SOPA/PIPA for the Week Ending 1/22/2012

Undoubtedly coverage of progress on SOPA and PIPA will slacken now that both bills have been shelved and many, prematurely, are calling this week’s black out a victory. As news stories inevitably taper off, I will fold them back into the existing series of blog posts where appropriate. I hope to see, and will be adding my voice to, a sustained call for more constructive engagement between technologists of all stripes and policy makers.

A Few Final SOPA/PIPA Links for Consideration

As you may well imagine, the sites from which I usual cull my blog fodder have either been out of action or focusing exclusively on the pleas against SOPA and PIPA during this day of protest (as have I.)

In lieu of my usual curation of stories, even a minimal link dump, here are a few more posts worth reading about SOPA and PIPA.

PJ at Groklaw has a pretty good summary of the day’s events, as the sunset sets (at least here on the East Coast.)

Kevin Marks offered via Techdirt a translation of some of the latest frothy blatherings from current MPAA chief and former Senator Dodd. I honestly see visions of him dictating this, neck veins bulging and flecks of spittle flying from his lips. I am a bit galled that he has the temerity to call an “abuse of power” the actions of site and network service operators defending themselves from the very existential threat he has been championing through incredibly deep pocketed lobbying.

That’s not the end of it, either. Also on Techdirt, Mike Masnick relays how the MPAA is now trying to downplay the web wide blackout, claiming no large sites participated. Google? Wikipedia? Yeah, those are inconsequential. Even among technology enthusiasts and early adopters, clearly no one has ever heard of them.

And finally, Lauren Weinstein wonders what happens when the banners come down and the lights go back on at all the the protesting sites. Joe Brockmeier at ReadWriteWeb poses similar questions about how we sustain vigilance against bad ideas advanced by those whose bank balances outstrip any sense they might have of the greater public good. Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic touches on many of the same questions, drawing parallels to other movements and how to encourage focus, break out of the technology centric echo chamber and sustain momentum.

All are worthy thoughts to bear in mind as we tally our victories and lick our wounds, returning from whence we respectively came. Tha may be the usual state of apathy about issues that are admittedly not the easiest to understand. Or it may be the near constant apprehension I know I am not alone in feeling over what lunatic scheme Hollywood will try next rather than engaging in a meaningful dialogue about real means of protecting and bostering cultural creation without damage the very public whoser heritage it is.

Hopefully a few people, at least, were informed enough by today’s events to perhaps to be lead through greater awareness to that latter group, being more mindful than before of what is at stake when seemingly obscure legislation like SOPA and PIPA is next proposed.

Human Readable Explanation of the Problems with SOPA/PIPA

Mitchell Baker, head lizard wrangler for Mozilla, has a very clear post for those still struggling to understand the problems with the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation. As maker of the Firefox browser and a very active organization in shaping many new developments on the web, Mozilla has a huge stake in the outcome.

I like Mitchell’s analogy of a store. While not perfect as the costs of altering virtual directories and digital maps is different than their physical counterparts, the overall absurdity of trying to legislate around a blatant pirate site is no less absurd.

The solution under the proposed bills is to make it as difficult as possible to find or interact with the store. Maps showing the location of the store must be changed to hide it(1). The road to the store must be blocked off so that it’s difficult to physically get to there(2). Directory services must unlist the store’s phone number and address(3). Credit card companies(4) would have to cease providing services to the store. Local newspapers would no longer be allowed to place ads for the video store(5). And to make sure it all happens, any person or organization who doesn’t do this is subject to penalties(6). Even publishing a newsletter that tells people where the store is would be prohibited by this legislation(7).

Her conclusion is also compelling to me, that SOPA and PIPA are ill timed as the world of online content is heavily in flux. The implication is that many of the solutions we might consider would be bad fits, not just DNS blocking and the other measures in these bills. She admits room as well for those that prefer to make user of existing, traditional business models where an author prefers to limit access and use a per-per-view model.

PIPA/SOPA and Why You Should Care, Lizard Wrangling

Detailed Analysis of the Text of SOPA

Chris Heald, at Mashable, has read the text of SOPA so you don’t have to. He brings a programmer’s sensibility to determinedly slog through it. I like the analogy between scrutinizing legislation and unraveling spaghetti code.

As an example, here is his synthesis of what he calls The Sledgehammer, section 103.

Wow, now there’s a chunk of legalese that’ll make your eyes gloss over. Let’s cut straight to the nasty bits.

An `Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property’ if [a portion of the site is US-directed] and is used by users within the United States and is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables or facilitates [copyright violation or circumvention of copyright protection measures].

Still doesn’t sound that bad, but consider this: Any site that allows users to post content is “primarily designed for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables copyright violation.” The site doesn’t have to be clearly designed for the purpose of copyright violation; it only has to provide functionality that can be used to enable copyright violation.

The implication is that this flies in the face of post-DMCA case law that raises a burden to prove that the operator of a site willfully and knowingly has set it up for the express purposes of infringement. The wording is tricky and Heald puts his finger right on the fraught interpretation that de-couples the outcome from the intent.

If you want to understand the problems with this bill in great detail, Heald’s write up is an an excellent guide. If you are less patient and want the executive summary, skip right to the section labeled, “To Sum Up”.


  • Gives the government the right to unilaterally censor foreign websites.
  • Gives copyright holders the right to issue economic takedowns and bring lawsuits against website owners and operators, if those websites have features that make it possible to post infringing content.
  • Makes it a felony offense to post a copyrighted song or video.

Why SOPA Is Dangerous, Mashable

Big Content Won’t Scare Me off the Net

Or why this site is not blacked out.

(Updated to add links for further reading at the end of the post. I realize as my thoughts are shared beyond my usual readership that this entry doesn’t adequately explain the issues and what is at risk, relying very heavily on my writing and podcasts to make clear what is at stake and my broader views on copyright.)

Blacking out web sites in protest of proposed legislation that would adversely impact the values embodied in online conversation and activity is one of the more venerable traditions in a space defined by a metaphorical clock that ticks at breakneck speed.

In the past, these efforts have seemed to me to be a bit tenuous at best. I say so not to doubt the sincerity or commitment of those participating but of the visibility of these virtual actions to the general prublic and responsible policy makers.

Not so this time around. I don’t think it is the sheer volume of participation, though I don’t have any hard data to back up my sense of that. I think that access to the net is now much more a part of an expanding fraction ordinary people’s daily reality than in protests past. There are still not inconsiderable challenges we have left to realizing true universal access but all the same I feel this campaign is a signal moment beyond just the issues it is directly addressing. The audience size seems to have passed a tipping point, not the head count of those speaking out. Perhaps this is as a result of the recent round of social innovations, maybe it is just the logical outcome of growth curves going back to the original commercialization of the net in the nineties.

The reason my site is still live has nothing to do with skepticism of other destinations going dark. Hopefully I’ve made clear how I feel the highest profile sites speaking out will affect more people than any other issue thus far. I am especially eager to get a sense of how broadly the self imposed embargo of Wikipedia reaches. A site that is more used by more people seems hard to imagine, even the most popular news or media outlet. And yet, try to think back to Wikipedia’s presence in the public consciousness ten or even just five years ago in comparison.

The core provocation invited by the web wide blackout is to imagine an online space where laws like SOPA and PROTECT IP are on the books. In such a world, the expanded and unchecked private rights of action will the your most notorious YouTube takedown spat to date look like a mild disagreement over an obscure point of netiquette in the most civil of networked fora. Easy to imagine existing voices quelled, as many are doing to themselves in protest; far harder to envision what voices might never be heard, what innovations never developed.

The most effective participation I’ve seen so far, at least for me, are the protests where the authors have clearly internalized the issues and put forward the same call to action, to contact your elected representatives to voice your concerns. Uniformity breeds complacency where as unqiue expression better begs thoughtful contemplation and hopefully active engagement.

In that context, in my speculative imagining of post-SOPA, post-PIPA world, I would still be here. Day in and day out I already try to parse and share the implications of the slug fest between the increasingly monopolistic entertainment industry and the innovators of all sizes from the technology sector. I don’t necessarily accept that piracy is the huge existential problem that the Hollywood establishment makes out. Taking that as a point of departure, there are just far too many questions around how legislation like the already on the books DMCA and the proposed ones we are currently protesting are appropriate responses.

Beyond my loud mouthed persistence in publicly teasing apart these questions, my own imp of the perverse would drive me to tempt the exercise of these new private rights of action on steriods, powers that lack appropriate cheks-and-balances when the proven potential for abuse is so great.

Let them try to shut me up, if the stakes are free expression then being subject of impact litigation is well worth the cost.

To learn more about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and why so many sites and people are protesting them, the page for taking action at American Censorship has plenty of additional resources, scroll towards the bottom for a video, some selected articles and a timeline of events around these pieces of legislation.

SOPA, PIPA for the Week Ending 1/15/2012

Looks like some reason for cautious optimisim. I’ll be discussing the removal of DNS blocking from SOPA in the next newscast. In particular note the warning from Mike Masnnick at Techdirt, that the removal of the same provisions from PROTECT IP are merely a delay not a real, permanent victory.

Why Science Fiction is Part of My Own Narrative

I commonly field the question of what ties together all the threads I pursue on this blog and in my podcast. Cory Doctorow, in his most recent Locus column, has generously given me an excellent explanation at least for why I tend to ruminate so much on science fiction as a literature and why I find it woven so much into my thinking about technology and policy.

Science fiction exposes: it can be hard to understand or even see upheaval when you’re in its midst. But just as a doctor will swab your throat and grow a sample of the flora she finds there in a petri dish until it’s large enough to identify, so too can a science fiction writer construct a petri dish of a world in which a single technology or idea can grow to fill it, providing a magnified look at something that was too small to be detected in situ.

The exposure he so beautifully explains is just one of the functions this genre of work can serve. I won’t spoil the most compelling argument, rather urging that you read the article, if you haven’t already. Cory’s keen insight here is why I recently praised his skill as an essayist, a facet of his work that I don’t think garners as near as much attention and credit as his oratory and fiction.

A Vocabulary for Speaking about the Future, Locus Online

Raiders of the Lost Remix

In case you haven’t been convinced by videos and essays I’ve linked in the past about the deep DNA of remix, re-use and re-purposing in the creative arts, David Weinberger posted another great side-by-side video similar to the Matrix video Kirby Ferguson shared.

To dismiss more tenuous references and inspirations is one thing. The almost scene for scene duplication from the sources is something else altogether. The point isn’t that derivative works are any less creative but rather that all artists work from a palette directly informed by all the works they themselves enjoy and assign personal and cultural significance. Whether a film or music buff has to explicitly call out the act of derivation or the style of work, as with sampling in hip hop, is self evident should matter one whit–it’s all due to the same underlying and perfectly valid impulse.

Raiders of the Lost Lawsuits, Joho the Blog via BoingBoing

New Copyfighting Rap from Dan Bull

TorrentFreak, among others, pointed to a new video by copyfighting rapper, Dan Bull.

Dan organized participation by his fans via Twitter and Facebook to make the video for this latest protest song. I think high degree of participation very well demonstrates that the average person, at least the average rap listening person, gets how dangerous SOPA is to the open Internet.

Do click through and check out the enigmax’s post as it includes an exclusive quote to TF about the video, beginning with:

“As an internet geek, a musician, and a non-evil person, SOPA is abhorrent on several fronts,” Dan told TorrentFreak. “It threatens the future of the internet, which is something far more valuable both commercially and socially than the entertainment industry ever has been, or ever will be.”

I am still holding out for a greatest activist hits album from Dan, that we speculated about in the interview I conducted with him earlier this year.

File-Sharing Darling Dan Bull Publishes Anti-SOPA Rap, TorrentFreak

Following SOPA for the Week Ending 12/18/2011

I haven’t had much of a chance to write about SOPA and its companion in the Senate, PIPA, this week due to my heavy year end work load. Much has been going on, including a grueling House Judiciary Committee meeting that was incredibly well covered by the likes of Mike Masnick and EFF.

The short version of the most recent developments is that the proponents of the bill are increasingly drawing fire for pushing legislation despite mounting evidence that they are entirely ignorant of the technologies, markets and norms that will be most heavily impacted. The committee did not come to a vote at the end of the 11+ hour hearing but will be re-convening this coming Wednesday, which is an unusual rush given the time of year and that the rest of Congress is largely on the glide path to the end of the year.

Below are the handful of stories that caught my attention, covering just this past week of developments around SOPA.