Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Absurd Anti-SOPA Hysteria Goes Viral

Though I'm closer to pro-SOPA than anti-SOPA , I understand some of the arguments against it. I don't think they're very persuasive, but I understand them. And if they were presented in a manner commensurate with the moderate-to-negligible "threat" the bill presents, I probably would remain silently indifferent to the matter. But given the completely unwarranted, apocalyptic hysteria that has erupted in response, I have to call out some of the more blatant fallacies of the anti-SOPA, PIPA movement

1) Don't say "you're not in favor of piracy, just against this specific bill, SOPA", and then list 10 arguments that would apply to any measure taken against piracy. If your argument is against the specifics of the bill, then you can't employ arguments that are anti-piracy-regulation as such.

2) An example of the above: "The bill won't even stop piracy!" This is true of any action taken against piracy. It's true of any law that combats any kind of crime, cyber or otherwise. Hence, this fact is not an argument, it's irrelevant. The aim of the bill isn't to "stop" piracy, but to fight it and reduce it, which this bill absolutely will do. As Richard Cotton pointed out on Up With Chris Hayes, the same measures in The Netherlands have cut traffic to Piratebay by 80%. Hence, the measures do work at decreasing (not stopping) piracy. That doesn't mean the bill wouldn't ever need updated, or that other legislation wouldn't be needed as pirates adapt, but none of these facts are an argument against passing the bill. But if you made that argument that is evidence that you're not in favor of any kind of legislation or actions taken to curb it.

3) Is a policeman/judge who arrests/fines/jails a street-corner bootlegger for illegally distributing copyrighted material engaging in "censorship"? Yes or no. If your answer is no, then please stop talking about how the bill is censorship. If your answer is yes, then no one needs to listen to you because you don't know what censorship is.

4) RE: "breaking the internet", the fact that the bill will have repercussions extending beyond pirates themselves to web-relationships with pirates is obvious and an huge incentive for people to stop pirating and/or associating with businesses that do. This can have (at least short-term) negative effects for "the internet", yes, but so what? Therefore the law is unjust? Unconstitutional? Of course not. "Things changing on the internet" (even if it's for the worse) is neither a legal argument or a coherent argument why something should not become law when people's rights (specifically, intellectual property rights) are at stake.

5) The degree to which innovations on the part of media providers decrease piracy by making content easier, faster and cheaper to access is completely irrelevant to the question of SOPA and whether it is sound legislation. It's true that if Best Buy drops the prices of their DVDs, they could run competing corner-store bootleggers out of business without assistance from the law, but they should not have to compete with an illegal competitor in the first place. I have no problem with the fact that the existence of pirates can spur innovation. Fantastic. That is true and anti-piracy legislation like SOPA (though not necessarily SOPA) should be passed. Both are true and the two issues are not mutually exclusive. If piracy is a massive problem  because content providers either have no way to "compete" with piracy, or just aren't doing a good job of it? Then it should be legislated against. If it's a relatively small problem because providers have innovated and reduced it significantly? Then it still should be legislated against. The issue has no relevance.

6) People passing a bill who "know nothing about the internet" is irrelevant if the bill itself is any good. If the bill is good (and it is) and they pass it while knowing nothing about the internet then.. good. If the bill is bad and they don't pass it while knowing nothing about the internet, then you're happy. Hence, the problem is not who is voting on it or what they do and don't know but whether or not the bill itself is any good. If the quality of the bill is your issue, then never say anything about what Congress does or does not know because it is irrelevant. Just speak about the bill and what's wrong with it.

Overall my biggest problem with the anti-SOPA movement is the disingenuous incoherence and the emotional reactionary character of it. A friend of mind is a neo-Marxist type who doesn't believe in intellectual property at all. He is logical and consistent, given his presuppositions and worldview, even though I think he's wrong. By contrast team anti-SOPA throws any bumper-sticker slogan it thinks can catch common people's attention and draw support to their cause, no matter how inane and worthless the content of the arguments are.

So if you're going to oppose SOPA, be able to argue agaisnt it. I've read dozens of articles, mostly from the tech sector, but also some from libertarian think tanks, and almost all of them are propelled by scare tactic rhetoric, hollow sloganeering ("like China!", "censorship!", "better distribution is the answer"), all of which are either internally nonsensical or completely avoid the actual heart of the matter: the rights of those in the U.S. not to have to compete with illegal content thieves. Rights which the government has a duty to protect via legislation.

As for the legitimate downsides of the bill -- and there are some -- they aren't even really worth delving into because the bill itself isn't my issue. My issue is with the tinfoil-hat hysterics of those who are in opposition to the bill. Once team anti-SOPA drops those, then we can discuss rationally the narrow issue of the bill's specifics.


  1. THANK YOU! Finally a person who hasn't bought into the scare tactics.

  2. your an idiot who cannot understand the underlying implications of what this bill can do. Any site that hosts User Generated content is at risk. For example the website currently hosting your blog cannot possibly monitor every word out of your mouth without a mistake. You post a bad link and not only is your blog gone, but your hoster gets the blame too. It allows websites to be taken down without due process.

  3. Anonyomous #2 says: "your an idiot". Hmmm.. I'm not very strict at playing the role of grammar police, but when your point is that someone else is an idiot, and you have already made an error ONE WORD into your post, it must be pointed out.

    As to the content of your post, no those actually are not the implications of the bill, but even if they were I already addressed that possibility in the post above (see point 4). My response was: And? Therefore what? And you've offered nothing as a response to my question, because there is no coherent response. "Right-to-not-have-the-internet-break" is not a right.