It's either symptomatic of a tragic case of early-onset curmudgeonhood or the natural response to how much and how loudly an influential segment of the population has humped the narrowest and cruelest idea of liberty into the ground over the past decade, but I don't necessarily find myself immediately drawn to web freedom issues. I think the government's treatment of Bradley Manning is shameful and that multi-year jail terms for bit-torrenters are the worst kind of message sent in the worst kind of way, but I also believe—speaking only for myself and no one else on The Classical's masthead—that the internet doesn't afford an inherent right to anything/everything, free of charge, simply because anything/everything is available free of charge. Righteous web libertinism—which amounts to a defense of an anarchic status quo by people for whom that status quo works delightfully well, at least in terms of how rapidly (very) and inexpensively (completely) they are able to torrent Underworld: Legend of the PVC Jumpsuit—can sound to me like petulance, or selfishness. All of which, again, is maybe my problem. And none of which is a reason to support the Stop Online Piracy Act (or its only slightly less noxious Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act).
Of course, you probably already know this, and may already have signed that big Google-hosted petition arguing as much. Seemingly the only people who do not understand that you can be against both unchecked online piracy and SOPA are those whose business is not understanding it. That many of these people are elected officials is a bummer, but not necessarily all that surprising given the demographic makeup, corporate sponsorship and wholesale mediocritude of those elected officials. Neither, really, is it surprising that the bills are written carelessly enough as to get numerous sponsors of SOPA and PIPA in copyright dutch for their own websites. It's not surprising because these are lousy bills, and lousy bills are lousy, and because they were written by old-ass white dudes infinitely more familiar with the case made by industry lobbyists than with the web as it's used. These two bills happen to be lousy enough to bear out all the charges—uninformed authors, perverse and co-opted process, unclear language leading to awful unintended consequences—that define the usual right-wing screechery against any and all regulation; the Heritage Foundation, to its credit, is opposed to SOPA, but it's easy to imagine them Mad-Libbing their specific complaints into the usual "hurts business, discourages innovation" template. In a similarly perverse twist, this is one instance in which the usual cynical political stalling tactics—calling to commission a wide-ranging independent study of the issue, then building legislation out from the commission's recommendation at a time TBD—actually makes all kinds of sense.
For anyone who uses the internet the way that people actually use the internet, in short, SOPA is bad news. For those of us who use the internet to fill our brains with sports-y goofiness, though, it's especially bad. For instance, there's this:
Which is great, and not just because it recognized the kindred berserk/over-vehement swag-brotherhood of Atmosphere and Jason Williams. That this sort of video is a violation of a bunch of copyrights—your boy Yinka Dare does not own any of this footage, or the rights to "Equilibrium"—is the sort of thing that slides by naturally. Of course it is clearly a gooey calzone of various copyright infringements. It is also 1) delicious and 2) the foundation of our web diet.
And it's very much the sort of thing that—because of a lack of clarity in the way the bill assesses the actual nature and problems of the web's copyright-infringement culture, and because big entertainment companies just want to issue court orders to someone—SOPA would chill unto death. At GOOD, Classical contributor Megan Greenwell explains, deftly and concisely, what SOPA means for sports fans online:
While my ability to watch Blake Griffin highlight reels is by no means the most important thing at risk in Congress’ debate over SOPA and its Senate counterpart PIPA, the bill also would undermine the entire framework of modern sports. It might not shock you to learn that people posting highlights online usually haven’t gone through the process of acquiring the copyrights for the footage. Under SOPA, not only would the individuals be criminally liable for uploading copyrighted material, the websites would be, too. YouTube could be forced to shut down unless it found a way of policing the 48 hours of video uploaded every minute. And because at least two of the three [highlight] videos I link to above are likely copyright violations, this magazine and I would be criminals, too.
The backlash against SOPA has been heartening, particularly the boycotts of some of the hundreds of companies that have made the tone-deaf decision to support the bill. But few people seem to realize that among those tone-deaf companies are all four major American sports leagues, plus ESPN. That means the people who want to ruin the way you watch and share sports are the people whose salaries you and I pay through ticket and merchandise revenue and watching games on TV.
While there is more than the ability to use the internet for the usual sports goofery at stake here, that is also at stake. There's no good reason to embrace the anarchy of a pirate-ruled internet, but neither is there any reason to support either of these flubbily toxic bills. A problem this eminently and obviously in need of a solution deserves a solution far better—and far more likely to work—than this pair of cynical, store-bought non-answers. That eventual solution, we can only hope, will leave room for the avant-garde online highlight reel.