January 19, 2012

Popular Mechanics nails the SOPA problem

One site of thousands blacked out in protest.
Leave it to, um, Popular Mechanics (?) to point out the problems with SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) that are being pushed hard by Democrats in the Senate. They nail it, something you'd expect from mechanics.

First they set up the background:
What’s got everyone so riled up? Well, it was obvious from the start that the bill’s language was over-broad and granted troubling enforcement powers to authorities. Under the original language of SOPA, copyright holders who found that a rogue foreign site was hosting and distributing their content could get a court order to force U.S.-based service providers to block access to that site. One provision that legislators now seem to be dropping was called DNS blocking, which would force the Internet’s main Domain Name System servers to block requests for these rogue sites.

With all of the attention, many of the details of these bills are still in flux, but critics claim that the legislation is so vague and sweeping that it is bound to end up censoring legitimate content...
And then comes the hammer;
The analogy of SOPA and PIPA as clubs is apt, but the problem is that a club is the wrong type of tool to deal with a problem like piracy. The music and movie industries, which have the most stake in SOPA, believe they have a pest problem—they think of the sites that distribute and profit from their copyrighted content are pests that need to be eradicated. And if you have a pest problem, it makes sense to debate the size of the club you need to clobber your pests with. But the entertainment industry doesn’t have a pest problem. They have a leak, and a club is a terrible tool for dealing with a leak.

The failure of the entertainment industry—and, consequently, the legislators who are trying to help them out—to understand their problem is because of an even more fundamental misunderstanding about the products they are selling. They believe they are selling music and movies, discrete pieces of entertainment. But since the advent of the compact disc and DVD, the entertainment industry has been selling data—and data is inherently fluid and leaky. If you cannot control the way you sell and distribute your data, you are going to suffer from leaks, and no legislative clubs are going to plug those leaks.
When Popular Mechanics is pointing out problems with legislation you know it's pretty messed up.  No offense meant to Popular Mechanics, it's just that this would not be what you'd consider to be their forte.  It just proves that the legislation is not bullet proof, but more like bullet riddled.
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