Where Do You Stand on SOPA, PIPA?

by Stephan Kinsella on January 19, 2012

In this article on PCMagazine, 11 PCMag staffers were asked for their take on SOPA. The response was almost universally negative, although most unfortunately first prefaced their opposition to SOPA by saying IP piracy “is of course a real problem”. For example:

  • “Yes, theft of intellectual property is wrong, but it shouldn’t be protected at the cost of free speech and an open Internet.”
  • “SOPA is a perfect case of a disproportionate reaction to a real problem. Lawless Web sites full of pirated content are a real problem, but breaking the Internet isn’t the solution.”
  • “This proposed legislation is akin to having libraries monitored or even shut down because there is a chance that a book may contain a piece of plagiarized work.” [Note: typical confusion, usually spread by the IP proponents. Copyright infringement has nothing to do with plagiarism. Plagiarizing Plato is just stupid, not copyright infringement (unless Congress yanks it out of the public domain); and selling or obtaining a "pirated" copy of Mission Impossible 3 is not plagiarism.]
  • “IP is a precious thing. For example, every writer on PCMag has had their work pirated at one time or another. However, this legislation goes” too far. [Note: how does the fact that someone has copied your writing show that "IP is a precious thing"? The "for example" is bad writing, sloppy thinking, and does not illustrate or support his contentions at all.]
  • “There is definitely a need for content owners like movie studios and music labels to protect their content from piracy, but the proposed legislation isn’t the answer.”

This was also the tack taken by Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, which said that

“rogue foreign sites that pirate American intellectual property or sell counterfeit goods pose significant problems for our economy,” but PIPA and SOPA “are not the right solution to this problem, because of the collateral damage they would cause to the Internet.”

Why does Facebook blithely accept the unproven assertion that piracy harms the economy? Cato’s Julian Sanchez has debunked this nonsense.1 Sigh.

As I’ll discuss in a separate post,2 the problem is that all these people undercut their opposition to SOPA and censorship in the name of IP, by acknowledging the importance of copyright and IP, by condemning piracy. It is admirable that they are taking the ride side of the chasm caused by their cognitive dissonance, but dissonance it is. If you support copyright, you oppose piracy, and you support the state’s existence and its attempts to enforce these “property rights.” You cannot have both copyright, and Internet freedom/freedom of speech. The threat here to property rights, to individual rights, to Internet freedom and freedom of speech and expression and the press comes from copyright itself. We must strike at the root. SOPA is just a symptom of the disease. The disease is copyright. Everyone is trying to treat the symptom–enforcement efforts like SOPA–with half-hearted treatments like labeling the response “disproportionate” or going “too far.” This is like trying to treat a brain tumor by taking Tylenol–sorry, acetaminophen–in response to the headaches caused by the tumor. All opponents of SOPA and censorship, all denizens of the web and proponents of freedom, must oppose copyright itself (and patent too).

Anyway, I said “almost” above. The one holdout among PCMag staffers was John Dvorak, who

Most analysts will tell you that either of these two bills could kill the Internet as we know it. But Wikipedia’s protest and other blackouts will not solve anything. The only effective measure to take—unless you love these laws—is to directly target the supporters and co-sponsors of the bills. For more, see The Right Way to Protest SOPA.

In his linked editorial, he added:

Wikipedia’s protest and other blackouts will not solve anything. They are a total inconvenience to users who may want to use the service. What is accomplished? People will get mad at Wikipedia rather than mad at the specific Congressmen who promoted these bills.

Dvorak is smart, he is skeptical of IP, he has a libertarian streak, and I like him. But what is he smoking? Did people get mad at Wikipedia? It was a community decision! People love them for this. And it was one of the most amazingly effective and crucially important protests of our time, maybe of all time. How else were we supposed to get the attention of the demonic, evil Congresscritters in favor of these evil bills, except by waking up the people so they would rattle their cages? And now they are running scared–over a dozen Congressmen have come out against the bill or dropped their co-sponsorship of them (19 at last count). These assholes are running scared–and good. Would it have happened without the blackouts? Of course not.

The blackouts were good. They were heroic. They sent seismic shock waves through history. But the battle is not over yet. And the only true solution is to abolish the abomination that is copyright.

  1. See also [citation needed] from SOPA, PROTECT IP Advocates, Cato Daily Podcast (Jan. 18, 2012), featuring Julian Sanchez. Good interview even though Sanchez seems to concede that piracy is a problem and a “criminal” activity. []
  2. Forthcoming. []
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