Online debate about the Stop Online Piracy Act hit a hysterical fever pitch about 12 seconds after it started, as opponents predicted it would cause the end of Democracy, strangling of the Internet, imprisonment of the innocent and a disappointing shortage of moist chocolate rum cakes during the Christmas holidays.
Mind you, I don't doubt any of those things. Especially the last one; fascists hate rum cake.
Pretty soon, not saying things and not reading them isn't enough. Thinking those things becomes the crime, which is really hard to enforce, and someone has to fund a whole industry devoted to providing the random strip searches, invasions of privacy and enhanced interrogation of children and household pets in an effort to flush out the (venial sin-committing) evildoers before they can speak their thoughts again.
SOPA's supporters, meanwhile, brush off objections from the SOPA opponents – while holding hearings at which the only witnesses permitted to speak were those holding the same point of view as SOPA sponsors their own point of view to be heard.
(That's a good indication of how SOPA would work if it went into effect, isn't it?)
Bipartisan opponents in Congress come not from centrists who live barely a step from the line between conservative and liberal, but from radicals from the distant fringes of each party.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, heavily demonized by conservatives for not being either male or conservative, leads one side; Rep. Ron Paul (R), libertarian gadfly who constantly embarrasses fellow Republicans by showing up the lip-service they pay to far-right ideological points, also opposes it.
Even supporters have doubts about how it would be implemented and whether it would have a corrosive effect on cybersecurity. (Though several publications pointed out that many of the supporters don't appear to understand how SOPA is supposed to work or what it's supposed to work on. For the record, here's an infographic showing how SOPA is supposed to work.)
Supporters aren't willing to talk compromise,claim not clamping down on speech as well as piracy will "crush" artists and other creators of content, and appear, with good evidence, to be doing the bidding of SOPA's financial backers, who no interest in the public good and a bottomless reservoir of shameless self-interest they believe is more important than the liberties protected by the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
On the positive side, that's not even a third of the Bill of Rights, so accusations that SOPA supporters are willing to crush the Constitution to line their own pockets are clearly exaggerated by at least seven Rights.
Opponents are exaggerating, right? Except the bullying and extortion?
Those who are either undecided on SOPA or, like me, think the clouds of rhetorical shrapnel are already dense enough without adding our own, may think opponents are exaggerating the potential downside of SOPA and the extremism of its supporters.
Primary source of ridiculous tenets behind SOPA: a cartoon villain from the music industry
The anti-piracy enforcement arm of the RIAA has, for almost a decade, been so aggressive about investigating, suing and attempting to prosecute those it accused of illegally downloading movies or music that it was sued by illegal investigatory practices and invasion of privacy, for fraud, conspiracy and extortion, deceptive business practices and violation of the RICO statutes normally used to prosecute bosses of organized crime families
The RIAA is an enforcement organization, that, among other sins:
- Once tried to sue a dead grandmother to extract what it felt was its rightful pound of flesh for files allegedly downloaded to a house in which the dead woman wouldn't even allow a computer to be installed.
- 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.
The industry's misplaced ardor isn't ancient history, either.
Yesterday a New York man was sentenced to a year in prison for posting a copy of the movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine a month before it was released.
He'd been charged with a similar offense before, but a year of hard time – that's federal prison, not a local jail – is ridiculously vindictive and excessive for the offense involved.
That sentence is a direct response to a decade of relentless, unself-conscious obsession with punishing anyone who would take a penny out of the pockets of RIAA members, while neglecting the opportunity to change business practices or add value to what the customer was paying inflated fees to get and virtually ignoring the global change in technology and culture that made the music-industry's business model obsolete, and allowed piracy to work in the first place
The RIAA and the intent of SOPA itself stems from an irrational rage that the world has changed and unquestioned belief that the change is the fault of the industry's customers, who should be made to pay for the self-inflicted misfortunes of the record industry.
Giving the cartoonish villain real (unconstitutional) power
So…how do you feel about giving the same people the power to command that agents of federal law enforcement agencies give up on drug runners, kidnappers, terrorists and spies in order to shut down web sites and confiscate domains for simply being accused of having offended members of a group willing to sue a dead grandmother and grill a 10-year-old girl to discover who from outside the house was spoofing her address in order to download a song 10-year-old girls don't listen to, at an hour they're not generally awake?
Meanwhile, members of RIAA – or at least people using IP addresses assigned to specific locations within RIAA's network – illegally downloaded enough copies of the HBO series Dexter that, if the fines they try to impose on other people were also applied to RIAA, they would total more than $9 million.
Persistent, vindictive, mean, insensitive and hypocritical? You've got the makings of a really excellent villain there.
Too bad it's writing laws that violate freedoms specifically protected by the documents that form the basis of all the other laws in the United States rather than stroking a cat or wearing awkward bondage gear as the bad guy in a James Bond movie, where its scenery chewing would seem more natural.
At least RIAA won't weaken the opposition by seeming too sympathetic.
Whether you're for or against, you should study up on SOPA a bit. Here's a relatively objective piece from the Washington Post that doesn't take long to read.
Being able to believe the gall it takes to push this piece of nonsense in an allegedly free country may stretch your assumptions a bit, especially if you prefer to assume, as I do, that have to work hard to become jerks of anywhere near that magnitude, because if they'd been born that way their parents would have fostered them out to a family of weasels.
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.