6 months, 80 posts, 1,500 comments, 100,000 visits… I managed to stay out of politics, being narrowly focused on a single goal: bringing down copyright trolls and their business model. And instead of writing this post, I would probably spend my time reporting news, good or bad, from our battlefield, but one particular event made me articulate my opinion on PROTECT IP/SOPA bill that is being pushed through Congress these days.
Yesterday I received a public tweet from @PiracyCensorsUs , an entity that presents itself as “…the artists, the filmmakers, the authors, the photographers, the musicians whose work is being stolen by digital pirates so they can profit from our work”:
— Creative Artists (@PiracyCensorsUs) November 14, 2011
I don’t know anything about this organization; it does not even have a website, which is odd. Most likely it’s an MPAA’s astroturf, maybe not, but to be honest I, don’t care. What was disturbing is the premise of the message, a well formed opinion that what I’m doing is somehow wrong and opposite to their goals of fighting large-scale commercial copyright infringers. That can’t be farther from truth: if they read all my and my guest’s posts and numerous comments, they would be surprised to find out that not even once did I encourage breaking the law. I fight against widespread law abuses, against predatory practices that some cynical lawyers use while pursuing easy money, disregarding an unacceptable level of collateral damage — the pain of innocents who are being wrestled to pay thousands of dollars for the deeds they never committed.
And yes, I’m sympathetic even with those who indeed committed alleged infringement and found themselves in the state of frightening uncertainty. I strongly believe that the punishment they face is grossly disproportionate, hence unconstitutional. I don’t have the right to break the law, but I do have the right to question its fairness.
As anyone who has some understanding of Internet technologies and copyright law, I was already strongly against SOPA, which is bound to break the Internet, trump privacy rights and prompt abuses far worse than the ones I’m fighting against. After reading the twitter message, I realized that my 6-month work, as well as the emerging community, is under a threat. Why? Because I defend those accused of copyright infringement, so it is not implausible that some ignorant copyright maximalist, without trying to understand what this site is about, declares it a facilitator of copyright infringement. Even those who fight on a similar frontier, against Righthaven, tend to jump to the conclusion that I’m just a petty thief, so what do you want from others? Or it can be a cunning troll lawyer, whose “business” was seriously damaged by all the exposure, and who definitely wants to silence me. Enacting this bill makes it possible to censor this site out based simply on allegations.
You think that my fears are unfounded? Look, this summer a French judge ruled that a site was dedicated to infringement simply because… its URL contained the word “torrent”. So I can’t afford underestimating ignorance, stupidity or malice of certain groups and individuals. The broad definitions and vague language in the SOPA bill will only fertilize these “virtues”.
This bill is wrong, probably the worst anti-piracy bill ever. I don’t want to reiterate all the dangers of it, you can read about them all over the Internet and make up your mind if you have not already done so. I can talk only for myself, and besides the fears of being censored, here’s another reason why I’m against SOPA: even theoretically assuming that I knew nothing about this bill a priori, its supporters’ arguments cannot convince anyone who can research various sources of information and is capable of critical thinking.
I definitely respect filmmakers, authors and musicians regardless of their position on copyright: I trust their professionalism and expertize when I need to know how to write a movie script, or set up movie scene lights, but…
- When it comes to technology, I trust those who understand it — technology experts, those who have built and expanded the Internet.
- When it comes to law, I trust those who understand it — legal scholars.
- When it comes to business, I trust those who understand it — entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
Ignorance is our worst enemy.
Today, four years after this post was published, I checked the @PiracyCensorsUs twitter account. It was not a great surprise to find that its tweets stopped on 1/16/2015, a day after SOPA died. I guess MPAA decided to stop writing checks to astroturfs, so the question if piracy indeed censors us was not that important to begin with.