anyone else see any irony in this? Google.com, Wikipedia.org, WordPress.org, and hundreds of other websites large and small are going all-out against SOPA. Google has the logo censored by a black bar, and Wikipedia is actually offline. Lots of other sites and blogs are following their example. The idea is to symbolically register dissent against censorship by using self-censorship.
When you click the link from Google’s homepage, you are taken to a cool infographic which states:
Fighting online piracy is important. The most effective way to shut down pirate websites is through targeted legislation that cuts off their funding. Thereâ€™s no need to make American social networks, blogs and search engines censor the Internet or undermine the existing laws that have enabled the Web to thrive, creating millions of U.S. jobs.
I think I disagree with all three statements – first, fighting online piracy is NOT important. Piracy will always exist and will always stay a step ahead of measures to prevent it. In fact those measures ultimately end up facilitating casual piracy – look at Napster, deCSS, and now Bitorrent. All were solutions designed to evade piracy and which in the end ultimately made even more piracy possible.
Second, the LAST thing we need is “targeted legislation” that “shuts down funding” for websites of any type. Besides OBVIOUSLY being a First Amendment issue, such legislation would represent a precedent far more damaging and capable of leading to true censorship than SOPA (which is targeted at foreign websites and DNS).
Finally, while I agree we don’t want to force American blogs or websites to censor themselves, the implication is that SOPA would do this, which it does not do. SOPA is explicitly targeted at foreign websites. US-based websites (and this includes all .org and .net domains as well) are not affected by SOPA at all.
(Read the actual SOPA bill here – PDF)
I’m a big supporter of network neutrality (unless the network operators are willing to forgo their government subsidies), but what we have here is basically SOPA Theater (analogous to the Security Theater we have for airline travel).
Looks like the DNS provisions in SOPA are getting pulled, and the House is delaying action on the bill until February, so it’s gratifying to see that the activism had an effect. However, that activism would have been put to better use to educate people about why DRM is harmful, why piracy should be fought not with law but with smarter pro-consumer marketing by content owners (lowered prices, more options for digital distribution, removal of DRM, fair use, and ubiquitous time-shifting). Look at the ridiculous limitations on Hulu Plus – even if you’re a paid subscriber, some shows won’t air episodes until the week after, old episodes are not always available, some episodes can only be watched on the computer and are restricted from mobile devices. These are utterly arbitrary limitations on watching content that just drive people into the pirates’ arms.
All that priceless real estate on Google and Wikipedia could have been used to educate millions of people about these issues, and instead it is mostly wasted on a pointless battle that’s already won. The real battle is being lost.
Addendum: Color me skeptical of Google’s commitment to free speech, by the way. Here’s a question for them: If SOPA were to pass, would they comply with takedown requests that don’t meet the safe-harbor provisions of the DMCA? (The argument is that SOPA would lower the bar for claiming infringement, but that’s vague in the bill). Would Google fight SOPA and be willing to go to court if their users were unfairly targeted, say for example by using a snippet of copyrighted music in a personal Youtube video? (the stark scenario that Tom’s Hardware painted last week)
UPDATE: vigorous discussion at Shamus’ place, but as one commentor puts it, full of “fashionable anti-Americanism” and chest-thumping about “freedom”.