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Jad Chambers Blog

Posts from January 2012

Kind of a Trilogy, I Guess

I’ll wrap up this SOPA blog series.  It quietly ended the almost the same way it quietly started and tried to float thru Congress from backroom to backroom without much outcry.  First, a committee removed some of the wording they were having trouble agreeing on.  This had the effect of making the bill even more toothless in its fight against piracy.  Then the Obama White House made a short statement saying they would oppose the legislation. And that was it for SOPA. It was never defeated; it will simply never see the full House floor for further consideration.  Tabled and shelved, Congress (correctly) decided they had more important problems to deal with.

I wish I could say I was happier about this, but it is still a little sad.  As if we already didn’t know this; SOPA was proof that companies, individuals, and groups with enough money and political capital can try an end-run around the Constitution.  And get frighteningly close to succeeding.  The impending “SOPA Blackout” protest from businesses threatened by SOPA was averted 1 day before it was supposed to take place.

The “why” is fairly easy to guess at.  If I had to guess, I would say some “computer expert” trusted by congress finally looked at the bill and its proposed DNS blocks and managed to convince Legislators that this bill was a job killer that would send profitable tech companies out of the country, while doing absolutely nothing to combat media piracy.

Which remains a problem.  I’m not talking about stopping some cat enthusiast from making a YouTube video featuring frolicking kittens and setting it to a copyrighted song (or as SOPA would have done, torch all of YouTube for such an infraction.)  That’s not theft.  Yes, that makes the song available to anyone for free with a click on YouTube.  But for at least a few years now, music has been offered for free on these things called radios.  Turn a dial and boom, free music.  Looks like the record companies need to stomp on this thing called radio. “What? Plays of a song on the radio INCREASES sales of songs and albums?  That can’t be, they were GIVING IT AWAY.  If they can hear it for free why would they PAY for it?”

And it’s EXACTLY the same thing with YouTube.  The more views of the video, or videos featuring the music, the better it sells.  Just ask Gaga or Bieber; after all they are all over YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.  And you know what, they seem to do OK. 

Getting back to piracy, something should be done to shut down or shut out the BitTorrent sites specifically set up to distribute copyrighted music, video, or computer programs.  But there isn’t a “fine line” between a software pirate and someone who clicks “like” on a penguin video.  That’s a vast, yawning CHASM.  YouTube will ALREADY remove a violating video at the request of any copyright holder.  That should be good enough for the record companies and movie studios.  Not a good enough reason to violate the spirit and word of the Constitution.

Besides, it needs to be in better hands than Congress’.  Those guys can’t even balance a budget, a skill I picked up the first year I had a checking account at the tender age of 14.  I say we let the old folks argue back and forth about Republican this and Democrat that.  It seems to make them happy, and because of bureaucracy and gridlock they wind up accomplishing nothing anyway.  They frankly don’t have the power, will, or ability to dictate anything to the “the internet” or “free market.” Both of those things are bigger and more powerful than Congress.  And the SOPA debacle just proved it... again.

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Answering a Question in Advance
I get calls, e-mails, and even a few blog replies asking questions about the internet and tech stuff from time to time.  I’m used to it though, for years I’ve been the guy in my family that the rest call for computer problems, DVR (and before it VCR) support, website suggestions, and so on.  So I don’t mind it. But I like to save myself the extra work from time to time as well.  So I’ll answer this question before the problem arises.

“Why can’t I log on to Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and (insert lots of other popular sites) today?”

This could happen as early as late this month.  Those sites and several others like them have pledged to shut down for a day in protest if it looks like the U.S. House will pass SOPA or the Senate will pass “Protect IP.”  In this case the protest is particularly symbolic of what will happen if either of the bills pass both houses and gets signed by the President.  Because if that happens, the immediate effect will be the shutdown of each of those sites for what could be several weeks or months to go over all of their content.  They will have to look at every page and every single file one by one to make sure they are in compliance with the potential new (and very stupid and unconstitutional) law.

I won’t go into the details of each terrible bill here (just look at my last blog post which is all about SOPA and Protect IP) but some sources are saying that each bill may have a fairly good chance of passing.  The companies that are lobbying for SOPA are really throwing tons of money at Congress to ensure its passage. 

And when have those guys ever turned down a buck?

So, some of the big internet companies are threatening a protest in the form of a one day shutdown.  Just a friendly warning from me, this looks like it is happening.  It may be the only way to get larger coverage of this issue.  For my job I pay close attention to the major media outlets. And this attempt at censorship and a blatant power grab for Big Government (the Democrats) AND Big Business (the Republicans) is flying along pretty quietly.  But that won’t be the case after Google, Facebook, and Twitter all shut down on the same day.  That can’t be covered up.  The big news networks will try and ignore it (the network corporations are all paying lobbyists to shell out for SOPA) but there will be too much public curiosity (even outcry) to ignore it completely.

So, when those websites shut down, and you can’t get e-mails, check status updates, or find those cute puppy or penguin videos on YouTube… that’s the reason.  They are protesting a bill that gives the Government and several Big Businesses the power to block access to any web site for any reason they want to without any kind of court order.  They can also freeze any money going to the company that owns said website, again without any kind of check on that power.

In fact, I said in my last blog that we don’t have to worry about it because it will be found ridiculously unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (or by any court with any sense of what justice and American freedom is.)  But now that’s not so sure.  The bill doesn’t give any process by which a website’s owner or parent company could even protest the blockage of their website.  Or to put it another way, they could shut down a business (if it's entirely on the web) for whatever reason they want to, and that business has no legal recourse to ever gain their source of income back.

Welcome to America, the home of FREE ENTERPRISE.

So this may never get to the Supreme Court for them to FIND it unconstitutional.  So again, please contact your legislators and tell them in no uncertain terms that they will be voted out of office (recalled if it can be managed) if they vote for this awful, freedom killing bill.

So goodbye, if they pass SOPA I won’t be able to blog again.  But If it looks like it will pass, I will be happy to give everyone instructions on how to defeat a DNS block (the method the government will use to block websites.)  Some browsers are already developing plugins that will allow them around SOPA DNS blocks.

You see, Congress only THINKS they can control the internet.  The reality is... it is already beyond their control.  Think about it; a business has their website blocked, what's their first move?  Oh, domain registry costs on average $1.00 a YEAR.  So for a buck and 10 minutes of copy and pasting any business can have a website back up and running.

That won't make the American Government look impotent.  Not at all.  Passing a law that any company IT guy can get around in a few minutes.  Not to mention that today's average teenager could permanently defeat the enforcement of this law with a few minutes of clicking.  Passing SOPA will make Congress a laughing stock.
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