What’s the Point of SOPA?

It seems the recent blackout of many popular web sites caused some SOPA/PIPA supporters to change their tune. We even had Senator Reed and Congressman Cicilline come out against the bills, after they’d previously been non-committal. Senator Whitehouse still supports the bill that he is sponsoring, but says he is willing to make changes.
I find it interesting that Senator Whitehouse submitted a bill that he now says he’s willing to make changes to. Why now? Is he sponsoring a bill that was hastily written and poorly thought out? It seems that he’s now admitting that. If Senator Whitehouse’s strong suit is in the area of law enforcement and this bill deals with enforcing the law, and he didn’t get this one right, then what exactly can we count on him to get right in Washington?
However, with that aside, is there even any need for SOPA/PIPA at all? The aim of those bills is to protect intellectual property from internet pirates by shutting down access to web sites that violate US copyright law. These bills have not passed yet, but the United States was involved with the shutdown of alleged copyright violator Megaupload.com on Thursday. The owner and at least some employees of the site were arrested in various locations around the world and many of their servers were shut down and millions of dollars confiscated.
It would almost seems as though someone saw the bills going down in flames and decided to show the bills’ opponents that the US can do just about any time it wants. If the US can already do this sort of thing without SOPA and PIPA having passed, what will they be able to do WITH those bills being law, or if it’s nothing additional, then what’s the point?

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Michael Webber
Michael Webber
9 years ago

Thanks for the post, Vimeo has a great video that explains the PIPA/SOPA with some great visuals. Title of the video is: “PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet”.
The whole thing doesn’t make much sense and could be dangerous.

Monique
Editor
9 years ago

“is there even any need for SOPA/PIPA at all?”
That’s a very good question in the wake of the take-down of Megaupload.
As Patrick points out, Megaupload was an international operation. But many, many (most?) large websites are international. It appears that there was no legal impediment to US DoJ carrying out their part in the actual shutdown of the site; i.e., flipping the switch on Megaupload’s leased servers in Virginia.
So if a large (allegedly) piracy-serving website was taken down without SOPA, where is the need for SOPA or any of its incarnations?
More acutely, how were our legislators persuaded that it was needed?

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Economically speaking, a thriving black market is an indication that something is wrong with the current state of the law. We see it in construction where people don’t want to deal with all the taxes and regulations. We see it with drugs like marijuana and prescription medications from Canada that shouldn’t be illegal in the first place. We see it, in a way, with speed limits that are artificially low on the highway when everyone goes 70 in a 55. And we see it with intellectual property. These Hollywood bought-and-paid-for politicians claim that we *need* SOPA because billions of people are illegally downloading media. But why are so many otherwise law-abiding people engaging in that activity? People generally don’t want to break the law, or at least fear the consequences. They do it in this case because intellectually property has made media too difficult to obtain in the information age. Prices are coming down on movies, games, and music now as a result of online distribution, as they should, but they’re still way too high, propped up by an artificial and arbitrary regulatory system. The statists have it backwards – the wild popularity of sites like Megaupload isn’t evidence that more should be done, it is evidence that they should do be doing less to insulate the market shares of rich, IP-hoarding media corporations. Maybe there will still be music without Britney Spears earning hundreds of millions of dollars through government IP monopoly rights. Maybe there will still be books created if J.K. Rowling is just a multi-millionaire instead of a billionaire.

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

“because billions of people are illegally downloading media. But why are so many otherwise law-abiding people engaging in that activity?”
I’ve asked some experts and been told that it’s not illegal to download the media but it is illegal to share it. So it’s the people that make downloads available doing something illegal not the downloaders. Feel free to correct me if I’m been given bad information.

chuckr
chuckr
9 years ago

From another perspective, the megaupload takedown is a cautionary tale not to rely solely on cloud storage sites for your backup. There apparently are people who had legitimate and legal data on this site and they are SOL until the ponderous government apparatus determines their data is in fact theirs. That may or may not happen and if it does happen it won’t be soon.
Not that your data is safe on your own computers. But if someone official wants my laptop and I have 60 seconds, they’ll be getting my old disk drive. That’s the one I sidetracked because it has at least one rootkit virus on it. Good luck with that.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“I’ve asked some experts and been told that it’s not illegal to download the media but it is illegal to share it. So it’s the people that make downloads available doing something illegal not the downloaders. Feel free to correct me if I’m been given bad information.”
That’s a good question and a difficult one… it’s possible nobody really knows the answer. In the most literal sense, those who download files are copying and reproducing copyrighted material, so they are technically infringing. On the other hand, in practice, people are generally not arrested or sued just for downloading. I assume that this is mainly because “damages” are easier to prove for distributors, and juries can relate more to people who just “like to watch.” There is also the nebulous line between what is criminal and what is just civil infringement. Torrenting technology makes the whole thing even more complicated because everyone who leeches the torrent is also sharing small information packets of the file.

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

“everyone who leeches the torrent is also sharing small information packets of the file.”
And that’s IF you don’t turn off that default option.
Sure, the “community” doesn’t like that much though.

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

“From another perspective, the megaupload takedown is a cautionary tale not to rely solely on cloud storage sites for your backup.”
Chuck is right. If you keep any important data on your computer or if you use your computer for anything even remotely financially related (check bank balances?), two important things:
1. Make backups in at least two different places. Offsite at a place like Mozy or Carbonite are great options, but in case they go out of business or lose your data, keep a local copy as well on a separate hard drive than your computer. You want the offsite in case something happens to the local.
2. Full disk encryption. Encrypt your backed up data so if someone does get your disk, they can’t read it. It’s virtually useless to them without your key.

mangeek
mangeek
9 years ago

As far as I’m concerned, it’s not the executive branch’s job to directly enforce ANY intellectual property issue. That’s for the Judiciary. Let the storm troopers come shut off the servers after a judgement in civil court, never before.
It should be the copyright holders’ job to enforce their own IP, bring civil suits against infringers, and get judgments that can be enforced with government agents if need-be. Anything more is basically corporate welfare, making the government do work it has no authority to do at the expense of taxpayers.

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