2012 could be a very bad year for the Internet. Did the Mayans foresee SOPA?


Imagine riding in a car and the driver smashes through a sign that says “Bridge Out!” You try to warn him but he tells you to shut up. “This road will take us to grandma’s house. It says so right here on the map that nice man gave me! Stop bothering me, I know what I’m doing.” When you remind him the sign said “Bridge Out!” he not only tells you to shut up, he steps on the gas and goes even faster.

That’s what it felt like, watching the Judiciary Committee hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) on Wednesday night. They are “debating” a bill that could make radical changes to the Internet and they don’t seem to have a grasp what the Internet even is. (If you want to know more about what SOPA and the related Senate Bill Protect IP are about and what they could do to the Internet, check my blog post from a few weeks ago.)

Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post compares it to amateurs getting ready to do heart surgery on someone – amateurs who don’t understand the difference between a valve and a neuron.

For a while it looked like discussion on the bill could be delayed till after the holidays, but no, SOPA is essentially being rushed through, and the final hearing or “markup” will take place on Dec. 21. After that it could go to the House floor for a vote.

I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach the other night as one after another, amendments were brought up that were intended to make SOPA less horrible, and the committee shot them down one by one, by large margins. The lobbyists (mainly entertainment industry organizations like the MPAA) have told them what needs to happen and they want to get on with it. They don’t want to hear about technical things like DNS or IP addresses.

On Thursday, Congress got an open letter from the engineers who helped invent the internet, warning about the damage SOPA will do if it passes. Based on what I saw of the hearing the other night, I am afraid congress won’t listen. They’re just “nerds” after all. They MIGHT listen if they get enough phone calls, e-mails and letters from constituents, however.

There are already some restrictions aimed at stopping piracy and limiting copyright infringement. Maybe we need more. Bring the experts in and find out what can be done.

But the kind of Internet SOPA would lead to is just horrible. It would basically become a top-down media device like radio or TV. You wouldn’t have any more of these wonderful bedroom recording artists like the Venopian Solitude who manage to get known and get fans through social media.

You wouldn’t have all the web-based dramas and comedies. No one would know about Zach Anner, who used social media to win a show on Oprah’s network.

And of course, more importantly, social movements and political protest would be shut off. Police could go back to beating the shit out of people without worrying about the video turning up on Youtube.

This guy from a gaming website gives a pretty good explanation of SOPA and PIPA:

The Internet as it is now is not ideal for creative people, but the Internet SOPA would create would be a disaster for them. Much worse. Maybe not worse for the big labels and studios, but for creative people who want access to the world without a filter, it would be the end of an era. We can’t let it happen.

I know this is an inconvenient time as we all prepare for the Christmas holidays, but it would be a very good idea to call, e-mail and write your representative this week and tell them to think twice about voting for SOPA – or at the very least postpone things and listen to the people who understand how the Internet works. Stopping Congress from destroying the Internet as we know it is about the best Christmas present you could ever give.

If you’re not sure who your representative is, this website will help you figure it out and give you an easy way to contact him or her. I just fired off an e-mail to my representative. It only took a couple of minutes.

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