Every time I want to sit down and write a little bit about how rural folks can better use the internet, someone in the US congress proposes a bill that just reinforces how little they understand about how the online world works. Here is the case in point: the Protect IP bill in the Senate (S968) and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House. These two bills were introduced as methods to stop the piracy of intellectual property, mostly movies, online. Unfortunately, they are written so very broadly, that they subject casual social media users (yes, that’s your grandmother posting those baby videos) to prosecution and jail time and endanger the very stability of the internet itself.
I agree that intellectual property needs protection. Much of the value of business in the US involves IP in one way or another. However, these bills are not the way to go. Rebecca MacKinnon, writing for the New York Times, says, “While American intellectual property deserves protection, that protection must be won and defended in a manner that does not stifle innovation, erode due process under the law, and weaken the protection of political and civil rights on the Internet.”
To better understand this proposed legislation, see the video on the Fightforthefuture.org site. To see what’s happening since these bills were introduced, see Matt Cutts’ blog entry. (Scroll down past the video for more fun facts.) He has an interesting graph showing the amount and type of funding going into these bills.
For rural folks, this legislation could have some serious repercussions. I think the most serious side-effect would be the fear created. Would you post anything on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter if you could potentially be prosecuted for it? I’ve quoted lines from TV shows in previous posts, mostly as an homage to them. Would I have to pull those or risk going to jail? Would a small business, such as a farm, be willing to use these online tools with that level of risk? Censorship could happen to anyone accused, (not convicted, but only accused) of posting content that might infringe on IP rights. Something as simple as quoting a popular song or submitting an outdoor video that had a logo or background music in it could get you censored or jailed. Any social media company that didn’t actively censor every posting could be shut down.
We would, essentially, become China. I don’t know about you, but I like my hard-won civil liberties.
Okay, can I get back to talking about rural geek things now?