, constituted theft. I remember, after Napster was slam-dunked by the American legal authorities, reading this rather decent piece on X-Entertainment at the time. It was quite prescient; as the commentator noted back in 2000, the powers-that-be could wail and gnash their teeth as much as they liked, but file-sharing was here to stay. This meant piracy, on a grand scale, was available to the masses, and it had never been easier.

Over the last decade, something weird has happened, in that online piracy has become an almost acceptable piece of mischief in day to day existence. I’m not talking about wide scale piracy operations, by the way – I’m talking about individuals treating downloadable entertainment like some sort of digital pick ‘n mix. I’m talking about helping yourself to a TV show here, an album there, and mostly paying for the rest of your entertainment. Most people view the odd bit of piracy as being no worse than leaving your car double-parked for a few seconds while you nip into a off-license for some cigarettes.

Stop for a second and consider this question: is there anyone you know among your friends who has never downloaded, copied, owned or enjoyed a piece of entertainment that’s been pirated? If not, then imagine millions like them nipping at the heels of entertainment companies. If so, I’ll bet they’re in the minority. Oh, and if you’re sure that absolutely none of your friends and acquaintances help themselves to the odd bit of pirated material, well then congratulations, you live a charmed existence (and I’ll bet you’re wrong anyway).

I’m completely opposed to SOPA. I think the measures it will introduce are ridiculous and, in all likelihood, will be abused if they’re ever put in place. The monstrous extent of the new powers that the bill proposes to gift authorities and wealthy corporations doesn’t surprise me. When those who crave power see the chance to increase their powers, they go after it with both hands. And whereas you or I may see a spider in the corner of our room and think it prudent to invest in some bug spray, those in power will see the same spider and their first impulse is to grant themselves permission to level an entire city block, so said spider – and anything that looks like said spider – have no chance of survival. It’s depressing, but there it is.

Still, there’s a part of me that can’t help but feel something like SOPA has been on the cards for quite some time. Even if it isn’t signed into law this time around, it’s clear those with clout feel piracy has now reached the point where something – possibly something even as draconian as SOPA – needs to be done. In hindsight, we should’ve expected something like this.

I hope that SOPA is roundly put to the side and proper dialogue commences because the last thing anyone needs right now, is piracy being used as the jimmy in the door of our online rights.

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