Thursday, January 26, 2012

SOPA, governments, and freedom of the internet

In the little spare time I have had the last couple weeks, I have been trying to form an educated opinion regarding the new SOPA and PIP (Protect IP) laws that the USA is trying to pass to regulate the internet and protect domestic copyright and piracy laws.

Probably the opinion I most reflect so far is that of this open letter from technology founders in the USA to Congress...

I have a unique situation in regards to these laws in that I am in both technology and the "music" industries. That means...I am for any legitimate expansion and use of technology without false limitations or freedoms curbed by any government, including my own...yet at the same time I am for reasonable protection of the ownership of my creativity...whether that be music, writing or image arts.

Admittedly, we live in an age of competition by imitation. The rules and regulations MUST continue to evolve to take into consideration all aspects of irreversible globalization and new technologies that make copying and duplication a very simple process. Yet, I think our simplistic and archaic "leaders" in Congress understand very little about the laws and verbiage they are forcing through Congress...and trying to force upon the rest of the world. Long gone are the days of "book burnings" or "bannings" as an exercise of executive privilege. Long gone are the days when huge companies and institutions can DICTATE laws...and submission to those the global masses. This is just unrealistic in this day and age without annihilation of huge populations in the world. Do we really have the option of "nuking" or invading China and other such countries who have made huge industries of piracy and duplication of original and patented processes or inventions? I don`t think so. So, what are our real options?

While technology has created some of this problem, therein also lies much of the solution. There are many ways to digitally place your "ownership" on printed or digital materials to establish legitimacy. We need to continue the development of these technologies that can track content or programs that are protected...and at the same time safeguard such materials or processes in common sense ways. One small example might be written, digital content. Even emails. There are plenty of encryption and secure programs out there to retain privacy of written materials...yet very few people who publish such copyrighted or private content use the most basic of tools. There are also many ways to treat music and video files so they cannot be easily copied or distributed unauthorized. Yet, many producers don`t use some of these basic tools already out there. Believe me, as long as you continue to lay "gold coins" out in the street, street people will continue to pocket them and disappear.

The other point is that any government must work UNDER THE LAW OF DUE PROCESS to enforce laws that are already on the books. At this point I haven't seen or understood anything of copyrights and privacy laws that are not covered already WITHOUT these new, overstepping laws. Todays governments, including the USA, seem bent on dictatorial, tyrannous approaches to enforcing laws that have not even been officially passed or printed yet! Based on the first pass reading of SOPA, I see many items there that appear unconstitutional or without due process of law. To me this is another version of a "Patriot Act" that gives blind power and permission of government to act against their own citizens without due process or interpretation of law...which to me is very evidently unconstitutional.

I don`t know the whole story behind last weeks arrest and crackdown on MegaUpload in New Zealand...but from the outside looking in it is scary to me to see seizures of properties and arrests of persons without some judicial course of action. And when countries, such as in this case New Zealand and Hong Kong, immediately capitulate to a USA federal court order...against people who are not even USA citizens, it gives rise to the question of what IS the definition of due process...and is this a huge case of "governments uniting against the people"?

It would appear from this general story being covered on Wikipedia that this smells of complete and tyrannical flexing of governmental muscles...on a global scale...against large global businesses and their leaders who have "gotten too big and successful". It also calls into question the rights of the MILLIONS of customers using these services who have lost money paid to this company without any notice or obligation to make good a return of those people`s money. It seems governments are only interested in THEIR tax revenue (in this case lost due to offshore positioning) versus protecting the funds of millions of their citizens who rightly or wrongly paid for these services. If the government had a court order for this company to return revenue to their unknowing customers...with due process and notice to "the people"...then these actions might be less suspect. In this case...who or what institution gets all the millions in "spoils" that have been taken away by these combined government forces?

Now, I´m quite sure that many of us would have no love or respect for the founder of this company. Apparently he was an arrogant ******* who had little to no respect for copyright laws and was being a better distributor of Hollywood movies than Hollywood itself. I don`t know enough about this case or the laws around it to make a determination of his innocence or guilt. What concerns me is the hybris and aggression shown by police forces of an international scale against this guys properties and other third persons. Unfortunately most people in the world take medias and governments spin on such stories as the "truth". Yet, I would suggest that most of us are not qualified to make such a call on these types of cases...but any liberty minded person must wonder what kind of legal process was behind this statist actions. Sure, this company will have their day in court somewhere...but meanwhile it appears they have been deemed guilty until proven innocent...which to me is the reverse of what our democratic liberties are all about. And I once again have to ask...what juridiction does the USA have over foreign individuals in foreign countries? Are we paying for access and steam rolling over other countries...using taxpayer money and military threats? Who knows...but it surely seems odd.

Unfortunately, we have seen these types of actions on part of the USA government way too often in the past decade. The Patriot Act continues to be in force and in my opinion circumvents the established laws of our constitution and excessive powers when it comes to individual rights and due process. In addition to the Patriot Act, in 2006 the Bush administration surreptitiously passed a little understood law called the "Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act" wherein while the feds knew they could not outlaw completely online "gaming", they apparently believed they had the constitutional right to limit Americans from using their money or transferring their money to businesses for this purpose. No matter how one feels about gambling...or what they understand for that matter about Sports Betting or playing "Poker" as a game of skill...there are still many lawsuits and actions against these usurpative laws that call into question the governments authority in limiting a citizens rights to how and where one wants to use their money. While many probably think these actions were based on some "moral highground" of our legislature to protect the poor losers who don`t know how to control their money...I am quite sure that as soon as the USA determines HOW they can legalize, tax and take out the international COMPETITION for online gaming and will once again be legal at the federal level to play online...with real money. Just watch what happens...and then tell me what MORALITY this action was based on.

These are all huge subjects, but for now I try to find the underpinning, macro philosophy and opinion upon which to base my reaction(s) to SOPA and other laws in the USA. The USA, nor any other country for that matter, does not own or control the "Internet". This is now something of GLOBAL domain...and to that end the USA also has to play by international laws and regulations. I believe there are already plenty of international laws "on the books" related to protection of copyrights, fraud, piracy, etc. The USA cannot effectively and arbitrarily pass rules and regulations on the whole world related to this medium. Impossible to enforce and unrealistic to expect international cooperation on all fronts.

The best approach I think is for all global economies of scale to unite on international laws and long as those laws and regulations do not overstep basic rights of individual sovereignty and access to information on an equal basis. Along those lines, I think the international community must FIGHT to protect equal access to information within all regimes...repressive or not. I also think economic sanctions are difficult to enforce, and usually only punish the poor, powerless masses instead of the governments or regimes they are designed to punish. There will need to be new and better ways to get international cooperation to lean on dictatorships and isolated regimes.

Global competition...and use of the now a race for effective use of the "information highway". A global body over the internet should be effectively established to fight security issues and go after virus producers. Instead of trying to limit online commerce...including gaming on line...the USA should instead compete to have the best and most secure systems for allowing its citizens the liberty to play any games...even for their own risk and responsibility. Most people do not need government to determine their financial limitations...and those who do will eventually end up broke or in rehab somewhere whether it is legal or not...but the rest of us should not be limited based on the minority`s weakness of character...or lack of sanity.

I wish someone was paying me to study and digest all that is happening in the online legal space so I could devote more time to it. This is obviously just a laymen`s view on what is happening. Yet, I think it is legitimate to say that there is too much "Shenanigans" going on with governments and the internet. In general I will rebel against any law or position that my or any other global government establishes that limits freedom of access of the internet...for legitimate content or financial transactions. No one government is big enough, or knowledgeable enough, to play that role for the rest of the world. Those regimes or governments that attempt to do so will find it backfiring on their country`s economy, culture and productivity. We should not allow any government, even the USA, to attempt those kinds of controls.

My current position is I believe we have plenty of laws to defend copyright and piracy laws. We just need to enforce them...WITH DUE PROCESS...and not make it EASY for people to steal from us. That is the true "American way".

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