Musing about SOPA

Musing about SOPA:

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to write this post. The internet was not, and is not, solely a new distribution mechanism for Hollywood and for pockets of the music industry; but the power of these incumbents is immense in the Western world, and it is therefore possible, perhaps even likely, that bad law will be legislated to protect decayed and dying industries from being disrupted. Even though the customer suffers as a result.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to write this post. The internet wasn’t always a global phenomenon. It grew principally from the vision and commitment of US citizens, and as a result there has been a level of US-centricity about its progress and evolution. If the US were to give up this leadership role (which it no doubt will, if SOPA goes ahead) then others will step into the breach. The internet routes around obstacles, we have seen this repeatedly during Arab Spring.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to write this post. The anchors and frames for this debate have already been subverted; the incumbent lobby has done a good PR job. The commonly held belief is that people against SOPA, by definition support stealing, support denying artists their rightful income. So everyone who tries to attack SOPA goes through that mill, and the mill grinds slowly and exceeding small.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to write this post. Anything I do may not be enough to stop it happening; it may not matter anyway; and it may damage my reputation unduly and unwarrantedly.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to write this post. There appear to be only downsides to my action.

So why am I writing it?

Because the internet matters. It matters to the world. It matters to people who are giving their all to changing historical and broken paradigms in education, in healthcare, in business, even in government. As the price of being connected with smart mobile devices drops, as three billion more people join the ranks of the ubiquitous always-on, we’re going to see amazing changes. Changes that will radically improve the lives of our children and grandchildren.

For that to happen, we have to make the internet a safer place. We. Not me. Not you. We. Much has been done to achieve this, much remains to be done. Sustainable cybersecurity is essential if we wish for a world where health, education, welfare, business and government are transformed anew. And there’s been so much progress in making this happen that wasting it is bordering on the criminal, the insane, the criminally insane.

This transformation, bringing in the power of the collective, making everything more social, more sharable, democratising access and knowledge and power, this transformation is essential if we are to solve some of the core problems we face, in environment, in disease control, in health and nutrition, in climate change, in food supplies, in water. The institutions we looked to in the past cannot cope with the complexity they face. They need the internet and what it represents. And they need it to be safe, secure, reliable.

I’ve read more than I care to list here about SOPA; I can’t claim to understand all of it, I’m neither a lawyer nor a politician. The Wikipedia article is probably a good place for you to start, if you’re interested… the very existence of Wikipedia is threatened by everything that SOPA represents.

There is so much emotion around about SOPA that I wanted to give my readers something fundamentally different to look at, when it comes to forming your views. What I suggest is, leave aside everything else you’ve heard and read about SOPA, and concentrate on this one point:

How do you defend cyberspace while protecting against online piracy?

This research paper by the Brookings Institution: Cybersecurity in the Balance: Weighing the risks of the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act, is a must-read in this context. Here’s part of the opening:

This paper does not deal with the questions of economic value, free expression or other issues raised by advocates on both sides. Instead, I highlight the very real threats to cybersecurity in a small section of both bills in their attempts to execute policy through the Internet architecture. While these bills will not “break the Internet,” they further burden cyberspace with three new risks

The “three new risks” mentioned are spelt out further in the article. I summarise them below (my words, my interpretations):

  • PROTECT IP and SOPA make it harder and more complex to keep the internet secure, just in terms of architecture and processes
  • In addition, as companies and customers are forced to migrate away to less secure places, they will be exposed to greater risks
  • Current national and international initiatives to improve security will be undermined, set back, and sometimes even abandoned

We need to frame the argument differently, and the Brookings paper helps us do that.

It’s not “Do you support Hollywood or do you support stealing?”

It is “Do you want a safe internet where health, education, welfare and government are transformed, or do you want a distribution mechanism with protection for Hollywood’s historical business model?”

I hope SOPA does not happen. I hope better, more sensible, more technically feasible, more equitable and more progressive means are found to deal with the problem of decay of Hollywood business models. I hope that the more sensible routes will actually mean that creatives get paid properly, rather than what happens to them today.

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