I’d like it to be noted that I endured 24 hours without Wikipedia. But I didn’t. I got in.
Meanwhile, Internet stakeholders-turned-doomsayers appear to have scuttled the online piracy debate captained by the film and television industries. And judging by the millions of followers they engaged by blacking out popular websites, it appears the U.S.S. SOPA could sink, at least as of this moment.
In my aim to be an informed citizen, I spent way too much of yesterday trying to educate myself on this smoking hot issue, another in a long series that has Americans fiercely divided. As if we needed another.
I actually read the entire House bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, as well as everything, pro and con, that was posted on my favorite websites by my favorite people, and I talked live with several stakeholders. I’ve cracked open the Senate version, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA.
As usual, I came away with mixed feelings.
As someone who has lived and worked in the hotbed of hullaballoo that is our nation’s capital, I continue to witness firsthand how advocacy groups can twist any public policy issue in their favor, and scare people—often with little effort–into supporting their causes. And people are willing to rally on a moment’s notice when they’re told the end is near.
Who remembers the rumor about 10 years ago that the federal government was going to impose a 25-cent fee on every e-mail message sent and received? I received about 50 bucks’ worth of messages from naïve friends urging me to help beat it back. They cited a bogus bill number that anyone with a clue would have known was neither a House nor Senate measure. It was a hoax.
I’m not saying the SOPA/PIPA proposals or the death knell the tech firms are singing are hoaxes. This is a real issue with high stakes on both sides. What I’m bemoaning here is how quickly some people who have never read a piece of legislation in their lives take up arms based on panic induced rhetoric. You can’t tell me that every website user who is protesting actually understands what’s in both bills. I know I don’t.
Here’s how I see it.
People and companies who create artistic works are entitled to the income they earn for those works. And these aren’t just the big movie, TV and recording stars. They are members of camera crews, editing staff, key grips (whatever they do), hair and make-up artists, extras, even the little old ladies like my Aunt Patsy who play the small parts they work so hard to get. Their income is being taken from them when foreign websites pirate and traffic their work products.
I use Google and Wikipedia an average of 20 times a day. As an unpaid amateur blogger, I consider Wikipedia my official go-to source for unofficial useless information and Google my treasure trove of silly images, legally available and otherwise. Facebook and Twitter? Big fan. I’d like them to be there for me. I don’t believe Google or Wikipedia should solely bear the burden of policing the content that flows through them, nor do I think they should be censored. But I do believe they have a responsibility to refrain from facilitating criminal activity that harms U.S. workers and businesses and to cooperate when law enforcement has to intervene. So sue me.
Here’s what I’d like to see.
First of all, I’d like to see both sides avoid playing the jobs card. There are jobs at stake on both sides. And these days in the United States, everything has a jobs angle.
Next, I’d like to see the bill’s drafters do some redrafting to address any provisions that produce unintended consequences. This is a challenge given the Internet as we know it isn’t even 20 years old, and criminals are typically a step ahead of the law.
Further, I’d like to see all of us, as regular citizens playing happily on the Internet, simmer down, become better educated before we panic, and think for ourselves. Regardless of where we stand, on this or any other issue.
Need a chuckle break from the madness? Enjoy yesterday’s amusing take on what would happen in a Wikiless world, by The Washington Post’s Monica Hesse.