Tuesday, January 17, 2012


You may have heard about two internet-related bills floating around Congress. One is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the other is the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Proponents of the bills say that they're supposed to give the government the power to better guard against copyright infringement on websites with media content and file sharing capabilities. Those who oppose the bills, which include many internet users as well as Google, Wikipedia and Reddit, claim that the proposed legislation would allow the government to completely shut down websites for the most benign copyright infringements, acting more like hired muscle for the entertainment industry than the policemen for property rights.

If you want to learn more about the bills, you can watch a few videos about it here, here and, if you can take it, here. Or if you've got some Advil handy, you can check out the text of the bills themselves. But I wouldn't bother with any of that if I were you. All I needed to hear were the words 'Congress', 'bill', and 'internet' in the same context, and I was already an opponent of whatever it was- for it doesn't matter what the bills are called, how many people of whatever group favor them, or what they're supposed to do. They could both be called the Make the Internet a Lot Faster act (or simply MILF), and I'd still oppose them- because they would still be government programs, and government programs never deliver what they promise.

The outrage over SOPA and PIPA intrigue me though, because they're ostensibly supposed to do something that's good...right? I mean it's not like they're the Shut Down YouTube bills or the Harass Facebook Users bills or the Destroy Online Media bills. So what's the worst that could happen?

After all, don't forget how the government has done such a wonderful job with other noble undertakings as housing and feeding and employing the poor, promoting racial harmony, keeping the banking industry from scamming us, spreading democracy around the world, managing the economy, balancing its own budget, educating our children, providing affordable healthcare, keeping elections clean, protecting our rights, maintaining our infrastructure, stopping drug abuse, taking care of our veterans, making sure food is safe, keeping us out of war, curbing inflation, delivering the mail, cleaning up crime, protecting the environment and stopping terrorism. All things considered, it only makes sense to give it a freer hand in policing the internet.

From watching videos of people who oppose the legislation, I get the impression that they only oppose it because it could potentially take down sites like YouTube and internet radio. I don't want YouTube taken down any more than the next guy, but that's not the best reason to oppose the legislation. It should be opposed because once any such legislation is passed, eventually there will be more. Endlessly more. When the internet becomes the federal government's plaything just like everything else I listed in the previous paragraph, you can kiss it goodbye. It'll become a fable you can tell your grandkids about, like when my grandparents tell me how doctors used to make house calls.

Why will it be bad? John Bain explains:

"You want to explain to me why we have a bunch of 50- to 70-somethings debating a bill that would affect the internet world wide- perhaps the greatest technological innovation that we've had for a very very long time? You want to tell me that these guys, who can barely use a keyboard, should be debating this and passing legislation of this magnitude? I'm gonna go with 'No'. It's like putting toddlers at the controls of a 747- but not just a 747; every 747, 777, Airbus A320, every aircraft in the world. Do you think that's a good idea?"

He goes on to point out the obvious (I paraphrase): if SOPA or PIPA pass, it won't only eventually destroy the internet as we currently know it, but it will ruin the chances of future innovations taking place. While passage of the bills might not completely take down YouTube (which would cause a massive backlash), they will censor it heavily, and possibly preclude the "next YouTube" from ever materializing.

He's absolutely right- and the same reasoning applies to almost everything the government touches.

The reason that ideas like this are even considered by Congress is because we've turned so much over to the government as it is. And thanks to that, we should be aware that while we might be able to beat back SOPA and PIPA today, they, or something like them, will be back eventually. I promise.

Hopefully, this is one area that will resonate with people enough to get them to question the wisdom of asking the government to try to solve any kind of problem. Not only should we seek to stop SOPA and PIPA by participating in blackouts, spreading the message on social media and writing our elected officials, but we should also give similar scrutiny to the many other economic, medical, social, moral, etc., problems that Congress tries to solve with politics and guns. Hasn't it done enough already?

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