Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA: [censored]

SOPA and PIPA enable the government and private individuals and (of course!) corporations to target and block content and websites they don't like, without ever showing in a court of law or proving to anyone but themselves that the content or the website infringes copyright.

This is not about how you feel about people stealing copyrighted works; it's not about whether we believe "data should be free." It's not about that, any more than the power to detain and imprison an American citizen and supposed "terror suspect" without probable cause or recourse to habeas corpus is about how you feel about a plane smacking into the World Trade Center.

Once you excuse the government from having to prove wrongdoing in a court of law, you can forget about who the law is supposed to target or what it is supposed to do, because there is no longer any mechanism for the target or anyone to use the courts to confine the law to its original targets. The Founders understood this. Do we?


  1. As to your comment: "It's not about that, any more than the power to detain and imprison an American citizen and supposed 'terror suspect' without probable cause or recourse to habeas corpus ... "

    After "detain and imprison" you forgot "or assassinate."

    It's a combination of a VAST minority who understand having been gradually disempowered to to anything about it, except make dramatic, if ineffective, protests against wave after wave of the strengthening, reemergent fascist tide.

    PS: "The Founders" is eighteenth century!

    John Puma

  2. Well John, not to interrupt a perfectly good angry concession speech, but SOPA appears to be dead. PIPA is the next target.

    It's of course frustrating to have to fight for civil liberties over and over again, as each new problem in our society brings out the Swiss-Army-knife strategy of "surrender fundamental freedoms."

    We don't always win, but we don't always lose, either. I lived in Russia for a couple of years in the 90s, and among the many interesting things about that society in that particular historical moment was that their intense cynicism about government and the public sphere was both totally understandable and reasonable and one of the major reasons they no longer have a democracy today.

    People who don't believe in the possibility of freedom and fairness keep their heads down, don't engage, and leave the public sphere to those that feel they can exploit it for their own benefit.

    So let's not dwell too much on the "reemergent fascist tide." We will have enough to do fighting them issue by issue and inch by inch until they lose -- and they will lose, as they always do, in the end, since a sick perversion of society does not create and grow, but rather slowly or quickly spends the preexisting capital of a society captured through fear.

    I know what you're feeling; I feel it too. I feel when things I thought were settled like the place of open racism in the public discourse, or the rights of women, or the folly of imperialism, or imposing religion through the power of state, are reopened and we are asked to fight those battles all over again. But I refuse to despair.

    I remember a documentary once where they asked a Southern history professor, an African-American, how he felt about the civil war recreationists, the historical societies, the military colleges that glorified the Civil War and seemed to want to re-fight it over and over again. And he said something witty and wise that I will always remember:

    "I have no problem with their continuing to re-fight the Civil War over and over again as long as they continue to lose it."

    We won these arguments once; we can win them again, and make David Brooks' fears come true: that "the Republican Party has become the receding roar of white America as it pines for a way of life that will never return."

  3. I was not despairing but only describing. One must accurately identify and understand one's enemy/situation before being able to defeat/change it.

    I would suggest the bestowal of "democracy" on Russia was no more than media propaganda to 1) declare victory and 2) disguise the widespread, high-level looting subsequent to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Said Russian "democracy" had no more chance of surviving there than it does in Iraq or Afghanistan, there having been in none of those countries the gradual establishment of the institutions that allow democracy to take hold.

    John Puma

  4. Victory!?

    SOPA was out then Reid scuttled PIPA.

    In a matter of hours it was reported that the FBI had shut down the website MegaUpload, which had more than 150 million registered users.

    John Puma

  5. Well, I don't know much about that case specifically, but wasn't MegaUpload kind of a flamingly overt piracy site?

    Just because I don't want to grant the government huge, vaguely constrained authority to go after people without showing they have broken any law, that doesn't mean I think all things digital should be free.

    In any case, having gone after this site and its owners, they have to make a case for the illegality of their actions in a court of law. They have to present evidence that specific people broke specific laws (there are ways around that too -- but "RICO" is a subject for another day.) That's the way to should be when the government shuts down your business or hauls you off to jail; they need to prove it and not just say "He was a bad guy doing bad things."

  6. Here's Greenwald on the matter:

    "But just as the celebrations began over the saving of Internet Freedom, something else happened: the U.S. Justice Department not only indicted the owners of one of the world’s largest websites, the file-sharing site Megaupload, but also seized and shut down that site, and also seized or froze millions of dollars of its assets — all based on the unproved accusations, set forth in an indictment, that the site deliberately aided copyright infringement.

    In other words, many SOPA opponents were confused and even shocked when they learned that the very power they feared the most in that bill — the power of the U.S. Government to seize and shut down websites based solely on accusations, with no trial — is a power the U.S. Government already possesses and, obviously, is willing and able to exercise even against the world’s largest sites (they have this power thanks to the the 2008 PRO-IP Act pushed by the same industry servants in Congress behind SOPA as well as by forfeiture laws used to seize the property of accused-but-not-convicted drug dealers)."

    John Puma

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