November 29, 2021

My Stance on SOPA.

I do not support SOPA.

This is not because I believe that intellectual theft and counterfeiting is a good thing, because it isn’t. As a gamer, and as a writer, I abhor the very notion that some people are stealing or plagiarising other peoples hard work and laughing about doing so. That four times more copies of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings were pirated than bought makes me angry. Like, REALLY angry. One of the best games last year and so many of you were too cheap to support a small games company making a quality product? Shame on you. SHAME. ON. YOU.

Whichever way you slice it, piracy is a crime. There’s really no defence any more on this issue. I’ve heard the usual;
* I’m a student and I can’t afford it. (Well, then you don’t get to play it. Of course, you have the money for that sick plasma TV and that meaty gaming laptop though, huh?)
* I’m trying before I buy. (That’s what demos are for.)
* I’m sticking it to the man! (And subsequently the hundreds of people who are employed by that company who will end up missing out on a bonus because you were too cheap to buy a product they spent all of two years putting together. Would you like to use that excuse to an employees kids over Christmas? No? Thought not.)

There is no excuse for it anymore. That said, SOPA is something that puts just a little TOO much power not just in the hands of the companies, but in the hands of America.

Americans are kind of proud in some cases that they can blag freebies or share content because it is “constitutionally allowed”. Indeed, some cases in America revolve around this, and it’s a difficult one to get your head around because as much as I accept freedom of media and information, does that really justify sharing works by others? I’m digging around for cases on this but it’s not hard to find US networks and sites that seem to be very proud of this fact, and it’s kind of depressing.

What SOPA would allow effectively is not only to block access to non-US sites and server providers (which would be bad for the games industry, seeing as some server architectures are not localised for multiplayer); but a more free-reign to request more people for extradition to the United States to be tried for these crimes. And because as a foreign national they are not American, therefore they can’t defend themselves with the United States Constitution, therefore they can proceed to punish to the fullest extent of the law.

That… bothers me. Just a little bit. I love America, I think America is great and mad and crazy and zealous and insane and lovable and brilliant and a lot of other things. It’s not perfect, but meh, you know, nothing is. But there’s something very strange about a law that means those who are American can defend themselves in a manner that extradited foreign nationals cannot. A double standard that I think would serve to alienate the United States, rather than benefit it.

Likewise, I don’t buy the argument that downloaders should get the biggest fines. I think, if a pirate is found, then you should charge them the cost of the game plus a reasonable $50 fine for having to do the admin work, send a letter out and use a stamp. People will learn at that point that it is not unreasonable to expect when caught to just pay up the cost of the game, rather than inspire others to want to “stick it to ’em!” by charging the downloader $1000, $25,000 or $100,000 in costs. You know, the industry could be a lot more reasonable and be a lot more profitable if it just tempered down that nasty streak a little.

I think what bothers me the most about SOPA though is that, effectively, the internet in America at least becomes censored. I have to say not only am I surprised at that, because I thought that itself was unconstitutional, but that it bodes badly for the future of the internet.

By this, let us look back at 2011. The internet – a force for change, the Arab Spring movement via the internet, Twitter and Facebook. We unmasked a footballer hiding behind a UK Superinjunction to avoid tabloid revelations of an affair with a former Big Brother housemate. We had the widespread condemnation and out-pour of anger over News International (who, quelle surprise, are in favour of SOPA) and the News of the World hacking scandal. We in the UK used Twitter to round up people to clean up after the Summer Riots across the country. And reports of the internet reuniting estranged siblings, parents and their children etc.

There are darker elements to the internet, and yes, I sort of understand why some of them we need to stop. I’m all for penis jokes, but really, I don’t need to see a massively train-wrecked penis and ballsack thanks, it’s kind of unnecessary. Likewise, those who make viruses, worms and trojans prey on the weak, the foolish, the uninitiated. Spyware is more common than ever, and in some cases they work around it by being perfectly legal as well, providing a service in exchange for near-limitless access to your personal computer data.

But these are things we can combat with the right education, the right approaches, better information on better websites (not a random selection of forums) and encouraging Google, Bing, Yahoo!, Lycos etc. to delete and keep deleted any links to illegal content are all key. Targeting the source as well, i.e. the people who often host these sites, is a big step. And then, if self-hosted, take the individuals to court – but try them in their own country. The crime committed is in their home country, therefore they are bound by their own laws. We can’t just ship people off to the US because it wants to protect big-business. I’d mention Guantanamo here, but that may be a little tasteless.

SOPA is just the sort of thing I, personally, think is the world running scared over a free internet – though they have had close to two decades to do something about it, they haven’t. And now it has blossomed into this wonderful free exchange of information, and such a powerful force for change, that it is quite scary. Revolutions have been planned in detail and executed through the internet – that must be a serious shock to a number of politicians in the world today, that more and more people are learning how the world works and how politics works through the medium of the internet.

SOPA is far more encompassing than simple piracy. It’s a bloated, rather disgusting mess of a piece of legislation that just cannot work. And it is the internet, the very thing it seeks to control, that is doing the most harm to it, rebelling and spreading the message that the internet will not go quietly into the night, and many will fight even if it does somehow magically pass into law.

And the US may find that a battle it can only lose. Many have tried in recent years to control the internet – China included – but so often fail because there are simple workarounds, very basic things that can be done and – for those who really want to do illegal stuff – they can hijack another line or wifi connection, use a fake or stolen identity and then make it next to impossible to trace or try the real culprit, meaning that some people may find themselves being accused of crimes that they didn’t commit.

The internet has nasty stuff. But the internet does great stuff too.

SOPA won’t stop the nasty stuff. But it will stop the great stuff.

That’s enough reason, really, to say no to it, surely?


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