2015-11-15 The Command Line Podcast

old-newspaper-350376_1280This is an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

This time, I chat about some recent news stories that caught my attention, including:

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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

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.