Oh, What a Mangled Web They'd Leave: Congress Considers Censoring the Internet

ntb-1In science fiction classics such as The Terminator, The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is evident that Hollywood has churned out movies that question the power and prominence technology has accumulated in our lives. Sure, this is what moviegoers want to see: murderous cyborgs or omniscient artificial intelligence make for thrilling entertainment. But while the showbiz industry thinks of new ways to charge you more at the theater (3-D) or music and home video formats to replace the ones you just bought a few years ago (vinyl > tape > /CD/DVD > Blu-ray > memory chips inserted rectally), it has an often awkward relationship with developing technologies. Internet pirating being a perfect example.

In its rush to curtail illegal downloading of content providers' copyrighted material, Hollywood has used its influence and monetary muscle to convince Congress that action is needed. So Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas drafted legislation that would allow entertainment companies to have offending websites censored at their request under the pretense that intellectual property must be protected, even at the cost of snuffing out freedom of speech. In the House of Representatives, this bill is known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's version is dubbed the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). It would grant companies and groups such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America unprecedented control over what Americans are able to see online.

justin-bieber-youtubeFor example, say a little boy uploaded footage of himself singing pop songs on his YouTube account. Because those tunes are the property of the record label (and sometimes the artist themselves, but nobody, especially the record label, gives a shit about that), access to YouTube could conceivably be restricted in the United States. And that little boy would never have gone on to become a superstar in his own right and centerpiece of every pedophile's masturbatory fantasy. Imagine a world without Justin Bieber. No, I meant imagine the negative effects of a Justin Bieberless existence. In their zeal to safeguard their copyrights, the industry has enlisted the help of Washington's leading soldiers of corporate servitude to enact their will.

Afterall, this is the same Congress that would defend Skynet as a "job creator" and imprison Neo on charges of being an enemy combatant. No doubt that dodging bullets in slo-mo must be some sort of malicious Muslim sorcery. Both Washington and Hollywood are willing to set aside their dispute currently on the Supreme Court's docket regarding the Federal Communication Commission's authority to monitor the airwaves for obscenity. But politicians and showbiz moguls live in bubbles that shield them from such things as irony and hypocrisy self-realization. It's surprising they don't get along more often.

President Obama has come forth in opposition to SOPA and PIPA, but the financial support that fueled his successful 2008 campaign may be in jeopardy this time around if such legislation crosses his desk and he vetoes. Hollywood types are the only rich people, outside of the Silicon Valley tycoons who most vehemently fight these acts, who vote Democratic anymore. A donkey running nationally without their enthusiastic succor may see his or her war chest dry up. Add to that Obama's propensity to renege on campaign promises and you can see why anti-SOPA and PIPA activists remain uncertain over his sincerity and commitment. If he sees dramatic pull-back in campaign donations, then expect the Prez to whistle a obamanetdifferent tune (although for his sake, it better be a tune firmly in the public domain).

In response to the expected Jan 24 procedural vote in the Senate on PIPA and action on SOPA in February, websites such as Wikipedia, Reddit and Craigslist "blacked-out" their sites on Jan 18 and asked visitors what would happen if the government revoked their right to view that page. Links to Congressional offices were displayed as well, with an exhortation to contact one's political representation to demand that they vote no on these bills. Most prominently among the large tech firms combating the bills is Google, which registered its discontent by affixing a black bar over its famous logo on the main page. Many internet entrepreneurs and businesspeople contend that not only will PIPA and SOPA interfere with the First Amendment, they would inhibit technological innovation and their bottom line. Microsoft and Apple came out against the bills too, but quietly and without fanfare. GoDaddy.com, the domain register site, hilariously reversed its nonsensical support for the legislation after hordes of customers threatened to boycott its services.

Yesterday, I contacted my state's representative and senators via Twitter (because that's the hip way to hector politicians who couldn't give two fucks what you think) and told them to oppose these measures. But in the process, I decided to go a step further and challenge the rationale behind the support for these bills. Even though he has softened his support for the measure recently, PIPA sponsor and my state's US senator Michael Bennet was the first recipient of my ire. Reportedly, he raised over $781,000 from pro-PIPA groups and over $369,000 from large media companies, which dwarf the $369,000 received from groups in opposition to the measures. So in the comment section (because I could not bring myself to "like" any of these putzes) of his status update concerning PIPA, I left a piece of copyrighted material for him to stew over:


But SOPA could not be left out, so I made my way to the page of Rep. Smith's page. In an otherwise banal message completely unrelated to SOPA, I posted a photograph that I figured while infuriating, he might enjoy nonetheless:


This should be a "thing." I call out to everybody reading this (I am directly referring to Stan and my mom here) to protest these draconian would-be laws by posting irreverent copyrighted goods on the Facebook pages of notorious proponents. It won't get much accomplished and their staffs will probably delete your comments, but it is a novel way to simultaneously offer dissent and a big fat fuck you to people who believe that they can curtail our freedoms for their benefit. Let's troll-job them into oblivion. We must do our damndest to ensure that PIPA remains a pipe dream and SOPA is put on a rope-a.


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