Thursday, November 17, 2011

Vote "NO" on SOPA - An Open Letter to Congressman Thaddeus McCotter


An open letter the Thaddeus McCotter,
U.S. Rep. for Michigan's 11th District, and my congressional representative, whom I much admire.

Dear Congressman McCotter:

Please vote NO on SOPA (HR-3261)

Why is SOPA/Protect-IP such bad legislation?

First, let us agree that preventing online piracy is a noble and worthy goal. I don't fault legislators for trying to protect intellectual property. As is so often the case though, good intentions are no excuse for bad legislation. And SOPA is nothing if not "bad legislation".

SOPA is a bill that aims to thwart piracy by turning ISPs, website operators, credit card companies, and domain registrants into police. It guts the DMCA's "Safe Harbor" provision, opening the gateway for Hollywood to shut down websites it believes to be infringing upon intellectual property rights without due process. Lastly, it imposes a huge cost of regulatory compliance on entities that are some of our most economically vibrant, in a time when there aren't many bright spots in the economy.

As is so often the case, the damage it does won't just be to existing services, sites, and companies, but to all the innovation that will be strangled in infancy because a tech company's first hire will have to be a lawyer instead of an engineer.

Make no mistake - if this law were in place 15 years ago, there would be no YouTube, no Facebook, no Google, no iTunes, no eBay, no Craigslist, no Etsy. You could probably name the corporations and organizations that would have benefitted had their business models never been disrupted by the Internet. That list will look a lot like the list of organizations who spent $91 Million lobbying for SOPA. This is not an accident.

In 2006 Yochai Benkler wrote, in _The Wealth of Networks_:
For the most part[...] the state in both the United States and Europe has played a role in supporting the market-based industrial incumbents of the twentieth-century information production system at the expense of the individuals who make up the emerging networked information economy. Most state interventions have been in the form of either captured legislation catering to incumbents, or, at best, well-intentioned but wrongheaded efforts to optimize the institutional ecology for outdated modes of information and cultural production.
Sound familiar?

Destined to Fail

Even if SOPA passed, and all of the effects that I listed above were somehow mitigated, it wouldn't do a thing to slow down, let alone halt, piracy.

The internet is built to route around "damage". That's what it was designed for. And the internet sees censorship of this kind as damage. The major tool for "taking down" an infringing site is to claim its DNS entry (which turns a name like youtube.com into an address that your computer can connect to like 74.125.225.77), and pointing it to a different IP address.

Routing around internet censorship will simply be in the form of the distibution of IP addresses instead of DNS names. We saw this effect when wikileaks.org was "blocked" in 2010 (voluntarily, by its DNS provider). People just went to the IP address directly, and mirror sites popped up to distribute copies of the data.

This kind of "takedown" won't even slow a pirate down. But it will incur a tremendous amount of regulatory overhead for legitimate companies to contend with.

If I were addressing this plea to my friends on the left I might say that this bill is being bought and paid for with $91 Million in lobbying from the RIAA, MPAA, and Hollywood. I might say that they are the 1%, and they'd like to keep it that way, even if it were to harm the consumer, the public, the economy, and the United States.

However, this message is for the one person who has represented me best in Washington, and I know from long admiration, that you, Congressman McCotter, share many of my views from the right. Therefore I say that this legislation is nothing more than rent-seeking from a industry whose business model is failing in the face of innovation. This is the same industry who has tried to legislatively hinder everything from VCRs to MP3 players to cable television, all in the name of protecting their historically comfortable profit margins. They are unwilling or unable to innovate, and are fearful of the creative destruction that awaits them in the face of their obstinance. It's easier for them to petition Congress than it is to face the 21st century, and even if this legislation comes to pass it will do absolutely nothing to save their outdated business model. They are using their present position of relative strength to permanently hinder the one industry that, more than any other, shows promise for American workers in the 21st century.

Finally, (and only slightly in jest):

What would Youtube's fate be under SOPA if the Beatles or Roy Orbison decided that this video of your band playing FarmAid was infringing material?



Congressman McCotter, please consider voting NO on SOPA.

Thank you,
Eric Reasons
11th MI resident and proud Thaddeus McCotter supporter