Let’s Go Steal Us the Internet

I’m not someone who’s ever been accused of being an activist. I mean, I’ve written a manifesto or two, I suppose — who hasn’t? But I wanted to say something about the pair of bills currently on everyone’s mind, because they’re kind of insane. Here’s a good analogy to show just how insane:

SOPA and PIPA are the effective equivalent of blowing up every road, bridge, and tunnel in New York to keep people from getting to one bootleg stand in Union Square — but leaving the stand itself alone. [source]

But what can I say about these bills that smarter, more articulate people haven’t already said? I was going to try to speak from the perspective of a publisher who’s more interested in supporting talented writers and who would rather have more people read the awesome stuff those writers have written than use the vise-grip of copyright to squeeze every last penny from it, but you know what? You shouldn’t listen to me, you should listen to Tim O’Reilly.

I was going to talk about how the benefits of copyright law today skew toward the various content industries rather than individual creators, and I was going to try to do this from the point of view of a writer with a nonzero amount of tech savvy, but Cory Doctorow has way more cred than I do and has totally got this covered.

I certainly can’t do a better or more informative historical overview to these bills explaining just why they’re harmful than Wetmachine’s own Harold Feld.

Honestly, the only point I could think of to make that I hadn’t seen before is that PIPA, which expands to the PROTECT IP ACT, which expands to the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act is so insultingly faux-geekish in its cute acronym that it makes me want to vomit. (It’s not even recursive, losers!) I mean, it’s not bad enough that our elected representatives are writing dangerous and broken legislation, but they actually spent cycles trying to come up with a catchily duplicitous name for the thing.

It’s a cheap shot, I know. Ever since the PATRIOT Act, all the cool kids have been doing it.

Anyway, I stole adapted my title from a catchphrase from the show Leverage, which feels appropriate not only because the show’s about a group of people with an antagonistic relationship with the law who help normal people triumph over large, soulless companies and other powerful people. It’s also because the show’s writers (and fans) have a wonderfully useful set of shorthand, “ledger” and “orange box,” both of them references to plot points of Leverage episodes. As the show’s creator John Rogers explains:

“Orange Box” tends to be some odd fact we know is true but that the audience will not believe, while “Ledger” is usually some egregious bit of bullshit we’ve cooked up that is startlingly plausible, and accepted by our audience without question.

SOPA and PIPA have elements of both ledger and orange box to them. The idea that online piracy is rampant and evil, and that these bills will take useful steps toward “preventing real online threats” is total ledger: plausible — nay, compelling — but almost utter fiction. (You can try arguing the first half of that with me but I’ll just point you to Tim O’Reilly again.) The fact that Congress would consider legislation that would break the Internet and open the door to even worse “Real Online Threats” is unfortunately orange box all over: too far out there to believe, but actually true.

I’d love to see Alec Hardison, after the Leverage team has so thoroughly discredited the sponsors of SOPA and PIPA that the very ideas contained in those bills have become toxic, exclaim triumphantly, “Age of the geek, baby!”

I would really like that.

P.S. It’s only fair that my last link be to Rogers’s own post on the issue at his blog.

About Helen

Helen spent ten years in the trenches of book publishing, where she wrote things longhand, wrestled with fax machines, and learned the true meaning of "cut and paste." As a writer, editor, and all-around person-who-builds-things-with-words, she now works at a small software company in Cambridge, Mass. with one foot in the future and the other stuck in a peat bog of legacy content, technology, and methodology. Which is not to say anything against peat bogs.

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