The Zombie Rights Campaign Blog

The ZRC Will Go on SOPA Strike Wednesday

The following post is rather long but important. The short story: the ZRC website and blog will be down on Wednesday, January 18th as part of a (much) larger internet protest against an odious proposed new censorship law, the Stop Online Piracy/PROTECT IP Act. This law directly threatens what we do here at the ZRC, as well as potentially all free speech online. For more info you can read my longish post, or go to this website.

The ZRC has caught a bit of flack from time to time about our efforts to extend solidarity toward other worthy causes in the hope of broadening the Zombie Rights Movement, and on those rare occasions when it has provided a conflict with dedicating the proper amount of effort toward our core clients I have been properly chastened. We appreciate it when people keep us focused and honest. Still, we strongly believe in solidarity here at the ZRC. Solidarity with workers, with Mummies, with Liches, with Vampires (so long as they don’t sparkle), and with social justice in general.

Zombie Rights are, as we like to say, Human Rights.

Keeping that in mind the ZRC will be joining much of the web community in going on strike January 18th, 2012 to protest the Stop Online Privacy Act, or SOPA, and its evil Senate doppleganger the Protect IP Act.

What is SOPA, and what does it have to do with the ZRC? Well..

In a nutshell, SOPA (and the related bill in the Senate, PIPA) are three things: a desperate, flailing attempt to scrape a few more pennies out of consumers in the depth of a Depression, a dangerous and unpredictable expansion of governmental censorship powers, and a sorry example of the influence of money on contemporary politics, and the ease with which large, wealthy interests can get what they want regardless of its unpopularity or radicalism.

SOPA basically works like this: under current law (the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, or DMCA) if you spot someone stealing your content on a website, you can fire off a complaint to the site and its host, asking for that specific thing to be taken down. Full disclosure: The ZRC actually did this on one occasion to someone stealing our stuff. If they refuse, you can pester their host, and if their host refuses, you can pursue legal action.

Even that process has proven very easy to abuse, with frequent inappropriate takedown requests and the chilling of free speech, but you can see there are at least *some* limits to just how churlish you can be, and the law attempts to limit the damage to removing the offending, ie potentially ripped-off, materials.

So when the ZRC said ‘stop stealing our blog post’ last year, we only asked for that post to be pulled, and that’s all that was removed.

SOPA works differently. SOPA allows someone to go to the advertising networks, the credit card processors, and say, ‘Stop giving this site money!’. And they have to, unless the site’s owner contests it successfully within 5 days. And even then, who’s to say you’ll win against some huge entertainment monopoly with tons of lawyers, time and money to spend fighting? And in the meantime of course, you could be losing money. This directly threatens peoples’ livelihoods.

Worse still, SOPA and PIPA make the operators of a website responsible for any misbehavior of their users. If someone leaves a comment on, say, the ZRC blog containing infringing content, we could get in trouble. Not just them; not just the page the comment is on; the entire site would be at risk.

Even more troublesome, SOPA and PIPA in their original forms create, for the first time, a national censorship regime for the United States. Sites that are deemed ‘rogue’ would be blocked by your ISP on behalf of the government. You wouldn’t be able to get to them by typing in, say, www.zombierightscampaign.org in your browser (although if you used certain software or knew the IP address you could get around that). SOPA goes further than Protect IP, and might even snoop the packets of your internet browsing to see if you’re obeying Big Brother. (Note: This particular portion of the bills, dealing with DNS addresses and such, may be removed soon.)

SOPA and PIPA also break the internet as a structure, forbidding the use of certain security-improving techniques that would, inconveniently for the bill’s proponents, make their primitive internet censorship system fail.

SOPA would even require search engines like Google to de-list your website, making you all but invisible to people not already aware you exist online.

So, to recap, SOPA/PIPA let huge moneyed interests, or for that matter, random cranks, attack the revenue systems that make your favorite websites possible, make every internet site operator liable for the actions of every user, and (may still) create the US’ very own ‘Great Firewall’, albeit an inept and hamfisted one, to allow the government (or more precisely, the large content cartels that will operate this bill) to decide what websites you should be able to visit.

The practical effect will be to make unworkable potentially any website that allows users to submit content, any website that comments upon or criticizes other peoples’ intellectual property, or any site that takes controversial or unpopular positions and doesn’t have enormous resources to fight off petty harassment.

In other words, sites very much like this one.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

(A very good primer on the risks and hazards of these bills from Fight for the Future.)

Why do this? Mostly because they can. Interested parties with a lot of money to throw at Congress, almost all from the entertainment industry, saw an opportunity to give themselves elaborate new legal powers and decided to take it. Except for the part where they’re unprincipled power-hungry jerks, you can hardly blame them.

Why now? It’s as good a time as any, and better than many. We’re heading into a Presidential election season, which means that Congress is going to get very little done that either party has a stake in fighting in order to get votes in the fall. Major, conventional ‘political’ issues won’t get dealt with because one party controls the House of Representatives, one controls the White House, and the Senate is split almost 50-50.

That leaves a lot of people with time on their hands to listen to lobbyists for other issues less likely to end up in a 30 second TV ad, along with the need for large amounts of money for the fall election, naturally. (Only 1/3 of the Senate is up for election in a given election year, but they can always sock it away or channel it to political allies who are running even if they’re not personally doing so this time around)

I’ll dust off my Poli-Sci background for a moment and mention a couple of things I’d really like people to take away from this discussion, if nothing else:

1) This is not just a Lefty/Liberal political issue.

Civil liberties is often framed as being an issue of the political ‘Left’ in America, in part because, in all honesty, civil liberties advocates are generally more liberal. SOPA/PIPA, however, are being backed by powerful figures in both the Democratic and Republican Parties, and opposed by others from all parts of the American political spectrum as well.

SOPA backers include Senator Patrick Leahy and former Senator Chris Dodd (now shilling for the MPAA), both prominent left-leaning Democrats, as well as the Teamsters, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) unions.

SOPA backers also include prominent Republicans like House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

And naturally, innumerable large media corporations and lobbies.

Likewise, in opposition you have politically diverse groups and individuals like the ACLU, technology evangelist Cory Doctorow, arch-conservative Erick Erickson of Red State, civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald and a host of normally ‘apolitical’ sites and organizations like Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, the folks behind Minecraft, WordPress Red 5 Games and many others.

A great number of those organizations/companies/individuals will be going on strike, as it were, blacking out their web presence on January 18th, 2012 to highlight the threat this legislation poses to their continued existences, as well as to free expression generally.


2) Don’t Rush to Declare Victory

The other thing I want to do is urge readers who are following the SOPA/PIPA issue not to get overconfident when learning of progress to pare back the bill’s various offensive measures. Let’s be clear; passage of absolutely any piece of SOPA/PIPA is an affront and an insult, to the internet, free speech, and, because this is American legislation we’re talking about here, the Constitution and the American legal system. Again, dozens of law professors from all over the American political map agree that these bills are Unconstitutional and dangerous.

Tinkering around the edges is not sufficient, and at any time progress could be swiftly lost. The public side of the debate is all well and good, but a stealthy amendment slipped in here, or a change done in the conference committee after the law is passed by Congress but before it hits the President’s desk, or even a signing statement from President Obama himself, all could pose additional, radical risks.

The only safe course of action is to kill the bill. Period.

So the ZRC will be offline on Wednesday, and we hope to see SOPA/PIPA permanently dead and buried when we come back from defending our ability to fight for Zombie Rights (in order to, of course, fight for Zombie Rights some more) on Thursday.

Useful links:
SOPA Strike, with handy list of sites going dark tomorrow and tools to help out on your own webspace.
List of SOPA backers and how to contact them. (Gizmodo)
ACLU on SOPA
Wikipedia on SOPA and PIPA
Kotaku on SOPA
Get Your Censor On, a fun webcomic exploration of the laws.
Americancensorship.org’s Handy Infographic (great for sharing with friends and family)
Erick Erickson, prominent conservative blogger, on SOPA
Ars Technica on SOPA as originally formulated.
Dozens of law profs against Protect IP Act, Ars Technica
Entertainment Software Association spends 190k lobbying on PIPA.
Boing Boing will go dark for SOPA Strike


About The Author

The role of 'Administrator' will be played tonight by John Sears, currently serving as President of The Zombie Rights Campaign.

Comments

One Response to “The ZRC Will Go on SOPA Strike Wednesday”

  1. mickeywhite says:

    Why does Marsha Want Congress to Regulate the Internet? Why not just say NO FEDERAL branch (the FCC and congress and the federal courts included) has any authority to decide or rule on any aspect concerning the Internet?

    BUT Marsha Blackburn did Vote FOR: Patriot Act Reauthorization, Electronic Surveillance, Funding the REAL ID Act (National ID), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, Thought Crimes “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, Warrantless Searches, Employee Verification Program, Body Imaging Screening, Patriot Act extension; and only NOW she is worried about free speech, privacy, and government take over of the internet?

    Marsha Blackburn is my Congressman.
    See her “blatantly unconstitutional” votes at :
    http://mickeywhite.blogspot.com/2009/09/tn-congressman-marsha-blackburn-votes.html
    Mickey

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