Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Protect Yourself: Stop SOPA

As a writer I fear a lot of things: Being unable to finish a book, being able to sell a book; losing my eyes or my hands or my ability to think clearly.

What I don't fear is someone stealing my work and using it for their own purposes.

Why? Because there are some very basic laws which prevent that from happening. Ever hear of a "poor man's copyright?" If you're a starving writer, I'll bet you have.
With a "poor man's copyright" you can take your written work, seal it in an envelope, mail it to yourself and leave the letter unopened. If someone then tries to steal your work you can retrieve the letter, deliver it to the court and the stamp from the post office will show the legal date your work was created. As long as nobody else can prove (in a legally binding way) they created that work before you did, you are protected.

With the Internet it is even easier to protect your work. Check the date stamp on the post you wrote. The earliest post always wins (unless it's been plagiarized.)

So why do we need the Stop Online Piracy Act? Well, the government, the film industry and the recording industry say we need it to combat the continued growth of free-sharing torrents. Places where people can go online and share copyrighted works with impunity.

Is there a problem with pirated material on the web? Yes. Are there tools to fight this type of piracy? Yes.

SOPA doesn't add to the arsenal any more than an atomic bomb stops wars. The fact is, it's simply a tool which gives the government complete control over the Internet. Something they have been trying to get for years.

If I download a copyrighted movie without permission I leave a digital trail a mile long. The recording industry has had no trouble finding and suing people who illegally downloaded copyrighted songs. Why do we need a new law to help them do what they are quite capable of doing right now with current laws?

Because with SOPA nobody gets a black eye except the government. Record companies don't have to sue little old ladies because their grandchild used their computer to download the latest Lady Gaga song.

SOPA is a tool to be wielded by companies and anyone else with an axe to grind against another company or entity they are not happy with. Instead of blaming an individual for doing something illegal--shut down an entire web site.

I cannot think of a more chilling fate for the Internet in the United States. Internet companies will be forced to set up shop in other countries where THEIR freedoms are protected. This will cause a major loss of intellectual talent and billions of dollars in tax revenue and make the United States the most censored country in the world.

And who wants that?

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