“We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.” When you hear these words, run for the hills and take your possessions with you. When the government steps into to fix a problem where there is no problem, you can bet that the new law will be used by some to do things that it was never intended to do.
SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act), also known as H.R. 3261, could end free speech on the internet, all in the name of protecting us from the nebulously defined on-line piracy problem. Sounds like a noble idea until you realize that if passed, a new government enforcement agency will be established, funded by tax dollars, and filled with government bureaucrats who will have to justify their existence by investigating complaints from every malcontent trolling the internet with a copyright claim.
The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice [headed by the friend of the Black Panthers, Eric ‘Fast and Furious’ Holder], as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who requests the court orders, the actions could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for 10 pieces of music or movies within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.
This piece of legislation would destroy the internet. Website owners would reluctant to post content because for fear that someone will claim copyright infringement.
We’ve seen how government agencies originally designed to help the public end up creating bigger problems. Think Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-backed agencies designed to help poor people get affordable housing. Now think the mortgage crisis of 2008, the bank bailouts, and TARP funding. A program designed to help the poor ended up hurting them and the economy.
Consider RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. This government enforcement law was designed to go after organized crime. But once politicians and judicial activists started mining it for open doors, loopholes, and flexible interpretations, RICO became a wax nose that has been used to go after political opponents, from the Hells Angels and Major League Baseball to pro-life advocates who were against abortion on demand:
In 1986, the National Organization for Women [NOW] and two abortion clinics in filed a complaint in Federal Court alleging violations of the Sherman-Clayton anti-trust laws against Joseph Scheidler, the Pro-Life Action League and several other defendants. Thus began the landmark NOW v. Scheidler case, which ultimately was won by the pro-life defendants.
NOW v. Scheidler is a significant case not only because it involves the issue of freedom of protest but because it involves the thorny Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the scope of which has extended far beyond the Congress’ original target of organized crime.
Did you read that?: “the scope of which has extended far beyond the Congress’ original target of organized crime.” The case was dragged through the courts for more than 17 years with millions of dollars spent.
So even if you are ultimately found “not guilty” under SOPA, the cost of defending yourself could bankrupt you. Your website would be shut down until you could prove that you weren’t guilty. The law is so broadly written, similar to RICO, that a politically planted bureaucrat with a cadre of lawyers could make it say anything.
SOPA is not just a Democrat/Liberal thing. It has “bipartisan support.” Both Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tenn., and Debbie Wasserman Schults, the head of the Democratic National Committee and a Congresswoman from Florida, are cosponsors of the SOPA. Here’s what Erik Erickson at RedState had to say about those who support SOPA:
“I love Marsha Blackburn. She is a delightful lady and a solidly conservative member of Congress. And I am pledging right now that I will do everything in my power to defeat her in her 2012 reelection bid. Congress has proven it does not understand the Internet. Perhaps they will understand brute strength against them at the ballot box. If members of Congress do not pull their name from co-sponsorship of SOPA, the left and right should pledge to defeat each and every one of them.”
I only have one disagreement with Erickson. There are lots of members of Congress who do understand the Internet, and that’s why they want to control it.