SOPA, PIPA and sopapillas

ETA: Within about two minutes of posting this, I watched an excellent summary of the current state of SOPA and PIPA pop up in my e-reader from Making Light.  A wonderful highlight of some of the bills’ most egregious freedom of speech implications.

Yesterday, 18 January, was SOPA Blackout Day, when websites all across the Internet ideally went dark (like Wikipedia), or else put up educational messages (like Google), to raise awareness about the real threat to freedom of expression, and freedom in general, posed by SOPA and PIPA.

And it seems it worked.  On the tide of a groundswell of phone calls and emails, U.S. senators and members of Congress backed off SOPA and PIPA in large numbers.  Many, including even several of the bills’ co-sponsors, explicitly turned against it, for which they’re to be commended.  Others refused to formally renounce it, instead choosing to state that they have reservations about the bills in their current form, and are going to want to work on them some more to improve them; they probably aren’t to be trusted on this issue and should have an eye kept on them until the matter comes to a vote.

What really caught my eye about the congressional renunciation of SOPA and PIPA, though, and what troubles me about it, was that it was a wholly Republican-led phenomenon.  It was predominantly Republicans who condemned the bills, Republican co-sponsors who loudly took their names off them; it was predominantly Democrats who tried to sound like they were distancing themselves from them while retaining the freedom of action to vote for them once public scrutiny has faded.

Call me socialist.  Call me progressive.  Call me liberal.  I embrace all three labels.  I’m a socialist because I believe that it is through society that we can best foster the flowering of the individual.  I’m a progressive because I believe in progress, in a future that’s better than our present.  I’m a liberal because I believe in freedom and opportunity for everyone, and not just for the privileged.

What I’ve found is that very often–perhaps even always, though I shy away from absolute statements–those three different things boil down to one core issue: when the powerful wage war upon the weak, I side with the weak.

This is why I overwhelmingly find myself aligned more closely with Democrats than Republicans in American politics.  It’s not that Democrats can be relied upon to side with the weak when the strong come after them, because they can’t.  There’s always a sizable faction of Dems aligning with the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party on the side of the strong.  But what voices there are consistently rising in support of the weak are Democratic voices.

We’ve seen it time and again over the past ten years.  The movement to roll back our civil liberties and stifle our freedom of action through things like the USA PATRIOT Act.  Efforts to decide whether marriage to the person you love is a right enjoyed by all Americans, or a privilege restricted only to the heterosexual portion of the population.  The debate over how the burden of adequately funding (or inadequately funding) our government should be distributed over the economic spectrum of our society.  Efforts to strip workers of the protections that trade unions provide them.  The fight to ensure that no one in America should have to choose between bankruptcy and illness.  Consistently, in all those national conversations, I’ve watched the Republican Party and a sizable faction of the Democratic Party on the side of the strong, while on the side of the weak are the other faction of the Democrats, either alone or buttressed by a small, fringe minority of Republicans calling themselves libertarians.

SOPA and PIPA are unambiguously attacks on the weak by the strong.  Everything in them stacks the deck against those without resources and in favour of those with them, from the way they punish someone simply for having an accusation made against them, to the provisions designed to ensure that, when the accusers actually are found to have deployed the laws unjustly and abusively, they’re immune from suffering any penalty–like the penalty they will already have visited upon their target.

And today, it’s the Republicans who stand with the weak, and the Democrats standing with the strong.

I’m a copyright holder.  I’m in exactly the demographic PIPA and SOPA claim to be protecting.  Copyright and copyright protection are important to me, both in terms of my own copyright and livelihood, and in terms of copyright as an intellectual principle.  And online piracy is a grave threat to copyright and needs to be combatted.  But PIPA and SOPA are not acceptable ways of doing that.  They would, in fact, greatly limit my ability to exploit my copyright, by restricting and penalising the free flow of discussion and ideas.

FiveThirtyEight presented an obvious reason why the congressional parties should align the way they seem to have here: ninety per cent of political contributions from Hollywood go to the Democratic Party.  Which raises another salient point about yesterday’s win over SOPA and PIPA:

It’s only temporary.

Truckloads of money will continue to trundle across the country from California to the District of Columbia.  And every provision in those bills will be back.  It might be under the same name; it might not.  Certainly, there’ll be more circumspection about how it’s reintroduced.  But if we’re not prepared to act, again, against it, then it will come to pass.


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