For a while now I’ve been keeping up with US politics. For the main part because it’s like watching a train wreck happen and you don’t want to be the guy who never saw it coming. All of your friends are sharing their tales of how they saw it happen; their exact thoughts at the moment the debris cleared and they stared at the ravages of a once proud nation, how they felt and what lead up to it. Some of them may even have been in it, barely escaping with their lives. It has changed them… profoundly. They tell these beautiful, eloquent tales, and when they’re done they turn to you. The look in their eyes tells you they want to hear your version of the events… and all you can do is stammer: “I wasn’t actually paying attention. I was staring at ‘The Situations  Biceps’; the new season of Jersey Shore was on.”
I’m not too enchanted with the Western idea of Democracy at the moment, where every politician speaks only in populist soundbites and is more concerned with approval ratings than actually taking a long-term view and doing what must be done, unpopular as that may be. The same goes for citizens who are just as unwilling to take that long-term view and let themselves be trapped in simple answers without actually taking the time to look at the bigger picture.
But whatever carnival may be going on in Europe with the debt crisis and the power play within the EU, I still find solace in the fact that we are not yet as bad as the United States of America. A country that is basically ruled by a bunch of powerless and scared politicians, immoral lobbyist and greedy corporations. Don’t believe me?? Here’s how they managed to turn pizza into a vegetable. Or how Michael Moore for the sum of 5000 dollars convinced a lobbyist to get congress to declare a day “TV Nation Day”.
Well, you can call me a grouch, but I think that’s a rather frivolous way to treat a system that is put in place to safeguard the freedom of the Peoples. But the thing is, with our societies becoming more and more Orwellian, things like freedom become more and more of a privilege. The tyranny of the masses reigns supreme. Majority rules with minority rights seems to be discarded or forgotten as we haul ass for economic safety.
And I don’t know why we let it happen; why we let it go on for so long. Things are changing though. The Occupy movements were a step in the right direction and I’m hopeful more them will follow, perhaps slightly more active rather than reactive. But it’s funny to see how there’s always a thing, seemingly not all that important as say… the collapse of our economy and consequently the job market, that people are willing to draw a line at.
This time, it’s the Internet. I’m not saying that the Internet is not important, to the contrary. It’s one of the most liberating tools we have. An interconnected web of knowledge, ideas and cute animal pictures. It is through the Internet that we saw the breathtaking struggle of the middle-east to liberate themselves (and Internet might well have been part of the reason for that). Through the Internet we share our most intimate thoughts, ideas and moments and are discovering that we are all one and the same.
Through the Internet some people also share pirated materials, such as movies, software, music and books. This has long been an eyesore of the Media conglomerates, partly for good reasons, party because they are a bunch of conservative pricks. But their lobbying and whining paid off. The congress of the US of A wrote a half-arsed attempt at putting a stop to Online Piracy; a bill called the: Stop Online Pircay Act (SOPA).
And this is what got every computer owner’s kickers in a twist, big time. Plenty of petitions sprang up on the Internet. The White House website hosts one of them, and reached its goal of 25,000 supporters well within 2 days. This may seem like a small number for a country of more than 300 million people but if you look at all of the other petitions (some very serious, in support of gay marriage and a demand to repeal the Patriot Act. Some not so serious such as the request to stop calling it petitions and start calling it requests for explanations.) you’ll see that few of them have garnered the same results. In fact, the only other petition that seems as successful as the SOPA-petition is another one dealing with the E-Parasite act which is basically the same thing.
So, plenty of people are unhappy. But why? Because they feel like it’s their right to be able to download everything off the Internet for free? No, not exactly.
First off, I’m sure that there are plenty of people think they should be allowed to download everything they want. The funny thing about the SOPA bill is that these people would hardly be hindered. While the bill sets out to stop online piracy, what it ends up doing is gagging online free speech. I could get into the specifics of it all, but I would be rehashing only all the things I looked up myself. So I’ll let Paul Tassi, a contributing writer for Forbes and and Internet Entrepreneur tell you why SOPA could ruin his life.
The goal of the entertainment industry to stop piracy is understandable. It’s hard to make a coherent case that you should be able to download a full movie or album completely for free, without giving a cent to anyone involved. But in trying to solve this singular issue, the entertainment lobby has opened up a can of worms that threatens the entire internet, and more specifically, my livelihood.
The “actual” piracy portions of the bill are debatable in their own right, namely that the government can simply block known rogue foreign sites like The Pirate Bay from American’s eyes. Though these are the most obvious infringers, it still reeks of Chinese and Iranian internet policies that allow the government to simply censor the internet the way they see fit, and the crux of the bill seems wholly unconstitutional.
But rather where we get into even more trouble is when you look at the details of SOPA, and how it might affect someone like me. Their definition of what piracy is ends up including most of the internet, including my own site, and the punishments for even minor infringements could be catastrophic and run me out of business completely.
The fine print of the law says sites that distribute copyrighted content could be subject to summary censorship, ie Torrent sites and the like. But it also encompasses any sites that LINK to copyrighted content, which is the bomb that blows up any semblance of sense this bill might have had.
You see, under the SOPA bill the USA government can block any site that gets reported of alleged copyright infringements. Ultimately, this means the can shut down sites such as YouTube and Twitter, just for linking to that material.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather not have such power of censorship in the hands of a government with a moral compass that is almost as broke as the one of the Catholic Church (Guantanamo, anyone?). The Internet is too powerful a tool for that. The free flow of Information is imperative. It must not be hindered by a few lobbyist and some conglomerates. Think about what they could have done to things like Wiki-leaks. I think the US Government proved itself to be very dangerous and unreliable.
But now you may think, why should I care. I live not in Crazyville, US. I live in Europe, safe but poor. Well, here’s why we should care. Most of the sites that we frequent every day; Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube and even this WordPress site do live in the US. They are hosted there, as are almost all of the .com and .org domains. If the US government shuts them down, they shut ’em down for real. So while we may not fall under the jurisdiction of US copyright law, we sure as hell will suffer consequences of them.
For now, there is little we can do but wait and hope that the citizens of the United States will manage to fend off this godawful beast for us. If you have any friends or family there, you can ask them to speak up. You can sign the online petition yourself as well.
I’m not sure if it’s legal, or if it will devalue the petition (on account of me not actually being a US citizen), but I felt compelled to join nevertheless. It is something that has far-reaching consequences and I thought I should be allowed to speak up.
But even if you do nothing for now, rest assured. This battle will come to Europe and the rest of the world as well. When it does, I hope you are ready to take a stance on it and defend our freedom. Because if we don’t… no one else will…. And I don’t know about you… but I really like my Twitter uncensored and my YouTube unblocked.
1 It shames me that I know this name. I do not know what this (I assume) oompa loompa colored man looks like though. I have not ever seen a minute of Jersey Shore and I hope that I can die that way.