Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tell your Senators and Representative to not support proposed Anti-Piracy legislation SOPA and PIPA

Today, across the Internet, many have darkened their websites in protest of the pending Anti-Piracy legislation in the US Senate and House of Representatives. Others are presenting statements and editorials explaining their serious objections to this new legislation, as currently written.

As a professional photographer, I take my work, copyright issues, and piracy of copyrighted work, mine and that of others, very, very seriously. Theft of copyrighted material, photographs, drawings, film, video, music, art, the written word, and creative ideas made public through various means, is very serious business.

I believe that more must be done to protect the creative products of human minds. Without it, those who create such work will be unable to make a living as others unfairly steal their hard work and genius. Without protection, creativity will be stifled and the world will loose much which makes human endeavors great.

That being said, the current pending Anti-Piracy legislation is heavy handed, a dangerous assault on free speech and the constitution, wrong thinking, and will stifle creativity by putting too much power in those hands who have cash in their pocket. It will hand over great power to a few companies and organizations who have large resources, over who gets to exercise creativity, and cause independent artists, artisans, and authors, to be lost in a sea of cash they don't have, in my opinion.

The Anti-Piracy bills, if enacted into law would violate the First Amendment, illegally censor Internet content, and cripple the Internet, while threatening whistle-blowing and other free speech actions.

It's one thing to go after websites which are allegedly directly involved in copyright infringement, but the proposed bills would allow the government to target sites that merely provide information which could help users get around the proposed law's censorship provisions. That amounts to unconstitutional prior restraint against protected speech, and, in my opinion would severely damage online innovation.

Social media sites like Facebook, Google Plus, or YouTube, sites with user generated content, would be especially vulnerable to proposed law. They would have to expend huge amounts of their resources to police their sites for copyright violations, as these new PIPA and SOPA proposals make them liable for the uploads from you and me, which might be copyright violations. Venture capitalists have said, en masse, they won’t invest in new online startups if the legislation passes, as it would be likely that under the new law, new companies couldn't be successful, due to the onerous liability and capital requirements required.

Talk about damaging the potential for innovation, something these bills are supposed to enable, but don't!

Worse yet, the proposed laws would decimate the open source software community. This would be tragic for those who love freedom and liberty. Anyone who writes or distributes VPN, proxy, privacy or anonymization software would be immediate targets of the proposed laws. This would even include organizations funded by the US State Department to create software which helps democratic activists get past authoritarian regimes’ online censorship mechanisms. It's ironic that the proposals would replicate the same practices as these regimes, and outlaw the tools used by activists to circumvent censorship in countries like Iran, Syria and China.

Then there is the provision in these laws which would grant broad immunity to all service providers, even if they overblock innocent users, by blocking sites voluntarily with no judicial oversight. Since the proposed law's standard for immunity is so low, as to be beyond any reasonable thought, with the potential for abuse “off the charts,” these service providers need only act “in good faith” (vaguely defined) and base their decision “on credible evidence” (extremely vague) to receive immunity from prosecution or civil suit.

The proposed law would allow big business associations like MPAA and RIAA to create site blacklists of competitors and independents to shut them down, even if the evidence was bogus. Intermediaries would be under enormous financial pressure to accede to shutdown demands to avoid court orders. This gives outrageous censorship powers without any judicial or legal oversight to big business. Independent creators and purveyors of creativity would have a difficult or impossible fight against this, due to the huge financial resources of the corporations they would be pitted against. Anti-competitive and anti-trust laws would be of no help in this fight.

The proposed law would give the US Attorney General new authority to block domain name services (DNS), a provision that has been universally criticized by Internet security experts and First Amendment scholars. Even the blacklist bills’ authors are now publicly second-guessing that provision. The problem here is that the methods used to accomplish this task, something that China currently uses to censor the Internet available to their citizens, would make the Internet in the US even more vulnerable to hacking and piracy than it already is, and ironically like other provisions of the proposed law, that is part of what it is supposed to stop.

Finally, the proposed law circumvents a pillar of American justice, that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt. Under the proposed Anti-Piracy legislation, it's like the old Soviet Union, where you were guilty unless you prove yourself innocent, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Once accused of piracy or copyright infringement, under the proposed law, your work product, your photos, movies, music, etc. can be removed, stopping all marketing of your products and all sales. Moreover, restoration won't occur until you prove it's yours and there was no piracy or copyright infringement. During that time, the fight to prove your innocence will cost a bundle, and you'll be unable to draw an income from your work.

All copyright holders already have a reasonable mechanism to halt infringement and recover damages, both statutory and actual, via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and having used it myself, I can tell you, it works, though it could use some improvements.

That being said, neither PIPA nor SOPA are the answer. These are dangerous pieces of legislation and must be stopped. Please, contact your Senators and Representative in Congress and tell them to vote against these bills and write legislation which reasonably and constitutionally work to help creative Americans, not put them at risk or at the mercy of big business. Tell them to not put the Internet, content providers and ordinary Americans at risk to hackers and thieves.

Tell your legislators the law they write must not deprive Americans of our basic human rights.

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