(ZWR Note: The following doesn't necessarily reflect my views on the subject proposed legislation; I'm just some donkey that wants to go to the zoo with Roy Halladay. But Ryan's my bud and he's passionate about it and sent me a text at like 3:47AM telling me to post this so here you go.)
Hi there, my name is Ryan Petzar. You may know me from places such as Zoo With Roy, The Fightins, Twitter, or the runner-up of The 1986 America’s Fattest Baby contest.. I wanted to take a moment to talk to you about a topic that is incredibly important to me, and if you’re a fan of this blog should be important to you. Please bear with me, I promise I’ll make this worth your time.
There’s currently legislation that’s quickly working it’s way though Congress called the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA). If passed, SOPA would change the internet as we know it forever by giving corporations the right to censor it. Basically, SOPA would allow the government or copyright holders the ability to obtain court orders to shut down any website they suspect to be either committing copyright infringement or allowing it to happen. However, the rules are broad and vague enough that it would give corporations the ability to shut down your favorite websites for almost no reason at all. Additionally, and horrifyingly, it makes the sharing or posting of copyrighted content online a felony punishable with massive fines and prison sentences of up to five years.
Basically, if SOPA were to pass and I were to post a link to a YouTube video of, say, The Humpty Dance I would be committing a felony. In the eyes of the courts, it’d be a crime on par with arson, kidnapping, murder, or rape.
Just to reiterate, if SOPA were to pass and I would post that link to The Humpty Dance:
* I’d be guilty of a felony for linking to that video.
* ZWR would be liable because he owns the site on which it was posted and as such be guilty of a felony and the copyright holder would instantly be allowed to shut down the site permanently.
* The company that hosts ZWR’s webservers is guilty of a felony for hosting the site.
* The guy that uploaded it to YouTube would have committed a felony by uploading it.
* YouTube is guilty of a felony for hosting it and/or not preventing it from being uploaded in the first place and, as such, could be shut down permanently.
* If ZWR were tweet the link to this post, Twitter would also be guilty of a felony and could also be shut-down because they (inadvertently) linked to this post.
Under the current law, the uploader of that video has committed a crime by uploading content that isn’t his or hers to upload. That’s not what I’m upset about.
One of the reasons you like this website is because of things like entertaining photoshops, videos, and even that one song parody from last year. All of those examples are things that we as Americans are currently allowed to do because of protections in the First Amendment that cover parody. It’s our God-given right as Americans. However, at best, SOPA would restrict our ability to do this. At worst, it would be stripping away portions of our First Amendment rights. Let me give you an example:
I posted the above video here last spring. I took a clip of the movie The Terminator and added some goofy images and stuff to it to parody Roy Halladay’s reputation as a robot-like perfectionist. To create that video, I used copyrighted material but made changes to it for the purpose of parody to create a new, separate entity. That’s an exception to copyright law that’s called Fair Use and it’s protected by the First Amendment.
Yes, if the holder of the copyright wanted to sue me for it they certainly could, however they must follow the due process of the law to do so and based on legal precedent, they would probably lose that case. But that’s beside the point.
However, under SOPA, a copyright holder has the right to mandate not only that video be removed from the internet but be made to be inaccessible to you as an American without any kind of due process, using the same kind of web blocking technology that is currently used in China, Syria, and Iran.
Those governments actively censor not only what their citizens are allowed to see but also say. SOPA would allow corporations to do the same exact thing here in America. Please note the keyword in that last sentence: corporations. If MGM saw that video and they felt that it violated copyright, they could prevent you from seeing it just because of a hunch, not any kind of legal precedent or rulings.
That’s censorship, and it’s a movie studio doing it because they think that seeing that 59 second clip makes you want to watch The Terminator, but not pay for it.
The thing is, if you see that video and you really do want to watch The Terminator, you’ll probably either play the DVD if you own it or if you don’t, you’ll watch it on Netflix or actually go buy or rent it. Either way, you just essentially made the copyright holder money that they wouldn’t have had if you didn’t see that video.
Yes, there is a small portion of people that would think to visit an illegal filesharing site and download the movie for free without paying for it. That is theft and copyright infringement and it is illegal, as it should be. However, there are already laws in place allowing copyright holders to prevent such a thing from happening and punish those who do it. SOPA is their greedy way of expanding their abilities to do so so they can make more money by levying fines.
“The seal is SOPA. The penguin is, well, you know.”
(ZWR Note: WAIT WHAT?!)
Imagine what the web would be like without sites like Twitter, Facebook, Deadspin, Gawker, Reddit, Fark, Zoo with Roy, The Fightins or any other site where original and recycled content is posted and discussed. SOPA is designed to make people so afraid of accidentally violating a copyright that they wouldn’t be able to run or use websites like they usually do out of fear of being shut down.
What do I mean by ‘afraid of accidentally violating’? Like I said earlier, sites would be responsible for any and all content that gets posted on their site. In an America with SOPA, if a commenter on ZWR were to embed or link to a copyrighted YouTube video, ZWR just violated the law by allowing that commenter to do so. SOPA would make websites responsible for anything and everything that other people post on the website.
Now imagine that instead of just the ZWR comments, that same rule applies to Facebook or Twitter. If just one person uploads or links to copyrighted material on one of those services, the entire site could be shut down. Not just one account, the entire site. That’s the kind of power SOPA gives to copyright holders.
Facebook or Twitter, let alone ZWR, don’t have any ability at all to control what you or anybody decides to type into your status updates, tweets, or comment boxes. There’s no way to prevent anybody from typing in the web address to something that may be copyrighted, and even if there was, what happens if someone wanted to link to something that wasn’t copyrighted? How is the site supposed to know the difference? You can’t. It’s unrealistic to expect that to happen, yet SOPA makes it mandatory. The only thing that sites could do to prevent commenters from posting illegal something would be to prevent commenters from posting at all. Imagine a web where you weren’t able to comment on anything; basically a ‘read-only’ internet. Who would want to use that? Nobody.
If you’ve stuck with me so far, myself and everybody involved with this site thanks you for caring. This legislation would pretty much prevent a blog like Zoo With Roy or The Fightins from existing because parody is what we do. It’s what we’re allowed to do as Americans. SOPA would prevent us from exercising freedom of speech as we understand it. By the very definition of the term, SOPA is unconstitutional. And yet, here we are...
I want to point out who this was all was designed to protect: the entertainment industry. Look, piracy is bad. It’s illegal and it’s illegal for a very good reason. If you illegally download music, movies, photos, whatever, you’re taking money out of the pocket of the people that created, paid for, and distributed that art. It’s very fair to say that the entertainment industry loses a ton of money because of piracy and they’re entitled to protect their copyrights. The internet has created a place where art can be shared illegally so easily and it’s cost the record companies and movie studios a ton of money. Nobody is arguing that fact.
However, the studios and the record companies were painfully slow to adapt to the internet and cost themselves a ton of money in the process. Napster allowed us to illegally download music as early as 1999, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the iTunes Music Store came on to the market to let us actually buy that same music digitally. The industry has been trying to play catch-up ever since.
The entertainment industry lost out on tons of money because it was slow to react to the digital marketplace. Now, they want to be able to use SOPA as a tool to generate revenue through fines instead of actually developing a profitable business model for the web.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that a business model centered around suing your customers isn’t going to last very long.
You may wonder why I’m crapping all over the entertainment industry so much here. Well, the answer to that is because they’re the ones really behind the SOPA legislation. Senator Lamar Smith (R-TX) was the guy that introduced the bill to the Senate. If you click this link, you can see pretty plainly that Senator Smith has taken a boatload of money from the entertainment industry in the form of campaign contributions. He’s not the only senator backing this bill to take money from the people it would benefit financially, but he’s the one whose name is attached to it for all to see.
Senator Smith and others like him have a personal, financial incentive to see this bill through. These are people that aren’t acting on the behalf of their constituents or the Constitution they were sworn to protect. These are people trying to make money for themselves. That’s corruption. And it’s bad.
I hope at this point I’ve established that SOPA is unequivocally bad news for the public. If I’ve done that, I have good news and some bad news for you: The bad news is that SOPA has a very serious chance of being passed into law. Seriously. It has more backers than it does opponents and they’re trying to rush it to a vote this very week. The good news is that it’s still not too late to do something about it. If you think that SOPA would negatively impact your life, you need to speak to your local legislators and tell them about it.
The internet has made this process incredibly easy. If you go to one of the following sites, you’ll be able to either sign a petition against SOPA that will be submitted to lawmakers, have a form letter or email sent to your local representative or congressman or, best yet, be given the direct telephone number of your representative’s office and you can call them yourself about your feelings on the matter. The linked sites even provide you with some talking points and a script you can use while you’re on the phone if you get phone-shy like myself.
This is a watershed moment in American history. We were founded as a nation that is able to govern itself. If this bill passes, it literally gives corporations the ability to punish Americans and it strips away parts of our rights to free speech. Not only would we be doing ourselves a disservice by allowing this legislation to pass, but we’d be depriving our children and our children’s children rights that we’d always been told that we as Americans, would always have.
I don’t often get worked up politically, and when I do, I pretty much never have done anything about it. This is a first for me. I hope I’ve made sense here because I’m new at this stuff. I want to sincerely thank you for taking time out of your day to read what I’ve had to say here.
God bless you and God bless America,