SOPA: Barricading the Information Superhighway

If you haven’t heard about SOPA — the Stop Online Piracy Act — you will soon. The bill aimed at halting digital piracy is being debated in a Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives. It is expected to pass both the House and Senate.

Despite the likelihood of ratification, it is almost comical how former supporters are defecting and trying to distance themselves from it as a vote approaches. Most notably, GoDaddy, the giant of Internet hosting and domain registration. They pulled their support as they became the target of a grass roots boycott

Will it pass? Perhaps. Can it be enforced? Of course not! Will it change anything. No. This leads to an obvious question: Why bother? The answer is typical of Washington politics: SOPA is supported inside the beltway because law makers are out of touch, because Hollywood and the music industry have effective lobbyists, and because it makes for good politics. [continued below]…

But what about the underlying issue? Is digital piracy wrong? Is it reasonable and just to at least try to stem the tide? The cause is just but the proposed mechanism of enforcement is not. In fact, almost any effort to stop digital piracy is futile. The problem must be addressed by rethinking the very purpose and nature of copyright law.

I have mixed feelings about casual consumer piracy of copyright content (music, movies, books and software). My brother will not watch a movie streamed from my home server, because he questions the legality of the original source or rip. Yet he allows his children to use my Netflix account even though it is not authorized for access from his home TV. (He rationalizes that at least someone has licensed the content!). I get it. I realize that some of my music and movies were copied without permission, but I actually own most of the originals. It was simply easier to grab it from Napster or Bit Torrent than to locate and RIP my own CD, DVD or Blu-Ray. Without trying too hard to get into the philosophical argument (is it theft? is it fair? is it enforceable?), SOPA goes too far. It doesn’t criminalize behavior (digital pirates are already breaking the law). Rather, it makes a snitch out of the carrier and then requires the carrier to actively participate in blocking the transmission.

This is feel good politics at its worst. What’s wrong with it?…

  • It can’t work. The economics of free content combined with improving mechanisms of anonymity guarantee that digitized works will spring eternal through other channels. Political restrictions only undermine the growth and influence of the Internet, but not it’s distributed and empowering nature.
  • It leads to a police state – and a very slippery slope!
  • It shifts the burden of protecting content & policing users to the wrong parties
  • It defies the principles that make the internet robust, open & productive. While this may sound like a cop out, I honestly believe that we should not cripple the medium. There are other ways to skin this cat.

By now, Wild Ducks know the drill: So sayeth Ellery!

Merriam-Webster dictionary banned in California

I was about to begin this post with the words “Every once in a while, politicians and school boards come up with some truly bizarre edicts.” Then, I would have gone on to report one really whacked out policy…

But in truth, it’s not just ‘once in a while’. In this age of space exploration, cultural pluralism and enlightenment, common sense and fair play have gone out the window like a bat out of — well, you get the idea!

Dispensing with the usual introduction, gaze at an incredulous article:

Dictionaries Banned From Schools – “Not Age Appropriate”

The original story is shorter than this Wild Duck retort. But in case the link no longer works, here’s a thumbnail edition: Based of the complaint of one parent, a Southern California school board pulled Merriam-Webster’s 10th Edition from fourth and fifth grade classrooms because “it is not age appropriate”. The parent was upset that the dictionary did not censor itself. It defined a sexual term.

Oh my gawd! An uncensored dictionary!

Note to whacked out parent: It’s a dictionary, not a Bible! (speaking of Bibles, a dictionary is certainly less obsessed with sex.)

It is a religious zealot or a narrow-minded fanatic who values ignorance and “innocence” over a comprehensive scholastic dictionary. Dictionaries are a repository of language and culture. Not just your language, but the words and phrases that are a product of the world around you. Dictionaries obviously define terms for many activities and things that you might not wish to visit upon your children. Good Gawd, lady! That’s no excuse to keep them under a rock.

Why not ban the definition of “murder”, “diarrhea” and “warts”. We certainly don’t want our kids to be visited by these plagues. Yet, few parents would attempt to shelter them from these definitions.

Don’t want your child to experience this? Simply ban it from the dictionary!

Who taught you that information is poisonous? For how long do you want your 5th grader to be ignorant of sex or even its basic terminology? From whom should he or she learn – If not from a dictionary, a school and from family?

Actually, I am more concerned with the response of the school board than with one ignorant parent. To be fair, the board is complaining, but not about the parent! Believe it or not, they are upset at the difficult task ahead. They plan to read the entire dictionary to see if other terms might offend another whacked out parent! Quoting the immortal Homer Simpson, “D’OH!”

Some people fear learning. They believe in the ostrich axiom “ignorance is bliss”. But school boards stand for education – that is, if brains aren’t checked at the door. Why would a school board kowtow to ignorance or fanaticism? Perhaps, the fanatic has a louder voice than the silent majority. Hopefully, parents who want educated offspring are still in the majority.