Sites all over the Internet are going dark to show that they object to legislation currently before the US Congress. I’m not American but these words are coming at you from a server in LA, so I guess I can weigh in. I’ll limit my discussion to one word, “Piracy”; what the “P” stands for in SOPA.
Piracy is when people use violence, or the threat of it, to transfer your possessions to themselves (after which you no longer have them), place you in captivity in pursuit of a ransom, and in many cases inflict death on you as a side-effect of their business model. This is a very real problem right now in certain parts of the world, and I have a lot of sympathy with the 18th-century view that summary execution is an appropriate approach to dealing with it; as a backup, of course, to the traditional tactic of blowing their vessels to bits with really big guns.
The activity that the legislation tries (futilely) to prevent is when people who are too cheap or too broke to pay small amounts of money for digital goods under the (often stupid, insulting, and clumsy) terms and conditions imposed by media companies resort to the use of sleazy, inconvenient, illicit distributors to get at those digital goods without paying.
This is not piracy.
Maybe it’s a problem. I personally don’t think so, in the era of iTunes and eBooks and Google Music, but that’s a complex argument around business models and intellectual-property regulation, and I understand that reasonable people can reasonably disagree with me. It is a common political technique to place one’s opponents at a disadvantage by associating them with a damaging label, and that’s what “piracy” is being used for in this context.
But it’s not piracy.
In the big picture, the proposed legislation will be ineffective at preventing sleazebags and broke undergrads from watching movies without paying for them, but it will significantly damage the usefulness of the Internet and provide extremely dangerous openings for censorship and for incumbent oligopolists to resist useful disruption. History teaches us that these openings will be exploited to the maximum extent possible, and in the case of this legislation the maximum extent is frightening.
Dear America: Please don’t do it.
And anyone who claims that unauthorized transmission of bits is analogous to piracy is at least a liar and is deeply disrespectful of the people who are suffering the effects of theft, kidnapping, and murder right now today in the Indian Ocean. They deserve your contempt, and they have mine.