Glass Maze Every jumbled pile of person

17 January 2012

Politics, Rantery

Of Course SOPA Is a Free Speech Issue

Here’s the AFL-CIO’s Paul Almeida, on why SOPA doesn’t represent a massive and disastrous abridgment of our rights to free speech:

There is no inconsistency between protecting an open Internet and safeguarding intellectual property. Protecting intellectual property is not the same as censorship; the First Amendment does not protect stealing goods off trucks.

This isn’t even wrong: it just takes two unrelated concepts — internet content and theft — and puts them in vague proximity to one another. We’re supposed to hear “stealing” and think oh noes stealing! and then blindly sign on to whatever it takes to make the stealing stop — which, in this case, means making the internet, as we know it, stop.

Because what our current laws do protect (sticking with this demented mixed metaphor for a moment) is the right to drive your truck around even if there’s a chance that it contains stolen goods — or, more to the point, even if someone gets it in his head that it contains stolen goods and asserts as much, without proof. If we were to apply the same standard to truck content as this stupid bill does to website content, then:

  1. The truck could be forced off the road if some jerk with an axe to grind writes a letter to the Trucking Authority saying he suspects it’s carrying contraband. That’s all it would take. No judge, no lawsuit, no cops — just a notice.
  2. The trucking company could be cut off from its payment processors and advertisers — effectively preventing it from doing business — and removed from the yellow pages. Again, without due process.
  3. Furthermore, any third party running an ad for — or otherwise directing customers to — the trucking company would also be breaking the law, and be liable for damages, because of the bill’s “anti-circumvention” clause.
  4. Conversely, if the Trucking Authority — either through an (understandable) excess of caution, or for more nefarious reasons — preemptively does any of this stuff without an actual due-process-free takedown notice, they’d be effectively immune from liability.

And this is to say nothing of the government itself — which, as the silencing of Wikileaks has demonstrated, is more than willing to bring extra-legal pressure to bear in order to silence its critics, even without the express authority to do so.

In short: if this becomes law, we can look forward to media behemoths training their giant howitzers on little guys who post non-infringing content, taking them down without even having to pull the trigger. We can look forward to curated link sites like BoingBoing and Slashdot severely curtailing what they link to, and getting sued out of existence if they’re not careful enough (or even if they are); and sites that depend on user-generated content (like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and MetaFilter) going dark, unless they find a way to severely restrict what people can post.

We can look forward to sites suddenly disappearing from the internet, just like that.

Again: the end of the internet as we know it. An endless vista of possibility reduced to a nightmare of chainlink fences and disappeared websites and everyone always looking over their shoulder, not sure where the next blow is going to come from, or why.

Anybody who tells you this isn’t a free speech issue is either deeply confused about what free speech is or — far more likely — lying. Don’t believe them.

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