There are two bills currently in Congress that could have a huge impact on Internet if made law. The first is known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate. I didn’t link to the Wikipedia entries on them (which I usually would do) and don’t bother trying to look them up today either. Wikpedia is offline for the day in protest.
SOPA, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, one of the representatives serving Austin, and PIPA, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT) has a reasonable intended purpose: to counter the theft of copyrighted materials on the Internet. Both my wife and I produce content for public consumption. I hold the copyright for my works. I would not appreciate it if I found all of my writings posted elsewhere without permission.
While, in reality, the laws are more intended for usage by the movie and music industries, I can understand the need to try to counter piracy.
These laws, however, fall short of the goal while creating new avenues for abused power. Here’s a quick video intro about the negatives:
The current laws in place are already attempted to be abused. For example, in 2007, Uri Geller, a psychic made famous by failing horribly to mentally bend a spoon on The Tonight Show in the 1970s, sent YouTube a DMCA Notice. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allows for copyright holders to send notice to online service providers requesting unauthorized material be removed. Under the DMCA, there are “safe harbor” provisions that remove liability from service providers, assuming the rules are followed, and allows for a counternotice process if the material is not infringing copyright.
Geller’s DMCA notice was concerning a clip of the show NOVA posted on YouTube by an individual. The NOVA clip included an eight-second clip of The Tonight Show performance (used under “fair use”). He simply wanted to censor his failure from the Internet. After a number of a couple of lawsuits and closed-door talks, all of the matters were dropped and the clip was allowed to stay. The original uploader had his account on YouTube—and all of his videos—were suspended from YouTube for two weeks.
Under current law, someone could already make a false claim and disrupt an individual’s account. Could you imagine under this proposed law if, instead of suspending the user for two weeks, YouTube was effectively blocked for two weeks? What about Blogger? WordPress.com? Facebook? Twitter?
I’m not a lawyer; I read the bills’ text, but I don’t know all the ins and outs of copyright law and intellectual property rights. The bills’ authors say that shutting down YouTube or Facebook wouldn’t happen, but from my face value read of the bill, I don’t understand where a line would be drawn from me uploading a video to brandonkraft.com and me uploading a video to YouTube.
This is ignoring questions of free speech or other countries imposing laws that would impede global commerce or fair use using the United States as their example.
What I do know is Facebook, Google, AOL, eBay, Mozilla (makes of Firefox), Twitter, Wikipedia, the White House, and virtually every vendor I use for Internet services are against the bills. That’s enough for me to take pause and question the ability of the bills to do what they intend without doing what it doesn’t. I find worrisome that the chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, one of the leading supporter of the bill, is a former senator only a year out of office. Does the tech industry have an insider on their side?
As you browse around the web today, you may find some websites, along with Wikipedia, offline for the day in protest. They are showing you a foretaste of what they see to be a possible future if these bills became law.
This has all been my personal opinions about these bills. Why post this on Austin Catholic New Media? What’s a Catholic response to all of this?
First, this is one of those areas that I believe we are fine to disagree. IP rights and copyright laws are not simple black and white moral imperatives. Don’t steal copyrighted works, but how to handle these issues is open to debate.
New media—social media and collaborative content platforms like ACNM—is inherently open. We are only volunteers writing in the few minutes we can find between work, family and other ministries. We can’t afford a legal team to proofread all of our content before it goes live. After a contributor’s intro period, there is no “review” process before a new post goes live—we just couldn’t bottleneck the workflow like that and hope that content is always timely nor are we here to act as censors.
If one of our posters use a picture (against our guidelines) that violate copyright, we must and will correct that, but are the current laws sufficient to handle that? Would this proposed law handle the situation better? What if one of our podcasted homilies, which are recorded and uploaded by the parishes themselves, contained a snippet of music? What could happen to ACNM for “facilitating” that alleged infringement?
New media depends on reasonable copyright laws that allow fair use. The laws must be fair and reasonable for all sides—copyright holders, consumers, service providers & content producers. My personal perspective as someone involved with new media projects is similar to Google’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt’s position: simple solutions to complex problems are dangerous and problematic.
Whether you agree with me or not, the Internet is a vital aspect of today’s global community and major changes along the lines of these bills need to be thought out and well-vetted with all parties—the entertainment industry and technology leaders.