If there's a more polarizing topic than the SOPA/PIPA pieces of legislation going on in relation to the Internet, you'd be hard pressed to find it. Actually, that's incorrect because the general public isn't polarized with its reactions towards the bill. Take a simple visit to any number of comment sections following SOPA articles and you'll get a pretty good idea that general public, at least those who know about SOPA, aren't incredibly supportive of it.
One of the focuses in regards to the SOPA backlash inevitably turns to Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas). Smith is one of the chief architects of SOPA, and, well, he's not too pleased with the unending amount of backlash concerning his masterpiece. To address the rabble, Smith authored a response which appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog. Under the title, "Setting the record straight on SOPA," Smith (or his ghostwriting aide) attempted to curry favor for SOPA by discussing the matter in layman's terms.
The fact that corporate/lawyer speak has been kept to a minimum is admirable, but does Smith's efforts have much of an impact? Judging by the subsequent comments, not really, but before we get to that point, here are some of the talking points of Smith's article. First off, Smith's reiterates who SOPA was designed to go after foreign infringers, something he clarified when the recent amendment was introduced. In a number of stanzas, Smith discusses this foreign scourge (all bolded sections have been added by the author):
The Stop Online Piracy Act specifically targets foreign websites primarily dedicated to illegal activity or foreign websites that market themselves as such.
His war against non-American infringers continues, but their acts of illegality extend far beyond sharing movies and music:
These foreign websites are called “rogue sites” because they are out of reach of U.S. laws. Movies and music are not the only stolen products that are offered by rogue sites. Counterfeit medicine, automotive parts and even baby food are a big part of the counterfeiting business, and pose a serious threat to the health of American consumers.
So SOPA isn't just about protecting the intellectual properties of content creators now? In other news, what the hell is counterfeit baby food? Are there really websites that offer generic baby food with Gerber's logo slapped on? Thankfully, the counterfeit baby food tangent is quickly forgotten, turning our attention back to the primary focus of SOPA:
The recently introduced manager’s amendment to the Stop Online Piracy Act makes clear that the legislation specifically targets the worst-of-the-worst foreign rogue websites. Legitimate and lawful websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have nothing to worry about under this bill.
Those damn, dirty foreigners. Will they ever learn? Facetiousness aside, that last section is of interest because he clearly states three of the most popular sites in regards to American viewers are safe, including YouTube. Does this mean YouTube is safe, even if someone uploads infringing content?
Smith also addresses the amendments to SOPA, which, according to him, should reduces some of the fears from the tech industry, who have stated SOPA is a threat to DNS:
In fact, the changes in the manager’s amendment reflect conversations with representatives from companies like Microsoft and Facebook, and seek to address technical concerns with the first draft.
Whether or not those alterations make SOPA more effective remains to be seen -- or not seen if the bill is killed -- but the Electronic Frontier Foundation doesn't approve. Smith also addresses censorship in his writing, although, I'm not sure we learn anything new:
Some critics have claimed that this “blocking” of an illegal foreign site amounts to censorship of the Internet. But simply because the illegal activity occurs online does not mean that it is protected speech. Laws are enforced in the brick and mortar world. It’s not censorship to enforce the law online.
Notice how foreign sites are again the target here? Furthermore, Smith's simplistic view is fine for readers of The Hill, but what happens when the RIAA gets mad at site for embedding a YouTube video of Lady Gaga's new video and gets their site seized in the process?
With Smith's insistence on making foreign infringers the bane of the entertainment industry's existence, it's almost as if he's playing on patriotism and xenophobic outlooks to garner support. However, if the subsequent comments are anything to go by, that approach appears to be failing. From reader Concerned Citizen:
You call yourself a proud member of the Tea Party Caucus while sponsoring some of the biggest governmental regulation of the Internet of all time? You've already admitted to "not being a technology expert" so why we should be even listening to a word you say?
Oh yes, and let's not forget the exuberant amounts of money you've taken from the entertainment industry and how your aides are now lobbying for the entertainment industry.
Shame on you. You're everything wrong with American politicians, and I sincerely hope the voters make you pay for this.
So far, Smith's appeal for SOPA support from the public seems to have failed.