Feature: Neo-Dictator

Image source:  The Atlantic Wire

Written by Yong Kim

Kim Jung Il is dead.  Sadam and Kadafi have been overthrown and executed.  The model of the old-school dictator seems to be dying.  Unfortunately, there’s a new dictator in town.  Well, not really new, but its presence has never been more prevalent or obvious.  This dictator is not just one person or regime.  The neo-dictator is comprised of countless organizations, with its power being shifted and redistributed per agenda, so this dictator can’t ever really be killed off.  Like any good tyrant, the neo-dictator is motivated by lust for money and power (the quench for which can never be sated).  Naturally the neo-dictator’s most powerful tool is the law, laws like SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act), which are designed so content providers and their bed fellows could hold onto their outdated and dying business models.  Perhaps it’s just a tactic to slow down technological advancement while they catch up.

It’s rather disconcerting and unsettling to see just how far the creators of SOPA and PIPA are willing to go to make their case:

“A recent paper written by Daniel Castro of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and promoted by the MPAA on Capitol Hill argues in favor of DNS filtering to block access to copyright-infringing sites.  In an effort to argue the effectiveness of DNS filtering, Castro cites research from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society that suggests that “no more than 3 percent of Internet users in countries that engage in substantial filtering use circumvention tools.”

What is worth noting here is that the countries cited in the Berkman Center paper–China, Iran, the UAE, Armenia, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Burma, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam–are all countries that engage in pervasive censorship of the Internet.  Therefore, Castro is basically saying that since DNS filtering works for repressive regimes, it can work in the United States too!” (quote source: www.eff.org)

They’re basically telling us that they aim to oppress us, all just so they could increase their profit and go back to their good old days when they had control over every aspect of their content and profited from every stage of distribution.  Even though “The U.N. characterizes access to the Internet as a human right, and government research in the U.K. and in the U.S. shows the enormous humanitarian benefits of network access for poor and vulnerable families” (quote source: publishersweekly.com), the neo-dictator wants to have control over our rights. (or should I say have a stranglehold on our rights?)  First it’ll be over copyrighted content, but who knows how much further such laws will spread (or be abused in back rooms), what ramifications they’ll have beyond the letter of the law?

Even more frightening, the neo-dictator is no longer content to influence or even make laws.  It wants to be judge and jury.  “‘The game changer with SOPA is that it gives private entities an enforcement mechanism that previously only existed with a court order,’ Ross Dannenberg of the intellectual property law firm Banner & Witcoff said in an interview.” (quote source: mashable.com)  It would be too easy use this new judicial toy to squash the competition, spin it as an oversight, and correct the “mistake” after the damage has already been done.

David Rusenko, co-founder of Weebly.com and a former GoDaddy client, uses his ordeal with GoDaddy to illustrate what the world will be like if SOPA passes.  David tells his story of an incident in which one complaint from someone who got a bad review on Weebly was all it took for GoDaddy to decide they were going to remove all of Weebly’s DNS entries.  But after one conversation with Paul, they reversed their decision to do so.  So based on one complaint they were going to blindly shut down someone’s livelihood; but based on one phone call with Paul, they just as easily changed their minds.  With SOPA I suspect that getting shut down will be just as easy but infinitely more difficult to restore the damage since the good folks enforcing SOPA would’ve treated Paul as a violator of their legislation, not a client.

And countless websites will be blocked by SOPA, websites that will be innocent.  Back in February of 2011 the U.S. government mistakenly shut down 84,000 websites as they proceeded to attempt to seize child pornography websites.  I guess no one told those people that when it comes to the InterNET, things are connected.  I’m going to take a risk and predict that same incidents will occur as the neo-dictator’s robot army blindly enforce SOPA with all the humanity of the Terminator.

The neo-dictator is meeting much resistance, however.

“The latest to mount the argument against SOPA’s constitutionality is the Stanford Law Review. A well-sourced article published on Monday and authored by three separate law school professors reads, in part:

This not only violates basic principles of due process by depriving persons of property without a fair hearing and a reasonable opportunity to be heard, it also constitutes an unconstitutional abridgement of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.” (quote source: The Atlantic)

After GoDaddy came out in favor of SOPA, even though they apologized for it (albeit unconvincingly) and “withdrew” their support, there was a 70,000+ exodus in less than a week. That’s less than 0.1% of GoDaddy’s business (before taking into account new customers they gained during the same week), so they’re not exactly going bankrupt any time soon. (information source: PCWorld) But that 70,000+ exodus could have a ripple effect, especially if SOPA passes.

SOPA and PIPA were created by corporations and industries that didn’t have enough foresight to prepare for the ways in which the Internet would impact them. Rather than adapt, they want the rest of us to sympathize with their loss of revenue while they set a dangerous precedence of circumventing the first and sixth amendments and having private entities enforce their laws, not to mention the effects on innovation and commerce. I do understand the problem content providers face with piracy. They spend their time, money, and efforts on their projects, and it’s only fair to expect a return on their investment. And I hope they do find a solution. But this is not the way. SOPA and PIPA may initially serve their intended purpose in the beginning, but in the long run they will be about as effective as America’s war on drugs.

List of SOPA supporters: Digital Trends

List of SOPA opponents: cdt.org