Google, Wikipedia and other major Internet players will go through with protests today that were planned as ways to signal their opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which has been shelved and is probably dead.
Protesting something that's already been cancelled would normally be a complete waste of time, or a triumphalist waste of time dancing on the grave of something terrible you helped kill.
SOPA isn't completely dead, however; it's simply withdrawn until either popular consensus supports it (as its sponsors prefer to describe its condition) or until hell freezes over (the way everyone else prefers to describe it).
SOPA also has a bigger, badder brother that poses most of the same dangers as the original, but is dressed in a slightly nicer suit and has a much better chance than the boisterously unpopular SOPA, unless protests like those planned for today and extensive letter-writing campaigns convince the Senate to kill it.
The Senate's version of SOPA, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) is just as restrictive and just as slavishly devoted to the exclusive benefit of industries based on the control of copyright, at the expense of ordinary people.
PIPA just isn't quite as obvious about how bad it really is.
The advantage of living in the Senate
Newscasters consistently call the Senate the more "mature" and "stable" house of Congress only because its members are elected every six years rather than every two. They're not any smarter or more mature than members of the House, they're just not as close to losing their jobs, so they can afford to be a little less frantic.
So, when the House runs around like a chicken with its head cut off, the Senate strikes a dignified pose and orates about the deplorable conditions that lead some to cut the heads off chickens and the brave determination of the chickens who choose to continue running around with no heads.
It doesn't make any more sense, or accomplish anything at all. It just sounds a lot more decorous; like a UFO conspiracy theorist with a good haircut and a nice suit rather than overalls and an aluminum-foil fedora.
The ominous difference in this case is that the Senate is less prone to take up or drop some new obsession quickly than the House.
Usually that's a good thing. The House stirs things up so change is possible; the Senate slows change down to give national policy enough consistency to make a difference.
Years of legislator-herding by the music, movie and software publishing industries have maneuvered both the House and Senate into the same set of cattle chutes, which make the copyright debate seem simple by blocking off any point of view but the industry's and making movement in any choice of direction impossible.
PIPA is as bad on most fronts as SOPA
PIPA is identical in most ways to SOPA. The legislative differences are minimal, but debate over it in the Senate is likely to be less divisive and far less visible than the fight over SOPA was in the the crasser, more mercurial House.
So, even though SOPA has been shelved; even though its lead sponsor backed down from the bill's most egregious violations of the Constitution and common law; even though PIPA has been changed slightly to reflect some of the changes in SOPA, there is still a bill on Capitol Hill that will do the same kind of damage that SOPA would have.
It will also confirm as law the opinion of a very small number of unrealistically self-important companies that whatever is good for them is good, period.
Give control over the Internet to people who sued a dead grandmother
Despite the minimal protection against false accusations for the accused, PIPA does nothing at all to penalize a copyright holder who falsely accuses a site of infringement.
Realistically that would be a minor drawback if SOPA and PIPA didn't rely on the likes of the MPAA and RIAA to make accusations only when the evidence is clear and decisive.
RIAA, remember, is the organization that tried to sue a dead grandmother for pirating music by downloading it to a house in which she had never allowed a computer to be installed.
- Here are a couple of other highlights from the RIAA's enforcement history:
- The RIAA sued a homeless man because someone was allegedly downloading files from an apartment the man once occupied.
- It sued a Vietnam Vet, and allowed the family 60 days to grieve following the man's sudden death, before demanding they return for depositions and threatening to lodge charges against them as well.
- It sued a 42-year-old single mother who had to retire from the Justice Department due to a disability, charging that she had illegally downloaded a rap song called "Shake that Ass Bitch" at 4:24 a.m. under the username Gotenkito. When she told RIAA lawyers she would counter-sue for harassment, RIAA operatives threatened to confront the woman's 10-year-old daughter and interrogate her in their offices if the woman didn't drop her effort to resist their bullying and extortion.
Web decides to recognize that PIPA is SOPA and just keep fighting
PIPA's chance of passing look good, or did. Support that was overwhelming a few weeks ago has drained away to the point that loud, insistent last-minute protest from major web sites and a flood of email from constituents could make a big difference in the reception PIPA gets in the Senate.
"Before it looked like it would pass with 80 votes, and now [the online protest] looks like something that will suck the votes away," a senior aide to a Senate Democrat told CNN. "We're at a tipping point. It will either become a huge issue or die down a bit and that will determine the future of this."
"It" in this case, the thing that will either die down or become a huge issue, is resistance from both consumers and Internet companies.
The leading opponent of PIPA in the Senate is Ron Wyden, (D, Ore.) who, among other things, promises to read the names of everyone who asks him to from the floor of the Senate while filibustering against the bill.
Civil rights and Internet-business organizations are calling for consumers to not only send Wyden their names, but to send their Senators clear signals that show just how little Americans think of both Internet censorship and punishment without trial.
Here's one fromOpenCongress.org that will help ID your Senator, his or her email address and details on the bill like its Senate number. It will also help you write the letter, no matter which side of the issue you're on.
Here's another, from PublicKnowledge.org, that will also walk you through the process and add as many details as you like about why you might want to tell a Senator or two to vote the thing down.
Here's one from Fight for the Future that will let you write a protest letter, or sign up your site as part of the protest.
Issues of concern in PIPA:
- PIPA is overbroad. By including "information location tools," it makes nearly every actor on the Internet a potential violator.
- PIPA is bad international precedent. By sanctioning government interference with DNS, it would be used as justification for other countries to hinder freedom of expression of online.
- PIPA is ripe for abuse. By creating a "private right of action," rights holders could directly go after payment processors and ad networks.
- PIPA speeds fragmentation of the Internet. By targeting DNS, it could lead to a fragmentation of the Internet, running contrary to the U.S. government's commitment to advancing a single, global Internet. – PublicKnowledge.org, summary of issues
Here's one last source, if you want one: the Electronic Frontier Foundation lists technical, legal and ethical reasons to oppose PIPA, lists of other opponents, including tech companies, conservative groups, film makers, law professors, entertainment companies, copyright-owners associations and the concerns of security professionals.
The boycott begins today. The Senate debate on PIPA comes up Jan. 24. You have less than a week to make your voice heard in the Senate to make sure other voices you rely on aren't squeezed out by corporate interests.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.