Internet Under Attack: Fugitive Slave Act With A Posse

Hard to believe, but both houses seem to be in unanimous agreement about one issue – stopping piracy on the Internet.

With the exception of Jack Sparrow and Captain Morgan, most of us don’t care for pirates or piracy.  We don’t believe that anything legally belonging to someone else should be taken without compensation.

That’s not what SOPA or the Protect IP Act is about, unfortunately.  These acts are the beginning of the end for the Internet as we know it today.

No, I’m not being overly dramatic here.  I believe I’m just taking the remedy offered in this legislation to its worst possible conclusion.  We need to be afraid – very afraid.

It seems straightforward enough; tough sanctions for copyright violators.  We’re all for that – no more slaps on the wrist for anyone.  So, how does this get enforced?

Let’s say that a movie studio, television network, or record label approaches the US Attorney General and says, “We believe that X – with X being a website run by another company or even an individual – is violating our copyright.  Please make them stop.”

The AG says to the individual or company, “You have been accused of violating copyright laws.  Cease and desist now.”  That seems fair.

“Oh and by the way,” the AG continues, “we have also contacted your ISP, your website host, your web domain registrar, your bank, your advertisers, and all of the search engines and put them on notice that you have been accusedEach of them will be held liable for your actions if they don’t shut you down in 5 days.”

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

It seems that the accuser holds all the cards like back in the good old days of the Fugitive Slave Act.  “Yessir, I swear that this man belongs to me, sheriff, go on and give ‘im back.”  It didn’t matter if the alleged slave was actually a free man.  If someone alleged it, the lawman had to oblige.  It was a good thing the 14th Amendment came along to prevent this kind of thing from happening again…

This new legislation adds an unwitting posse to the Fugitive Slave Act.  How nice.

If one feels that he or she has been unfairly targeted or is in fact, innocent, it’s no longer a matter of appealing to the Attorney General.  Every other entity – your ISP, your host, your registrar, your bank, your advertisers, and all the search engines – are compelled by law to stop you.  They don’t want to be held liable for your actions and frankly, they don’t care if you’re innocent or guilty.  They are not your co-conspirators.  They are not your accomplices.  They don’t want to be shut down because of the actions of you or anyone else the Internet accidentally affiliates them with.

What do you think will happen when all of these players are compelled to act as Internet Sheriffs?

This bears repeating - each and every one of these companies – not the holders of the copyright, but companies loosely affiliated with each and every Internet user – will not only be required to enforce the property rights of others, but can be held liable for negligence if they don’t.  How do you think each newly responsible party will handle its forced compliance?

Let’s look at one of these parties.  Say you use Comcast for your ISP.  What kind of Internet will we have if Comcast is fearful that you may have downloaded a snippet from Family Guy on YouTube?  Will Comcast block you from accessing YouTube?  Will Comcast just go ahead and block you from accessing any site where copyrighted material might be found and potentially abused?  If they can slow down or block a suspected site, what’s to stop Comcast from preventing your access to Netflix (we all know they’re just dying for a reason to do this, anyway)?  What’s to prevent Comcast from controlling where you can and can’t go on the Internet?

This is Prohibition all over again.  The remedy is far more extreme than the problem it seeks to correct.

I won’t even begin to comment on a bill being tacked on by Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to make it a felony to stream copyrighted materials.  Sending a teenager to prison for downloading a copy of the latest Transformers is a little extreme, even for Iran.

When did protecting the rights of a corporation – in this case a copyright – become so important to our society that it meant everyone must suffer for the illegal actions of a few?

This isn’t The Patriot Act where we were forced to give up certain freedoms because our safety was at stake.  This isn’t about remaining vigilant against terrorists.  This isn’t about all of us coming together to protect the interests of, well, all of us.

This is yet another piece of legislation that elevates the rights of a corporation over the rights of every citizen of the United States.

We, The People, will be responsible for enforcing the copyrights of corporations.  We will pay more for Internet use to cover the added cost of compliance or we will sacrifice access if compliance becomes too cumbersome for the parties to enforce.  We will give up our rights to Due Process, forego "innocent until proven guilty", and sit idly by while the players with the deepest pockets use the AG’s office to rid the Internet of smaller players that threaten their dominance.

This is the first step away from an open, sharing, and democratic Internet and a step toward an Information Superhighway blocked by corporate toll plazas.

Sadly, most people won’t pay too much attention to either of these bills and their near-unanimous support.  The names that were chosen sound so wholesome and American - just like The Patriot Act.

Corporations are not people, my friend.  This legislation puts too much arbitrary power in their hands and puts the responsibility for protecting their copyrights on the shoulders of everyone else.  If the situation were reversed, these corporations would not take the responsibility to protect our rights.  In fact, the lobbyists who wrote these two bills made certain that our Constitutionally-guaranteed rights would become subordinate to theirs.

There is so much more to this than I have time or space to write about.  Read this article and the accompanying comments for a deeper perspective of all that’s at stake.  This is also a good site to read up about it.

Better still, do what I did.  Take five minutes of your time to contact your Congressman and Senators.

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