SOPA/PIPA aren't a failure to understand the Internet; they arise from self-interested fear of free speech

Writing in the Guardian, Dan Gillmor argues that SOPA and PIPA aren't foolishly extreme because their proponents don't understand the net; rather, they are extreme because their proponents understand that the net breaks the monopoly of the powerful over communications and organizing.

So, why do they make unsupportable statements?

Because they don't dare make an honest argument. If they were saying what they believe, it would go roughly this way: "The internet threatens our longstanding control of information and communications, and that is simply unacceptable. Therefore, it is essential to curb the utility of the internet for everyone else."

Stop Sopa or the web really will go dark


  1. This really does seem to be the hidden truth.  The openness of the internet threatens the power structure.

    There are many who would love to turn the web into cable television.  Setup a few giant content gatekeepers.  Relegate everybody else with an unpopular opinion to the small audience of the public access channel.  (Incidentally, this is also why net neutrality is so important.)

    I’ve always assumed SOPA/PIPA were really about the WikiLeaks scandal more than entertainment industry copyright theft.

    1. Hell, you can see it moving that way with every ISP, Cable company and studio setting up their own streaming service.

    1. The “rule of thumb” rules are for arguments and theories that have little to no evidence on which to make a judgement, the point being made by the author has ample evience:
      1 ) the 1% actually _do_ own all broadcast systems and control broadcast communications, as well as control 99% of communications technology
      if that isn’t enough..
      2) entertainment lawyers

      (Two entertainment lawyers talking, one says “really like to screw her” the other says “out of what?”)

      1.  Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate  – William of Occam.

        Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

        AKA “Keep it simple stupid!

    2. Wrong, wrong, wrong. There is plenty of incompetence amongst the politicalis involved but the malice comes from the parties paying them to do their bidding. SOPA/PIPA and all their precedents and antecedents are not intended to do anything wrt ‘piracy’ except peripherally. The real intent – easily discernible by seeing the common threads of centralisation, corporatisation, removal of any hint of due process or transparency – is to shut down anything not liked by powerful people (remembering of course that powerful corporations are powerful people too, because even they need love).

  2. The SOPA/PIPA episode really is symptomatic of the larger fight for the soul of the country:

    Should the congress make laws that benefit the few at the expense of the many, or laws that benefit the many at the expense of the few?

    Those few at the top seek to maintain their hold on power and their ability to manipulate congress to their own advantage, and they have vast monetary resources at their disposal. The many have vast numbers on their side, but are difficult to mobilize, but the SOPA/PIPA fight shows that it can be done.

    1. My real fear is that this has developed into the kind of problem that would only be truly solved by an all-out, for-realsies, chuck-the-whole-system war.  Things have progressed to where the interests that our representatives/overlords stand for are so entrenched that they’re unlikely to change.  Plus, it’s nearly impossible for an independent party to really emerge given the current system.

      Unfortunately, I think people are too comfortable to get angry enough to rise up like they have in other places.  I’m pretty sure those in power are counting on it.

  3. Rupert Murdoch opposes the doctrine of “fair use”. That makes his demand that Google filter search results for copyrighted material easier to understand. He simply does not give any weight to public goods, externalities, civil society arguments, etc.

    The base cause is a screwed up system of morality, probably. Rather than a consequentialist system of ethics, it’s an absolutist deontological morality that includes property rights (as far as I can tell). Like Ayn Rand for example making the right to property fundamental.

    Some want political and cultural domination, some want to make as much money as possible, but others just believe they’re morally in the right to exert absolute control over IP at any cost.

    1. The interesting thing to me is how Locke managed to believe in fundamental property rights, but he still considered public goods. All things begin unowned. They become owned when you ‘mix your labor with them’ (paraphrase), but this is only permissible if you leave “enough and as good” for everyone else.”

  4. I definitely think there are at least some who are pushing for it for that reason. I’m sure some people have been hoodwinked into supporting it without really knowing the stakes.

  5. Here an email I just sent to senator Patric Leahy. We’ll see if it impresses one of his staffer enough to pass it along.

    The statement “Every year, American businesses and the American economy bleed billions of dollars to online infringement and piracy” is not backed up by any credible claims. (Nor with any creditable source.)

    You would make criminals of us all, despite our individual actions based on what? The creative accounting of media companies which would make us believe that movies like Avatar were money losing flops?

    Criminals used the telephone since its inception to plan their perfidy but nobody asked for entire exchanges to be brought down because some activity might have been illegal on it.

    That is what PIPA and SOPA are proposing.

    How would you like to try to reach out to the donors in your constituency only to discover that you couldn’t because their exchange was down?

    Given the preponderance of computers and of Skype and other online communication tools in your region, there is a very real possibility that you may already be in that position.

    SOPA and PIPA are bad ideas.

    Worse they are particularly stupid ideas based on a particular industry’s business model needing a bailout to make up for its own lack of thought.

    Old media corporations are like people renting time on megaphones to Global Village Idiots who are paying more and more for less and less.

    The explosion of traditional media channels has not brought about any corresponding increase in quality.

    Louis C.K. was able to make a lifetime’s worth of wages from one single concert by using the internet, so he no longer needs big media to rip him off for the privilege of using their megaphone.

    Communications can be one to one (1:1) one to many (1:N) or many to many (N:M).

    1:1 is what happens naturally between people. There’s no real money in it. Its communication on a retail level.

    1:N is what happens when you rent time for access to a megaphone. (Print, radio, television, movies haave no possibility of real-time interaction. In addition, you are dependent on what the media companies are telling you a particular message’s reach is, but whatever they say you know you’re message is falling mostly on deaf ears so you gotta rent a LOT of time. Guess who gets the real benefit? The media companies…)

    N:M is what the internet, the world wide web and/or the new media brings to the table. Social media enables 1:1 and 1:N communication while adding the possibility of real-time, unfiltered feedback from the previously passive 1:N message receivers.

    It requires some change and some growth on the part of old media companies.

    I know that change always meets with resistance, even when people know that change is inevitable.

    Unlike King Canute who knew railing against change was as useless as commanding the tide stop, the old 1:N media companies are demanding that the world stop turning so they can keep on earning their money without making any changes.

    To them I’d have to say: “Sorry. Suck it up. Did you think that the gravy train was eternal? You have to actually work for your money.”

    Nor is it the old growth where they just think bigger N of their old 1:N business model.

    Its an entirely different growth which requires that the old companies come up with answers to the questions that the people out there (the old media N) have always had but had no way to ask.

    The growth is organic, it requires that the old media companies grow some ears.

    It didn’t say that the new media also required that he grow a pair, though I was tempted.

  6. Then there are those, granted the pulpit, who apparently want to make all nice with those who would restrict our freedoms, apparently by using the vague argument that our friends are not-so-nice either:
    (see the deep irony here is that i can freely link to an opinion that supports the concept of limiting my ability to freely link to an opinion)  (well, what did you expect from a “researcher at Microsoft Research”?)

  7. This post nails it. The “big players” in our society (governments, corporations to whom the technology is disruptive) are afraid of the internet because there’s basically no way to control it. Its basic nature is to allow 2 arbitrary hosts to connect and exchange data. On the scale of today’s internet and with the state of encryption technology, there is simply NO WAY to look at all of that data and filter for what is “desirable” to the big players (monetized content, government propaganda) and what is “undesirable” (people talking about how to escape the influence of the “big players”, content changing hands without someone gettin’ paid) 

    And if the internet WERE to somehow be legislated into uselessness, nerds would, I predict, fairly quickly build an ad-hoc alternative that was not limited in the same way. Read up on FIDO-Net – community stewardship of communications infrastructure was possible in the days of modems, it’s even more possible (and compelling!) in today’s world of packet radio and wi-fi.

    1. What makes you think that broadband communications would survive SOPA/PIPA when all it takes to shut down any site is a malicious complaint?

      I can see government sites being shut down now over piracy accusations…

      You ready to do back to sneaker-net and mineographs?

      The legislation is coming from people who have fought every technological innovation since Gutenberg created a system using moveable type. (I’m not kidding you.)

      Now they’re fighting to get back to the old days, before MP3s, before DVDs and CDs, before networks, before computers, before television, before radios, before movie theaters, before haloidgraphy, before player pianos.

      They’re old Scrooges and all they know how to say is: Humbug!

      There is no difference in attitude, in tactics or in thought, between the various **AAs and the Taliban mullahs, led by mullah Omar, who outlawed music in Afghanistan.

  8. Reading the comments by Patrick Leahy and the disgustiFUD put out by Dodd, et al, it is hilarious to see that they really believe they can turn back the tide by invoking American jobs and other hooey.  The cat’s out of the bag, Congress has the worst “ratings” in the history of such crap, and they have proven over and over again to be beholden to representing their paying constituents, not the rest of us.  To top it all off, no one believes any of them (including the Prez) when they try to tell us that these types of things will only be used to punish true criminals – we’ve all educated ourselves about Bradley Manning, the ICE debacle, etc – can’t wait for the first use of the NDAA.

    You folks have overreached way too many times and lied way too many times.  And we’re not learning about these repeated abuses from the MSM, thank you very much, Rupert.  Keep going and we may actually see a real revolution and change in the way American government is played. I truly admire Wikimedia, Reddit, BB and all of the others that used their brains yesterday.  This is not a political statement (there are plenty of bad guys on both sides of the aisle supporting this) as some “enlightened” pundits tried to sell.  How in the name of Tim Berners-Lee did these piles of legislative doo become the only bipartisan agreement we’ve seen in years and are likely to see at least until we get past November??  The entertainment industry is just not that big in terms of employees or money.  Guess the folks in DC are wannabe starfuckers just like the rest of us schlubs.

    1. Guess the folks in DC are wannabe starfuckers just like the rest of us schlubs.

      Speak for yourself. I’m no schlub :-)

      Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.

      There’s nobody I’d wanna fuck in Washington…

      1. There’s nobody I’d wanna fuck in Washington…

        I’d hit Marco Rubio if he asks nicely and opposes SOPA.

  9. Nonono this is a conspiracy theory and we all know that conspiracies do not exist in real life. Ha ha ha, yet another UFO kook lol. He probably thinks that the reptiloids are mind-controlling us  through TV-screen refresh frequency as well. It’s all a lie. We all live in the best possible society where power leads to spiritual enlightenment and only the poor lie. The rich and powerful are capable only of well-meaning mistakes. They are all good by definition because the good guys always win, as Disney and Hollywood keep reminding us. Don’t trust the crazy tinfoil hat man! (/sarcasm off)

  10. Its the perfect storm of assholes… those who would censor us who look at China with envy, the media companies who’ve lost their stranglehold on distribution, and every corporate interest with their IP Strategies who see this to empower their ability to limit our freedoms.

    And they all plan to do it with DNS, and DMCA takedown notices. There are parts of the world that this crap doesn’t matter. Once people find DNA alternatives, its game over for their censorship master plans.

  11. Sounds like a conspiracy theory to me. He offers no evidence at all for his claim that the intent of badly written or thought out legislation is censorship. Unless you believe that silencing thieves is censorship. Claiming that you can read the minds and know the private intentions of powerful people is the fallacy on which all conspiracy theories are built.

    “It can also be framed as needing permission to innovate”

    You can frame anything any way you want. Another way would be to frame it would be that property rights should be respected and those who steal another’s property should be punished. If the law is badly written or poorly conceived I’d like to know what the solution is. Everyone admits there is a problem and that piracy is wrong. What I don’t see is what the critics would do differently.

    I don’t see anyone coming up with their legislative solution. Don’t just criticize, help them to make better laws.

      1. A law that is unenforceable is toothless and worse than no law. There needs to be a way to protect copyrights. What is your solution?

        1. There needs to be a way to protect copyrights. What is your solution?

          If you’re going to demand evidence then you better be ready to provide it.  WHY do we need a better way to protect copyrights?  Where is the evidence that pirating is actually hurting artists worse than it was in the days of xeroxed articles and mix cassette tapes?

          Of course, you already discredited yourself by equating copyright violation to stealing.  It’s a relatively elementary distinction to make in this conversation.  If you can only think in terms of propaganda then why should we rate your opinion in the first place?

          1. “If you’re going to demand evidence”

            I’m not demanding evidence, I’m asking a question. That people are violating other’s rights to their property is all the evidence I need.

            “you already discredited yourself by equating copyright violation to stealing”

            It’s technically not theft because you can’t “steal” a right but it is still a criminal act that should be punished and not allowed to flourish.

        2. When you find someone who is infringing copyright, sue them.

          If their acts are not illegal in the place where the acts occurred, then they have broken no law and owe you no money. If the acts are illegal, sue them there. If you cannot obtain evidence against them despite your efforts, then you have no cause to demand recompense.

          What you do *not* do is preemptively shut down a person’s ability to communicate (aka exercise free speech) without due process, and then demand that the accused pay huge sums of money to go to court to get their free speech rights (eventually) re-instated. You do not hold web sites responsible for all the content of all websites they ever link to, and anything that members/commenters ever talk about or link to. You do not adopt the detestable methods of totalitarian governments, thereby granting them a free pass to oppress their citizens.

          1. “If their acts are not illegal in the place where the acts occurred, then they have broken no law”

            They have still violated my rights. I have the right to say how my property is to be used and if I don’t want to you to have it I get to say so. That other nations don’t have those laws still doesn’t give you the right to take my property.

            Rights are universal and still exist even when a nation does not recognize them. My right to keep and hold property, including intellectual property, does not disappear when it is not acknowledged.

            “What you do *not* do is preemptively shut down a person’s ability to communicate (aka exercise free speech)”

            Piracy is not a question of free speech. You simply do not have the right to use my property without my permission. I get to set the conditions and if you are unwilling to obey them and are intent on criminal behavior then the state has a right to punish you or use force to make you obey. Or, failing that, imprison you as punishment. That is what justice tastes like.

            “You do not hold web sites responsible for all the content of all websites they ever link to”

            We can and we do just like we hold everyone in the house responsible if someone is selling crack and they all knew about it. There is a huge difference between BoingBoing and The Pirate Bay even though both might link to infringing web sites and a well written law should be able to distinguish the two. I don’t know what that would look like and so I asked the question.

          2. Rights are universal and still exist even when a nation does not recognize them.

            That is a religious argument. Sometimes codified in law.

          3. @ Antinous “That is a religious argument.”

            No Antinous, that certain rights are universal is not a religious argument. It’s a philosophical one and I can cite many atheist philosophers who agree.

            The belief that all values are relative, that there are no universals or absolutes, is one of the main beliefs of Post Modernism and there are quite a few philosophers who strongly disagree with that belief.

          4. No Antinous, that certain rights are universal is not a religious argument. It’s a philosophical one and I can cite many atheist philosophers who agree.

            Atheism is a religious philosophy.

            Rights are not universal. They’re a construct. Natural selection, predation, parasitism, symbiosis exist without our consent. Rights are something that we imagined and imposed on nature. The imposition of rights on nature is supposed to be beneficial. When property rights trump the rights to freedom from government harassment and freedom of expression, then you’ve gone off the rails.

    1. “Everyone admits there is a problem”

      Speak for yourself.  With the amount of overreach coming from media companies today, it tempers the “problem” of piracy a bit.  I’m frankly getting tired of being told that used sales of copyrighted material is somehow morally wrong, or being put into situations where I need to buy multiple copies of something just to allow someone else in my own house to use it (whether I’m using it at the same time or not).

      I wouldn’t steal a car.. but I would let my wife or a friend borrow the one I bought when I’m not using it.

      1. You being tired of being told that theft is wrong does not make thievery right. No one is talking about used sales of copyrighted material. We’re talking about stealing protected content, movies, and distributing them for free *before* they are even released to the theaters.

        The fact that the studios are large and profitable does not make it right to steal from them. The fact that Rupert Murdoc is an odious toad does not make it right to steal from him.

        You wouldn’t steal a car but if you could push a button and make a perfect copy there would *be* no cars for you to share with your friends because there would be no incentive for the factories to make them.

        1. but if you could push a button and make a perfect copy there would *be* no cars for you to share with your friends because there would be no incentive for the factories to make them.

          Logic fail. If a button press could make a perfect copy that would be the factory.

          1. “If a button press could make a perfect copy that would be the factory.”

            No, the intellectual content would not exist. The designs, the knowhow and all the rest does not spring into existence from nowhere. Innovation and discovery would stop because there would be no motive to advance it.

        2. “You being tired of being told that theft is wrong”

          Your attempt to re-write what I said, and to re-frame what is being discussed, does not improve your position.

          “We’re talking about stealing protected content, movies, and distributing them for free *before* they are even released to the theaters”

          Actually, no, these laws are about a whole lot more than that.  *You* may be talking about that, but the rest of us are talking about the entire picture.  Perhaps you’d like to join us rather than spouting talking points?

        3. Then again, wouldn’t need them because we can make perfect copies of the cars that already exist.  See how stealing is not quite analogous to copyright violation yet?

        4. There would be more incentive to design better and more efficient cars, because  they would be worth more than the current car, and more people would choose to buy them

        5. There would absolutely still be cars. More, and better. Do you know why? Because someone, somewhere, would want one enough to build it. And then make perfect copies for friends and family. And then one would end up in the hands of a mechanic or engineer, who would tinker with the design until he liked it better. And so on. And because copies would be free, there’d be no reason for anyone to settle for less than the best possible car that exists. The factories would go out of business, but the creation of new cars would continue.

          And if you’re worried about new and better cars- power, durability, efficiency, batteries, fuel cells- there’s plenty of such research going on at universities under government grants. You’d only have to make one good prototype, then set it loose; you wouldn’t have to make it cheap to produce, which is most of the kind of research that manufacturing businesses actually do.

          1. “There would absolutely still be cars. […] Because someone, somewhere, would want one enough to build it.”

            That’s a nice theory but it doesn’t work in practice. Innovation and creativity flourish MORE under the profit motive. Just wanting something is not enough. The former socialist nations made shitty products because there was no profit motive. Modern China makes good products because there is.

            “the creation of new cars would continue”

            No, innovation would stop because there would be no incentive to innovate. Assuming push button fabrication you still need people to create the designs and that isn’t free. Intellectual labor is just like any other labor and without a profit motive people simply will not put in the effort.

    2. Taking this in order:

      1) In this case the private intentions of many of the powerful have been repeatedly declared, so yes, we can know them. And in any case they’re made obvious by their actions. (If a mugger with a gun demands my wallet, I don’t need to read his mind to know his motivations.)

      Nobody believes in conspiracy here; that’s a straw man. Stupidity and corruption are quite adequate to explain the situation.

      2) Yes, silencing ‘thieves’ is censorship, and exceptionally dangerous and stupid censorship at that. If a government – much less a private corporation – has the power to censor ‘thieves’, it has the power to censor everyone.

      (I don’t like what you’re saying? I just accuse you of ‘theft’. Web page gone, your business gone, job done. Nobody will bother to check if it’s true, and you don’t get a say any more. Sadly, this isn’t a fictional example; it has already happened.)

      3) “Everyone admits there is a problem” = “Everybody who is paid directly by the MPAA or pressured by their paid politicians admits there is a problem”. Actual artists, independent economic analysis and several major governments not controlled by Disney say otherwise. 

      I make my living in a creative, copyright-protected industry; the only problem I admit is that over-strong IP protection law is crippling my livelihood to benefit a couple of big conglomerates and patent trolls at the expense of the economy.

      4) You’ve clearly failed to notice the OPEN act (HR 3782), the much-less-insane alternative, for a start.

      (This entire response posted on the assumption that you’re not being wilfully ignorant, just unaware. Possibly you’re an MPAA troll, but that’s fine; the more their arguments get repeated in public, the more stupid they sound. Our best arguments are the obvious meretricious garbage that comes out of our opponents’ mouths every time they open them.)

      1. Replying in order
        1) “private intentions of many of the powerful have been repeatedly declared”

        Really? Could you show where someone in the industry says this: “”The internet threatens our longstanding control of information and communications, and that is simply unacceptable. Therefore, it is essential to curb the utility of the internet for everyone else.””?

        2)“silencing ‘thieves’ is censorship”

        No, actually, it isn’t. Preventing you from violating my rights is not censorship. It’s justice.

        3) “Actual artists, independent economic analysis and several major governments not controlled by Disney say otherwise”

        Also a conspiracy theory. Everyone who does not agree with you is not secretly mind controlled by the Illuminati. And even if they were it would *still* be true that you do not have the right to take my property without my permission.

        4)“You’ve clearly failed to notice the OPEN act”

        Thank you! An actual reply to my question! And it looks like it would satisfy all my concerns. See how easy that was?

    3. Even if you doubt that this legislation was intended as a means of censorship of the 1%’s competitors and critics, you would have to be not just naive or confused but mentally defective not to see that it would certainly be used that way. What part of the concept of due process do you not grasp?

    4. There is a large and very questionable jump from “Universal rights exist” to “there exists a universal right to copyright that is strong enough to warrant international pre-emptive prosecution.”

      And yes, some universal rights supercede others. For one obvious instance, the right to life can supercede the right to freedom of action and self-determination- we call it “murder”.

  12. I hope some of this gratifying support for free speech extends into a little love for the Citizens United decision. 

  13. Stupidity and malice are often like two coiled serpents – so tightly interwoven that they’re difficult to distinguish. Usually we seem to find a mixture of both.

    We’ve certainly seen extensive evidence that many advocates of SOPA/PIPA in congress do not understand it. Jon Stewart showed footage that strongly suggests, for example, that the ranking member of the Senate Intellectual Property committee doesn’t understand the laws, even in a general way.

    1. That is why I would want a selected, instead of an elected government.

      We couldn’t do any worse.

      I’d sooner have Joe Sixpack making laws (there would be a hell of a lot fewer of them and they’d have to be written in simple, unambiguous language,) than have some lazy-ass douche nozzle who’s just in it for the money and who’s immediately going to start stumping for re-election so he gets some lobby group to write the laws for him.

      Remember Ted Stevens? 

      The internet is not a big truck, its a series of tubes.

      They’re all that ignorant, and they’re making laws, spending your money, sending people to wars to get killed, and that is only the beginning.

      The flaw are systemic. (Sorry but I have to quote myself.)

      Repubes or democraps, our politicians are equipped with the morals of gutter cats.

      The problem with republics is the same as with monarchies. After a while, the noble intentions at the start are as dead as the noble individuals which founded the kingdom or the republic. (The methods of creation for either are equally bloody.)

      If we want a representative government, we’ll have to RE-create it. (There were no parties in 1776.)

      If we want smaller government, we’ll have to take out the incentives for its growth too.

      We’ve become a government
      • OF the thousandaires (the 99%, that would be me and thee,)
      • BY the millionaires (the 1%, that would be the extremely insular privileged overlords and bosses,)
      • FOR the billionaires (the 12,400 individuals identified by the IRS as the people who count (though they don’t really count as they hire some thousandaires to run machines to do that.)

      The first thing we do is change from an ELECTED to a SELECTED form of government.

      Pick names at random out an eligible citizen pool and they’re stuck with doing the job for one, and only one, four year term.

      There could/should/would be no such thing as a career in politics. (The only thing worse than getting stuck with somebody who didn’t want the job is getting stuck with some idiot who did, figuring it was going to lift him a few rungs up the social/economic ladder.)

      Eligibility requirements are:
      • were you born here or are you a naturalized citizen?
      • are you a permanent resident in a village, town or city within our borders?
      • are you above the age of 25?
      • are you healthy enough? (you don’t suffer from any clinical health issue(s) or mental impairment(s) which would prevent you from fulfilling your duties?)
      • have you NEVER served on the government before?
      • have you NEVER been found guilty of a violent crime?
      • have you NEVER been found to be clinically insane?

      Answer yes to all of these questions, you’re eligible for selection.

      Don’t want to be bothered?

      Go live elsewhere!

      That would get rid of all PACs, K Street lobbyists, a lot of graft, waste and expense that WE’RE all paying for. 

  14. SOPA/PIPA are a perfect illustration of how following the money will give you answers. The most heavily invested lobbyists and influence peddlers are the ones with the most vested interest in being able to claim a site is unfairly competitive because it is illegal; to eliminate it because its content is free and flies in the face of an entrenched business model becoming outmoded by technology to which they have not adapted; or to eliminate competition or potential without fear of recourse or penalty.

    These same entities lobby to extend copyright law so that nothing in the U.S. goes into the public domain.

    You don’t have to be wearing a tin-foil hat for there to be a conspiracy.

  15. Ever notice how the people who want to “tame the Internet” and “restrict content” are the same people who want fewer restrictions on the content of their own movies, music, TV shows and video games?  When are they going to start talking about taming theaters, video game consoles and the air waves?  (Relax, it’s a rhetorical question.)

Comments are closed.