SOPA/PIPA: How to stop fear

The open source community is well-positioned to stop lobbyist FUD

Here's what we have going for us:

A communications medium that, at the default setting, provides free and open communication between connected people anywhere on the planet. Instantaneously.

Today's protests of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and it's Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), are stark reminders that we, as a people, can get carried away with our fears and go too far to protect what we believe to be more important.

But when we go too far, the solution is often very much worse than the problem.

As a content producer, I can 100-percent relate to the problem facing the media companies. Having your work ripped off and posted somewhere without compensation sucks. For me, it's not a terrible financial strain, because I typically don't get paid per click. But even so, plagiarism steals traffic from my publishers, and cuts into their bottom line. Stealing media cuts into the media companies' and publishers' business the same way.

SOPA and PIPA are the media companies' response to this problem. But these two bills, as they stand, will do little to actually prevent online piracy. They were authored by legislators who not only don't know how technology works, they actually seem to take pride in their ignorance. That may play well for the political base, but not for the millions of Internet denizens who earn their living with--or entirely on--the 'Net every single day.

The open source community is particularly at risk with the passage of either of these two pieces of legislation, because the wording gives media companies a license to not only hunt and kill sites that host pirated copy, but also the tools that media companies claim enable downloading. That includes a lot of DRM-free and open source software.

But here's the thing: as I watch the various protests online today, it's important to remember that we have the opportunity to reach out to lawmakers and provide better and more effective ways to deal with online theft of copyrighted material.

The open source community, both here in the U.S. and abroad, has been a force of great economic change in the technology sector, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But it is also a potential source for social change.

Recall, if you will, the installfests hosted by Linux local user groups (LUGs). They are still around, but the ease of installation for Linux has made them less common. Installfests were driven not only by technical need, but also a sense of social responsibility to get Linux in the hands of those who could use it.

This is something the Linux and open source community can do again. We know how to share. We know how to communicate. We know how to hack. These are things we are good.

So, why not hack the government?

I'm not talking fundamental changes. I'm talking about helping government leaders really understand the technology that drives and connects so much of our society.

Get in touch with your local, state, provincial, or national government workers and offer to teach them about technology if they have questions. Voice your concerns or support for any technology-related laws being put into place.

SOPA seems to be in limbo for now, but PIPA is alive and well. And, even if they are changed or killed off entirely, there will be other opportunities for lobbyists and lawmakers to overreach and damage the technology we all use everyday.

The best weapon against fear is knowledge. The open source community has the knowledge, so let's do what we do best with that knowledge:

Share it.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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