The long nights of winter are fully upon us, and without that sense of togetherness that only the holidays can provide, this can only mean one thing: Those popular protest movements that have been all the rage this year? They’re boned. Have you been outside lately? It’s cold out there.
Luckily, the first world freedom fighters have acquired their next target. Say hello to H.R. 3261, also known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, a one-two punch of government intrusion and corporate oligarchy that detractors can decry as the harbinger of the end of the World Wide Web from the convenience of their parents’ basements. (Let’s face it—it’s much easier to occupy reddit than Wall Street anyway.)
SOPA is largely a bill of obligations, one that on its surface appears meant to hamstring potential foreign copyright infringers by depriving them of American access and assets. SOPA seats its powers primarily in two categories. The U.S. Attorney General’s office is empowered under SOPA to serve court orders demanding that ISPs, search engines, and others stop hosting, linking to, and carrying out transactions to and from infringing sites. Further, copyright holders themselves can allege to financial institutions and advertisers that a site infringes their rights, whereupon said companies are legally obligated under SOPA to cease all activities with the alleged (not convicted or even investigated, mind you) infringer.
SOPA is currently in legislative limbo, having seen extended debate in the House Judiciary Committee but not yet having been put to a committee vote. The committee will in all likelihood take the matter up again early next year, giving opposition groups time to get their message out, but strong support within the committee indicates that SOPA will probably see action in the House proper soon.
But think about it for a minute. That’s a lot of extra work to be done, and America’s IT infrastructure is a pretty bare-bones affair from a human-resources standpoint. Do you honestly think that it could handle the increased workload that an initial SOPA-level rollout would require, let alone the constant increase in manpower required to maintain SOPA standards in perpetuity?
Absolutely not, and that means jobs, ones with all-American companies like Amazon (the Web end of Amazon, not the sweatshop end that’s setting up shop in Tennessee) and GoDaddy (if they manage to survive their ongoing losses of tens of thousands of clients over their support of SOPA), not to mention the increases in governmental activity needed to police the Web for SOPA compliance. A legislated mandate that greatly increases the demand for public- and private-sector employment? Surely this is the New Deal all over again.
And these are good jobs, too. Unlike the industry lobbyists who wrote SOPA, these newly employed network engineers and system admins will be fresh-faced college kids, too young and too grateful to be employed to have developed the kinds of ulterior motives it takes to, for instance, write a bill like SOPA. And unlike the legislators who have been so obviously schooled in how SOPA should work by those aforementioned lobbyists, these kids will actually have to be technologically competent enough to keep their VCRs from flashing “12:00” all the time.
Ta-da! Instant demand for a skilled work force, and all it costs is a little due process and a willingness to ignore the fact that venture capital for Internet investment would dry up in a SOPA-created climate.
And so what if SOPA ignores due process? These are foreign sites we’re talking about, and as we all know, foreigners simply aren’t entitled to the same rights that Americans enjoy. A Russian site that hosts a BitTorrent file that allows users to download a virus-ridden episode of Mad Men commits no less than an act of economic war, especially since episodes of Mad Men are basically all we export anymore. And it’s not like copious precedents exist in which legislation intended to secure a nation from foreign belligerents has been turned against the citizens of the nation itself, so what’s there to worry about?
When it comes down to it, SOPA, as in all things anti-piratical, is not meant to be efficient, or even functional. We get gunships, they get Johnny Depp. We get bigger gunships, they get a kraken. We kill their Johnny Depp and steal their kraken, they get Orlando Bloom and wreck our gunships. It keeps on going forever and it never gets any less ridiculous, but unless good, law-abiding citizens allow their leaders to throw too many resources into too many ill-defined projects designed to achieve too many ill-advised goals manipulated by too many ill-willed interests... well, I don’t know what will happen, because it never has. Probably socialism.