Dear United States Congress,
No offense and all, but you’re a bunch of old fogeys. And the lobbyists and industry heads behind your SOPA and PIPA legislation are just as bad. None of you really understands how the Internet works. Half of you secretly suspect dark magic (FYI, if you stopped using AOL it might help). I’m willing to bet approximately 100% of you have no idea how to torrent. (“More dark magic,” you say, crossing yourself. “Possibly gremlins.”)
I understand, a little, how you feel. The Internet is a strange beast beyond your control, my control, anyone’s control. Its innovators and pioneers could not possibly have foreseen all the directions in which it would go.
And that’s precisely the beauty and brilliance of it. The exact same Internet allows for 4chan and Wikipedia, Pirate Bay torrents and self-publishing on the Amazon Kindle store, porn and porn addiction support groups, Aaron Barr’s hubris and millions of cat videos. The Internet is one of the things in our world that most defies control, summarization, containment, tidy interpretations. The law of unintended consequences is one of the only laws that universally applies.
Most of you did not grow up with the Internet. It makes you uneasy, this vast monstrosity full of shadows, boobs, and Rebecca Black parodies. How you think it functions is often colored by what your staffers and friends (aka lobbyists) on the Hill tell you.
Therefore, let me explain to you two things that you may find hard to believe, but that are nonetheless true. Either of these alone would be cause enough to halt the pending SOPA and PIPA legislation; continuing the passage of those acts in face of both these factors is mind-boggling cement-headedness.
1. The cost of online piracy is being grossly exaggerated and misrepresented.
Say $20 billion worth of songs are downloaded illegally. Has the music business lost $20 billion? No. Not even close. People pirate content for two reasons:
1) They cannot afford, or cannot easily afford, to purchase it legitimately, or
2) The content is not available through legitimate sources.
In the first instance, the sale never existed. In the second instance, the industry involved threw the sale away, and has no grounds to complain. Solutions exist for both issues. Online streaming or subscription-based services like Hulu, Netflix, Spotify, and Turntable.fm largely address the first circumstance; the second could be fixed even more thoroughly, if industries stopped dragging their feet and tripping over legal tape they put in place, and put their damn content online.
Music and TV/movie studios for two decades now have had to be dragged screaming to the Internet table, when, with a little more grace and imagination, they could have had more of the feast than even their greedy little hearts could dream.
2. You WILL NOT be able to truly restrict or censor the Internet. You will destroy legitimate sites while driving illegitimate sites underground, where they will continue to flourish.
Remember when we won the War on Drugs, and the last bong was thrown into a pit of fire, never again to see the hazy light of a stoner’s eyes? Yeah, me neither. Attempting to censor the Internet will be magnitudes the failure of the ‘War on Drugs’. You people on Capitol Hill don’t know the first thing about the Internet. You’re throwing grenades into a forest, hoping to kill some rabbits. Let me clue you in: you’re going to damage, and kill, a lot of innocent trees, and all the rabbits are going to get away. Are you familiar with VPNs? Tor? proxies? As fast as you can invent restrictions, we will invent ways around them. The only real injuries will be done to legitimate websites—contributors to our faltering economy and our slowly diminishing right to open, public discourse—and people who suck at technology.
In conclusion, dear Congress, the laws you are trying to pass are ridiculous. We’re all aware how fond you are of declaring wars you can’t possibly win, though you sure as hell cause a lot of collateral damage in the meantime. But this—this, dear Congress, is a bit much, even for you.