Quick. What do Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, eBay, Yahoo, Michele Bachmann and Ellen Mrja have in common? (Yes, I said Michele Bachmann.)

They’re all against HR 3261: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and her evil twin in the Senate, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). What a disappointment that Minnesota senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken support these well-intentioned but thoroughly misguided stepping stones into internet censorship. Boo!

The best description of SOPA can be found on the site, which calls this battle a “SOPA Opera.” There you’ll find the mark-up of the bill and its history. But in a nutshell…

What drives these two pieces of proposed legislation is the loss of billions of dollars annually by the motion picture, recording and other copyright-driven industries by illegally downloaded music, pirated movies and rogue websites. In particular, foreign rogue websites are called out for mass producing pirated American films before the movie is scarcely in domestic release, resulting in a staggering loss of money executives have not yet found a way to recover.

And so, on the one side you have Warner Bros., Paramount Studios, Sony Music. They’re joined by the rest of “old Hollywood,” the Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (“There’s NO business like SHOW business..!” and, odd-fellow in, the AFL-CIO.

But in the other corner you have the Silicon Valley slicks, the new geniuses who envision and then execute the sites that have transformed how we interact, find news, purchase goods and services, trade information. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, all were founded on the proposition that the internet is an anarchy and that’s what makes it open to experimentation, trial-error, “let’s blow this up and see what happens” thinking.

I also vote for anarchy. Michele Bachmann probably has a much saner reason, as I’ll explain in a moment.

Key to making SOPA and PIPA work is the ability for companies that believe they’ve had material ripped off to go to the U.S. Justice Department which could use sweeping new powers to “go after” these sites. How would this be done? In any combination of the following:

    *By punishing sites that infringe on copyright OR EVEN THOSE THAT LINK to these sites.
    *By shutting down financial transfers to these sites (the same technique used against WikiLeaks when Assange’s supporters mirrored his work forward) and
    *By giving Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Verizon or Comcast the power to voluntarily block sites through so-called “vigilante provisions.” Entire sites could be shut down through something called DNS Blocking. Domain Name System (DNS) is the text-based address we use to identify different computers on the internet. The DNS names are cross-listed with Internet Protocol (IP) addresses in online databases; each computer, including yours right now, has its own IP address (a series of numbers and periods). So, by blocking entire DNS sites, the government also now has a listing of the IPs that were visiting that address.

I’m going to guess it’s this unprecedented intrusion by Big Government into law-abiding American internet users’ homes that Bachmann finds so objectionable; I know I do. Right now the U.S. Supreme Court has given the internet full First Amendment protections — from government. Even any attempt at
any power by the government to censor this most glorious of new media must be fought at every turn. The government never goes backward on its powers.

And POTUS? Well, he’s taken his typical political approach to this legislation. While he “believe we must protect the livelihoods of creative industries…blah, blah, blah,..we must also make sure cyberspace does not become the home of censorship blah, blah, blah.” At least our friend Rupert Murdoch takes a stand: he’s in a fine dungeon high dudgeon over SOPA. He supports the legislation and tweeted Saturday night:
“So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.”

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has announced he is going to make the site black for 24 hours starting tomorrow as a visual protest of what government censorship could like like in an extreme form. Social media site Redditt plans to do the same; Google will probably use its page to send searchers to U.S. Senators’ and Representatives’ offices.

And so, “The fight is curiously nonpartisan,” as the put it. And I’m in bed with Michele Bachmann.

As of 2 hours ago, The SOPA vote has been delayed (too many phone calls and emails, Congress?) but the Senate vote is still stubbornly set for January 24. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s phone number is 202-224-3244. Sen. Al Franken prefers email messages. Just Google him. If Google’s still open.


UPDATE: After a successful day of protests (and reading a discouraging number of tweets from young people nationwide that asked: WTFISOPA? and The internet is ending???????!!!!!!) I wanted to thank you all for a great discussion with this little treat — Hitler Reacting to SOPA. Enjoy.


  1. Jeremy Powers says:

    A couple of things. First, blacking out a website in protest for a one-in-a-million potential web blockage is a little like holding a hunger strike to protest world hunger. I know they mean well, but the message has escaped logic. My respect for Wikipedia plummet in24 hours. A company of information shouldn’t, by definition, be stupid.

    Whereas DNS blocking could be a problem for the uninitiated, almost anyone who knows anything about the Internet could get around that like a dead raccoon in the road – just choose another DNS server for your primary server. I have Comcast but I don’t use their DNS servers. I don’t have to. DNS is best described as the card catalog of the website. It, too, is complete anarchy and the best — the absolute best — the government could hope for is to push some of it underground. This is a complete joke.

    It would be virtually impossible to block all sites that link to other sites. The linking sites could be found, but like dandelions in the front yard, new ones would crop up much, much faster than they could be delinked. No one with any technology background would even consider this. It’s like outlawing thinking. If they removed every site that had links to music sharing, it would include Google, Yahoo and Bing. No one could find anything.

    The problem is real. Copyrighted material is stolen – that’s what it is – at an alarming rate. My guess is journalists who have books being hacked aren’t happy losing they’re proceeds. However, SOPA is not really the best solution. It’s aimed at cutting off the circumvention that is easily done on the Internet. For instance, the link block is designed so that one corporation couldn’t set up and publicize a site with all the links, while getting a commission from the company that hosted the movies and music for download. But it is too broad. The authors don’t recognize that they are making a department of St. Michael and St. George – the right to carry arms and meet justice – judge, jury and executioner all in one.

    It’s tough to write good laws, but you would like to think that the government employs people capable of doing it.

    1. Ellen Mrja says:

      Hey, Jeremy. You make an excellent point about circumventing any blocks; however, doing so would make it easier for hackers to do their evil best, wouldn’t it? Also, another provision in SOPA would make it illegal to POST information about how to circumvent. Again, what the heck?
      There’s another provision having to do with counterfeit goods. What if I link to a site where “I found the best deal on x-y-z” and it turns out that it’s a counterfeit? I’m also culpable. Twitter? Facebook? Search engines? YouTube? Yikes.
      A great constitutional scholar, Laurence Tribe, says of these: “The bills are not limited; they’re sledgehammer, not scalpels.”
      And I laughed at your last observation; at least government can spin a great PR name for a bill every now and then, i.e. the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act = The USA PATRIOT Act #winning

      1. Jeremy Powers says:

        The law would absolutely fall apart if they enforced it. That’s how you know it sucks. If you blocked every site that posted how to change your DNS servers, the Internet would grind to a haul.

        Hackers aren’t a huge issue in this regard. They could create their own bogus DNS servers, but anyone would figure that out in a minute. Anyone can create a DNS server and it can automatically clone another one. (I have friend with DNS servers in their basement.) So if a hacker wanted to create a DNS server so that all requests for pointed to a porn site, people would dump it in a second.

        The broadness of the law is its problem. Yes, the same rule that would whack a guy importing 10,000 fake Coach purses would technically apply to you if you sent an e-mail to a friend telling her where you bought one. However, too narrow of a law just allows the pirates to change domain names every day and never be caught. I operate a mail server. The same mail server, in Brazil as far as I can tell, changes its more than 100 domain names every day so it can send out more useless spam from a new domain name every day, thus always having the spamnet running one day behind. I spend 30 minutes each and every day deleting thousands of mail messages. That same technology would allow to become on Wednesday and on Thursday. So the law was designed to allow them more leeway. However, leeway is never a good thing to codify for the government. It seems to manage to bend the rules just fine even when it isn’t codified. But we have reached a point where some people feel the government is capable of discretion.

        Actually, as far as I can tell the government’s ability to create a catchy acronym is now much more important that the actual bill. We live in a day of starvation of reason and a gluttony of emotion.

    1. Ellen Mrja says:

      Mike: That techdirt page is superlative. Thanks for pointing it out. You know, much as I hate to see my beloved newspapers bleeding revenue, I know they must come up with their own fixes for fighting the online battle. I see the same corollary with Hollywood and the recording industry. Of course, Hollywood and the recording industry are BIG DONORS to Congress and Senate coffers. That’s another reason why this legislation is making strange partnerships pro and against.

  2. Joe Loveland says:

    I completely see the danger, and am worried too. But, how would you propose to stop the piracy? We wouldn’t tolerate bank robbery, and I dont think any of us tolerate multi-billion dollar creative asset robbery either. If this legislation is not the right way to stop the robbers of one of America’s biggest exports, what is?

  3. Ellen Mrja says:

    Joe: If I knew the answer do you think I’d be sitting here when I could be in Silicon Valley? Of course we don’t tolerate back robbery; but the answer is not to let the government shut down banks or go through the accounts of private account holders or tell customers which bonds or CDs etc. they can and can not invest in.
    Already online venture capitalists are saying they will not fund new projects in America if this legislation passes. They see the writing on the wall, so to speak.
    Freedom has always come with abuse. But I’ll take that over Eric Holder shutting down this blog because someone has posted something on WordPress that allegedly has run afoul of the proposed laws. By the way, WordPress has also come out against SOPA/PIPA:

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        I hear you, Ellen, but I’d feel more responsible opposing this if I had a counter proposal to address this huge problem for an increasingly creativity-based economy.

        I Googled around to see if I could spot any alternative fixes. I wasn’t immediately seeing anything other than what the Obama Administration proposed when it announced opposition last weekend: “voluntary measures and best practices” developed by content providers and Internet platform providers. Not sure that’s going to do it.

      2. Erik says:

        In most cases it’s safe to assume that the copyright holders are wealthier than the pirates. A little piracy then is nothing more than some de facto wealth and income redistribution. So I’m puzzled by your concerns.

  4. Bruce benidt says:

    Many sponsors now backing off.
    “well-intentioned but thoroughly misguided” is a great description. Thx.

  5. Ellen Mrja says:

    Thanks, Bruce. And everyone, please see my update with the Hitler reaction above. He also is against SOPA. So he’s in bed with Michele and me now, too. Good night, y’all.

  6. Newt says:

    Franken and Klobuchar are in the tank for O’s Hollywood friends. Good luck getting them to care about little inconveniences like due process and liberty on the Net.

    P.S. Oddly enough, at least Ellison is against SOP and PIPA.

    1. Ellen Mrja says:

      Newt: I tend to agree with you about Hollywood friends. So now both senators are backing down. And Ellison with Bachmann? Would you ever have predicted that on any issue?

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