SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act, H.R. 3261) is perhaps the biggest news on the Internet lately. It is certainly the biggest news about the internet.
People have been neatly divided into two camps on the matter: For and Against. Those in the "For" camp have generally been thought to be entertainment industry types, their attorneys, their lobbyists, the politicians they pay off, etc.
But, then you spot a Reddit headline like this one:
Of course, SOPA is a House bill, and Senator Al Franken is, well, a Senator. But, the spirit of the whole thing was in the right place. Franken is a sponsor of PIPA (the Protect IP Act, S.968), a similar bill in the Senate.
Nonetheless, there is bipartisan support for SOPA and the like. Not universal support, mind you, but bipartisan. Why?
Dan Nguyen thinks he knows why: They all suffer from the same brand of earnest ignorance.
In short, Nguyen builds an interesting case that these folks are not so much lobbyist-buggered, like we think. They are well-intentioned but misled folks who really want to do some good. But, they are getting their information from industry sources who do have a financial dog in the fight. And, those sources themselves have been fighting a 21st century battle to keep 20th century technology in place for a long time.
According to Nyugen, and many others now, most of our Congressmen and Senators are spooked by the scary picture that folks like the RIAA paint for them. They see a threat to business - hell, even a threat to national security! - and are rushing to install a fix to protect Americans. Admirable intentions, if they are correct. Of course, that is how we got the PATRIOT Act, too.
Remember Senator Ted Stevens' 2006 description of the Internet as a "series of tubes"? Maybe we haven't come very far.
Representative Tom Marino asked Google's copyright lawyer recently, regarding copyright infringers:
"Why not hire some whiz kids out of college to come in and monitor this and work for the company to take these off?"
Nguyen reasons that these legislators have seen Google do amazing things, including eliminating child pornography from their search results. They figure that Google has the ability to eliminate copyright infringing search results, but refuses to do so.
There are fundamental misunderstandings evident in the statements of some of these legislators. Opponents of SOPA have the unenviable task of educating these folks so they can make a reasonable decision on the matter, not just bend to the free-market will of the RIAA and its cohorts. Unfortunately, as in the case of Google, they are painted by the pro-SOPA camp as indirectly profiting from copyright infringement, their motives cast in doubt.
If Nguyen and others are right, perhaps there is still hope that cooler heads, and more up-to-date thinkers, will prevail. Maybe the money-grubbing stops at the door and the usual palm-greasing is not in play in Congress. But, the pro-SOPA camp is also using fear tactics. Maybe those can be beaten back with some light.
"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." - Martin Luther King, Jr.