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SOPA/PIPA Denied: "Strike" One Against Censorship of the Internet

“Censorship” is a term pertaining only to governmental action. No private action is censorship. No private individual or agency can silence a man or suppress a publication; only the government can do so. The freedom of speech of private individuals includes the right not to agree, not to listen and not to finance one’s own antagonists. — AYN RAND (“Man’s Rights,”The Virtue of Selfishness, 98)

The voluntary “blackout” of Wikipedia and other major Internet sites on January 18th in protest of the proposed SOPA/PIPA legislation in Congress had Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged written all over it. It’s likely that these sites’ owners even disdain Rand and her philosophy of reason and individual rights, but, there it was. They heard the wolf packs baying in the distance and coming closer, and took action. Here’s your world without us or our minds and our services. That was the message of the novel and of the blackout.

Moreover, the blackout had consequences. It forced the sponsors and advocates of the legislation to think twice about passing it. Can you imagine what might have happened if doctors had gone on a one-day strike before ObamaCare was passed? Possibly Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would have demanded that National Guard SWAT teams be called up to force doctors to return to their hospitals and clinics. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. There was no strike. That would have revealed the true nature of ObamaCare. It could possibly have delayed or aborted passage of that pernicious legislation. And Vice President Joe Biden would have instead exclaimed, “What’s the big *%#!* deal???”

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act, House Bill 3261), and PIPA (Protect IP Act, Senate Bill 968) were condemned for two main reasons: the congressmen who drew up the legislation revealed a fatal ignorance of how the Internet works and so were proposing to hand government bureaucrats and law enforcement agencies the power to control its content, rendering the legislation ill-conceived and utterly impotent to combat the piracy of movies, music and even copyrighted written content; or because it would indeed empower the government to police the Internet, ostensibly to protect copyrights and intellectual property, but actually to control content and silence opposition to government policies at the behest of whatever lobby, group, or person had influence over Congress.

Some “strikers” and pundits opposed the legislation for technical reasons, citing the confusing language of the legislation. You can’t start a car without a solenoid, they were saying. It’s really very simple. The car can’t be stolen by pirates either if you remove the solenoid. That means the thieves would have to stop and strip or vandalize the car, giving you enough time to call the cops and see them arrested. Or they could bring their own solenoids, usually stolen from an auto parts store. What you’re proposing is that the guy who buys a used car not knowing it was stolen is a party to the theft, and you’d arrest him and let the thieves go free. That’s not really fighting car-theft, is it? – you cretins.

And your rules would crush the whole used-car market, in which the majority of used car sales are legitimate, but no one would want to risk selling or buying a used car because anyone could claim his car was stolen, even though it might have sat on the lot for ages. So, we refuse to be the patsies and fall guys of bureaucrats and other government knowledge “managers.”

An article by Derek Broes in Forbes on January 20th, “Why Should You Fear SOPA and PIPA?” cuts to the chase. After posing the rhetorical question, “What’s so bad about trying to protect movies and music from being pirated?” Broes notes:

The birth of SOPA and PIPA has been established through the efforts of the lobbying arms of the studios and labels The MPAA and RIAA. SOPA or (Stop Online Piracy Act) is in the Senate and PIPA, or (Protect Intellectual Property Act) is in the House [sic]. Both bills are essentially the ‘same wolf in sheep’s clothing’ so there is really no need to try and differentiate.

If passed, SOPA and/or PIPA will give the Justice Department the ability to shut down almost any blog or website at will, PLUS it will also do absolutely nothing to stop those that pirate movies or music.

Today the studios and labels rely on DMCA take down notices to handle piracy on websites such as YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook. The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) allows the website to take down the content within a specific period of time after receiving a DMCA notice without penalty.

Broes has the venues of the legislation backwards, but adds that in “most cases all of the companies mentioned above do a fantastic job, and thus far have not done too much complaining about the costs of implementing technology and resources for a successful DMCA compliance structure.” He then wades into the complexities of the Internet and how piracy is practiced on it. This article should be read for the “solenoid” details to better understand how piracy is possible and why SOPA and PIPA would not actually stop it.

If the government, and those behind government, didn’t like Huffington Post or Breitbart.com it would now be legally plausible and simple to shut them down. After all, Huffington Post editors at some point in time have posted links to content from CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and other organizations. These networks could now claim that the Huffington Post was infringing upon their copyrights, and that Huffington editors, under SOPA/PIPA, be charged for each offense and go to jail. Yes jail.

“That would never happen” a friend of mine that works at a major studio told me. My response to him was simple. “I have never known a law that gives the government more power that they have not only used but exceeded the law’s intent to gain even more power.”

Broes concludes:

SOPA and PIPA are dangerous, half-baked solutions that will cost millions of jobs, stifle innovation and ultimately do nothing to stop piracy at all. It [sic] could be used as a solution for those in Government that seek to silence their opposition, even if that was never the intention. Hollywood has many large donors that are huge contributors to Obama so, even though Harry Reid postponed a vote on the bill, you can bet that they will try to wait for the frenzy to calm down before voting on a somewhat different version of the bill and most likely have a different name than SOPA or PIPA. After all, those names are as about as unpopular as members of Congress right now.

And who would be the Alpha Male wolf leading the pack? Cass Sunstein, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) and regulatory “czar.”

Alec Rawls in an article on the “Watts Up With That” anti-climate change site, “Regulatory Czar wants to use copyright protection mechanisms to shut down rumors and conspiracy theories” (January 20th), also gets down to brass tacks and opens with:

As Congress considers vastly expanding the power of copyright holders to shut down fair use of their intellectual property, this is a good time to remember the other activities that Obama’s “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein wants to shut down using the tools of copyright protection. For a couple of years now, Sunstein has been advocating that the “notice and take down” model from copyright law should be used against rumors and conspiracy theories, “to achieve the optimal chilling effect.”

What kinds of conspiracy theories does Sunstein want to suppress by law? Here’s one:
… that the theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud. [From page 4 of Sunstein’s 2008 “Conspiracy Theories” paper.] [Italics Rawls’]

What an odd but cruel metaphor for Sunstein to employ – chilling effect – when advocating the gagging of critics of global warming. Yet Sunstein means it. Rawls poses a real life conundrum:

Suppose you are a simple public-spirited blogger, trying to expose how Michael Mann, Phil Jones, Tom Wigley, and other Team members conspire to suppress the research and destroy the careers of those who challenge their consensus views. If Sunstein gets his way, Team members will only have to issue you a takedown notice, and if you want your post to stay up, you’ll have to go to court and win a judgment that your version of events is correct.

Sunstein is for government information “management” of men, to combat what he cynically deems “rumors and conspiracy theories,” that is, truth or the search for truth. He views men as mere sociological units and passive receptors of sense data which their “bias” translates into subjective interpretations of reality. Nothing that men know, that is, men who are not in power to enforce their own subjectivity, has any validity. Reality is unknowable. The peace and quiet of society must be preserved at all costs, even if it means tearing out the tongues of men or addling their minds with “preferred” or “official” truths.

If men sense that they are being tracked by wolf packs – if they sense that a government or president is preying upon their freedom, their wealth, their livelihoods, their lives – then this is simply a group “bias” or a psychosis that the government must combat with knowledge manipulation. Rawls writes:

The path from Sunstein’s 2008 “Conspiracy Theories”” article to his 2009 On Rumors book is straightforward. According to Sunstein’s 2008 definition, a conspiracy theory is very close to a potentially libelous rumor:

… a conspiracy theory can generally be counted as such if it is an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role. [Abstract]

At this time, Sunstein’s “main policy idea” was that:

government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories….

… government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. [“Conspiracy Theories,” pages 14-15] [Italics Rawls’]

Sunstein wrote in On Rumors:

“….[R]umors [or conspiracy theories] often arise and gain traction because they fit with, and support, the prior convictions of those who accept them. Some people and some groups are predisposed to accept certain rumors, because those rumors are compatible with what they think they know to be true.” [p. 6]

So, if your conviction is that your life is your own, and you notice that various regulatory “czars” assert otherwise, that you must live for the good of the nation and sacrifice yourself to penury, and defer to elitist society managers before you buy a can of soup or light a cigarette or purchase a pair of shoes, and you conclude, with others who hold and share the same conviction, that the government is encroaching on every little aspect of your life and that this enveloping trend seems to be a conspiracy – well, SOPA or PIPA would allow the government to send in its “infiltrators” to set your mind straight. Or perhaps an ATF or DHS SWAT team for a more visceral persuasion, if you persist in your delusion that the government is intent on enslaving you.

Picture a worst case scenario under SOPA or PIPA: The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or the Islamic Circle of America, or the Muslim Public Affairs Council filing a complaint with the government about “rumors and conspiracy theories” being posted on Jihad Watch or The Middle East Forum, and demanding that these sites be taken down as defamatory and disrespectful and malicious, even though all these sites do is report on the crimes committed in the name of Islam and the stealth jihad conquest of the country. Or imagine Ron Paul wishing to have his weird foreign policy statements expunged from the Internet record so that no one could judge him by those statements.

Imagine the doors to all kinds of knowledge shut in your face because Cass Sunstein has diagnosed you as nuts.

Do not be fooled by the ubiquitous photo of a smiling Cass Sunstein. He is a totalitarian of the first rank. But while he is only one of dozens of such creatures in the current administration, SOPA and/or PIPA would empower him to impose his vision of an ideal society

Another website, “Cloud Tweaks,” carries an article by Jeff Norman on the intricacies of “cloud computing” and the inherent dangers of SOPA and PIPA.

Understandably, many would-be cloud users might be warded off by fear of a federal shakedown. Businesses should also be concerned, since their employees might choose to store important information in cloud sites that might be dismantled and rid of their data.

The SOPA/PIPA affair has not concluded by any means. Both Craigslist and Wikipedia warn their users that the bills will continue to lurk in Congress’ shadows, perhaps to eventually resurface in a revamped and less easily overpowered form.

Let us concretize the peril and the stakes this way: the Internet enabled me to research and write this article in record time – one day – whereas in the past researching and writing such an article may have taken me a week. But all the research capabilities were there, thanks to protected IP’s and the skill and knowledge of those “providers” (too frequently regarded by regulators and a mooching public as “common carriers”). Yes, there are pirates who exploit the Internet, but they need to be combated with objective law, and not by slapdash legislation drawn up by men with faulty and fatal grasps of how and why the Internet works.

Finally, a great lesson is being overlooked even by those who welcome Congress’s second thoughts about SOPA and PIPA. The Internet blackout proved, perhaps more than the Tea Party movement ever put Congress on notice that Americans were tired of its juggernaut to national insolvency and socialism, that power-lusters and their abettors can be stopped cold. On January 23rd, PC World reported:

By the time the week was over, dozens of lawmakers had abandoned the two bills or voiced opposition, and a cloture vote on PIPA scheduled for this Tuesday in the Senate was delayed as lawmakers try to find a compromise. In the House, Representative Lamar Smith, the lead SOPA sponsor and Texas Republican, killed his bill.

And that was “Strike One” against statism. Who will throw the next pitch at Congress and the White House? Who will emulate John Galt? Doctors, or oil companies?