Thursday was a, well let’s say, interesting day, for those who have any sort of stake in, or connection to technology, politics or the horrific relationship between the two.
Over the past few weeks there have been a number of legislative efforts to stop piracy on the Internet, specifically, to protect the intellectual property and innovation of American developers and creators. One of these bills, HR3261, is called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). While it’s certainly a noble goal, the language and text in SOPA caused enough outrage and fear across the country (you can see the actual wording here) as to draw strong bipartisan criticism and concern.
The problem, well one of the problems, with the bill in its original state was that it was extremely broad and equally vague in its definitions of terms such as rogue websites and what exactly constitutes infringement. As it existed, sites like YouTube and Tumblr could become potential targets for legal action and blacklisting; as would any other site where the majority of content is user generated. Theoretically, for example, if a blogger at Blogcritics.org were accused of having promoted infringement, other blogs, as part of the same domain, could go poof in the night just for being on the same domain, without proof, only suspicion. That's broad enough to be easily abused. Other critics note that the bill is counterproductive, effectively putting a stranglehold on American innovators and startups by forcing compliance to be a design requirement for them.
As a result of the criticism, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), drafted a manager’s amendment to SOPA, with the goal of toning down the language and narrowing the broad definitions that were in the bill’s original draft. The amendment also narrowed the targets of the bill to non-U.S. sites, and removed language that would put entire domains at risk if even one page appeared to be linked to infringement. While some provisions were made in the manager’s amendment, a lot was left to still hash out.
So let’s get back to why Thursday was interesting. The House Judiciary Committee met to discuss SOPA, specifically Chairman Smith’s manager’s amendment. Thanks to our digital age, I was able to watch some of the hearing's live stream on my phone, all the while hoping and praying that I would not be accused of infringement for occasionally allowing other people to hover around my 4” screen. After the coverage that I myself was able to see, I came up with one very solid conclusion with which I’m sure many other viewers would agree: the people in this room have absolutely no business making this decision for the rest of us.