Goodbye, SOPA, and good riddance

In the wake of the recent blackout of many websites, including Wikipedia, it appears that the ill will directed towards the Stop Online Piracy Act, SOPA, has led to its shelving by Congress, as well as a postponing of the bill by its founder, Rep. Lamar S. Smith. I, among many others, am very reassured by this. Some of the objectors to SOPA were themselves small-scale copyright holders whose businesses would be harmed by the passing of the bill; others were people interested in net neutrality and in privacy on the internet. Others still were pirates whose jobs would be made somewhat more difficult with the passing of SOPA, and it should be remembered that their acts are repugnant, such an approach to stopping their actions as SOPA would have enabled was potentially very short-sighted, with a lot of scope for abuse and manipulation of the system.

My objections to SOPA (and for that matter, to the similar PIPA bill and to DMCA and others in the past) come somewhat from my support of free and open-source software, including that which underpins the internet. I’m not a particular fan of copyright in many ways in other fields either; while I think that it is a necessary evil, I don’t think that 70 year periods of copyright do anybody any good, nor do I think that many of the bigger parties with copyright protection in the music, cinema or video games industry actually deserve most of their money. That isn’t my main concern with SOPA, though. My main concern is that the bill was proposed and sponsored by a set of politicians who seem to know next to nothing about computers, and whose support of the bill seems to have been swung much more by the funding that each of them has received from the MPAA and RIAA than any actual education on the subject.

I don’t know much about Lamar Smith’s voting record, nor much about his achievements as a politician. What I do know, however, is that he is not a computer scientist, nor does he seem to have any sort of formal education in computing or in information technology nor in any allied field. Indeed, of all of the co-sponsors of SOPA, only a single one seemed to have any sort of formal computing education, a situation which is echoed in the PIPA bill, and indeed in the DMCA before it. This, then, is a set of law-educated politicians deciding things on technology without knowing anything substantial about the technology which they’re imposing laws on. That’s like letting me set new statutes on the limits of fraud, a situation which is at once risible, preposterous and more than a bit unsettling.

I’m really very distressed by the ease at which these acts can be proposed by people who remain ignorant of the things they seek to change. Luckily, the response to SOPA has stopped it in its tracks, and I say, once again, “Good riddance!” to it. However, PIPA is still in the pipeline, ACTA is still being negotiated and other bills will surely follow. The war against technological ignorance in politics as well as the outside world is far from being won, and in fact, I know I’m on the losing side. We’ve won an important battle, though. Everybody who opposes SOPA and PIPA for the right reasons, keep up the good fight.


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