Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An Open Letter to Senator Jeff Bingaman (D NM)

Senator Bingaman,

Today, major websites across the internet are shutting themselves down. This is not only an act of protest against a pair of proposed bills - one each for the Senate and the House - but also to make salient what the internet would look like if either of those bills passed.

Those bills are the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (of which both you and Tom Udall are cosponsors).

I am writing you to tell you that not only will both of these bills be unable to perform their pretexts, but in fact can and will be used as de facto legal weapons against extant and future internet businesses, and one which will be most readily utilized by the wealthy and powerful against those less so.

Both bills can and will fail to stop piracy and other types of copyright infringement by foreign web sites due to publicly available and easily employable methods. These are not some hypothetical technical tricks. Indeed, they are used by millions of citizens in oppressive regimes to exercise their basic human rights in defiance of their totalitarian states.

Instead, all that either bill will accomplish is the total destruction of the new American economy, and the ossification of the old to the detriment of the enterprising American citizen.

Of course, such a claim sounds like hyperbole, but I will clarify and stress that such a prediction is by no means far fetched, but instead, a troubling potential reality.

Both bills target websites that, succinctly, "commit, are designed to commit, enable, or facilitate copyright infringement," and make websites that can permit users to employ such mechanisms liable for user generated content. This criterion could not be more vague, and can include any website that has any mechanism for posting user-generated content, from the ability to host video files down to a simple comment submission system.

'Foreign' websites, or those that have a foreign domain name but can still reside in the United States, are, once identified as performing any of the above mentioned functions, legally bound to be censured by search engines and American ISP's. In addition, advertisement and payment websites and services are likewise bound to sever contact with them.

However, the definition of a 'foreign' website does nothing to account for the technical complexity of the internet. Their are countless instances of American websites bring hosted by foreign servers, or vice versa, or of American websites utilizing foreign domains either through necessity or creativity, and numerous other examples. Due to such complexities, American web sites, designed by Americans with which American citizens earn a living and maintain a business, can be argued in a court of law to be viable targets under these bills.

Thus, both bills can, and I have great confidence that they will, be abused as a means of shutting down effectively any modern website. An act so simple as the posting of song lyrics in the comment box of a web comic can lead to that website being shut down. A website, mind you, which has been the means by which it's owner and operator's independent, entrepreneurial, and creative livelihood has been maintained in the face of a disintegrating traditional economy.

In addition, such processes as described above can be employed as a weapon with which extant copyright holders with great litigious power can wage a war of legal attrition against potential competitors. Again, it would be simple for the existing and established power to purposefully and covertly insert their own copyrighted material into the competitor's web site, leading to it's shutdown, and the nascent competitor's financial exsanguination in the ensuing legal contests between it and the holder. This gives existing commercial entities the power to disable, if not outright destroy, it's competition not through superiority of product, service, or quality of work, but rather through the amount of legal power it already possesses.

In an economy reputed to be a champion of free enterprise, this can not stand.

Lastly, but in importance I rate primarily, is the potential these bills have to strangle freedom of speech and expression.

The utilization and development of the Internet has given rise to an unparalleled mechanism with which thoughts and ideas can be archived and communicated. I believe that, if not presently then in the near future, the internet is such a monumental event in the context of communication and human relation that it will be ranked second only to the invention of the written word itself in terms of importance and benefit to humanity.

It is a tool with which thought, feeling, sight, sound, and experience can be stored and transmitted to potentially any human being across our precious Earth, up to the speed of light. The internet, along with the harnessing of the power atom, is the most exalted human achievement in the last century. We are only now, with our first few cautious steps into these next hundred years, beginning to explore the potential the Internet has to unify our species and change the human condition.

At this point, the major nexuses of development are websites such as Wikipedia (a modern manifestation of the mythical Akashic Record), Youtube (a website and tool with which any human being can be an entertainer, newscaster, instructor, and anything else one could imagine), and Facebook (a social networking site devoted to facilitating and expanding social relation). The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is pioneering a new system of education that will give people all across the globe the opportunity to learn and master the skills necessary to invent and harness the technologies that will be the cornerstone of a prosperous future.

2011 has proven how such websites and countless others across the internet can be used as instruments of social change. Arab Spring, the cascading revolutions across the developing world that saw the overthrow of dictators and the liberation of millions, was enabled and coordinated with such aforementioned web sites. The Occupy Wall Street movement is one that has entwined cyberspace and realspace into a new mutation of social activism. The infamous hacker group Anonymous has used such sites as a platform for the enumeration of their political position and philosophical basis.

All of these websites, all that human possibility, can be utterly destroyed by those with power, who are threatened by the potential they posses. Their weapons are SOPA and PIPA, if not in themselves than in the dangerous precedents they establish in our government and legal system. Both bills are directed against web sites that enable the posting of user-generated content by exploiting the possibility of their abuse.

The entertainment industry - a conglomeration of Hollywood, record companies, and software distribution services - has lobbied millions of dollars into these two bills so that they can stomp out what they perceive to be direct threats to their market dominance. It is not foreign pirate sites that they purport to fear, but rather the mass of human beings who are just as if not more talented, inventive, original, ingenious, and numerous than they can ever hope to be.

Thus, they are presently endeavoring to strike against the two forces of a new, modern age that would see them cast down from their vaunted heights: freedom of information and freedom of entertainment, enabled by such great and wondrous devices in the vein of Wikipedia and Youtube.

PIPA and SOPA are bullets loaded into a legal gun and aimed at the hearts of those incredible machines of social evolution. They are the knives with which the industry aims to stab in the back the democratic principles that the Internet could very well realize, and have up to this point seemed distant and hypothetical.

By supporting and voting for either bill, you are confirming your and your government's stance: that the few, wealthy, and powerful possess more of a right to liberty and prosperity than the many and meager.

Your signature will be words written that speak volumes on how a person with a new idea has no claim to prosperity, and only those with old ideas - given power by those old ideas, who are terrified of the new - are more deserving of the boons of existence.

Of course, this is all high minded and idealistic. I will lower myself to your level and speak to your lizard brain, the part of your subconscious that concerns itself with eating, killing, fucking, and not dying.

Your support of this bill is just one more reason for the mass of increasingly irate citizens, battered by the current economic depression, left bleeding by increasingly regressive social policies, to hate you.

They will hate you, Senator Jeff Bingaman, for giving the powerful one more weapon with which they can take away the means to improve the less powerful's lot in life, and make their life worth living. They will hate you, they will hate the powerful that you lower your pen for, and they will hate the government you operate in.

And hate is a powerful thing, Senator. Hate is a fire that burns cold, burns long, and burns deep. Hate can feed a person as much as any food, warm them as much as any fire, and numb the wrath of the sun. Hate will ease the pain of bullets, abate the terror of war, and justify the taking of any quantity of quality of life.

But the one thing that Hate does not quench is thirst. That can only be sated with blood, Senator.

Good day.

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