Thursday, January 19, 2012

SOPA, PIPA, Good Intentions And The Road To Hell

Do you get high?

I’m talking about controlled substances.

High. Stoned. Buzzed. You know, like that.

Now, now, relax. Don’t get all paranoid. I’m not asking if you’re a crack-head or heroin junkie. I’m not asking if you’re an addict. I’m not instituting a piss test or anything here on Stonekettle Station. I figure if you’ve got a meth monkey on your back, you’re probably not reading this anyway. 

What I’m asking is if you use drugs on, let’s say, a purely recreational basis. That’s what I’m asking.

No, of course you don’t, that would be illegal (so you probably shouldn’t actually answer my question in the comments, for example).

But let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that even though you yourself would never use drugs, you know somebody who does because this is America and we all pretty much know somebody who does illegal substances in one fashion or another.

So let’s talk about your hypothetical friend, the recreational drug user, shall we?

Your “friend” gets high. He smokes a little weed after work (or maybe before work if he’s an airline pilot or nuclear power plant technician). Maybe he pops a little speed once in a while, you know mother’s little helper. Or does a little Oxy (if he’s a politician or a minister). Or whatever. He’s always got a bag of oregano, or couple of those blue pills and a roofie for date night. You know this guy, right?

Where does he get it?

He always seems to have some, doesn’t he?

And it’s illegal, right?

So, where does he get it?

Drug dealers don’t advertise, at least not in the usual manner.

People who sell illicit drugs don’t go around telling people they’re drug dealers, they don’t list “Drug Dealer” as their profession on resumes and tax returns. They don’t wear a sandwich board that says “Lookin’ to get baked? I can help!” They don’t have those little magnetic signs on the back of their cars like the Mary Kay pushers do. You can’t Google your local dealer. They don’t list “blow” in the Yellow Pages. And the cops are looking for drugs dealers. Hell, there is a veritable army of law enforcement actively hunting drug dealers, from cops to the DEA, FBI, NSA, CIA, DIA, ATF, TSA, the Coast Guard, the Navy, the Air Force, and a hundred other federal, state, and international agencies all the way down to the school guidance counselor.

And yet…

And yet, your “friend” has no problem whatsoever scoring whatever recreational chemical he wants, whenever he wants, in whatever quantity he wants. Period.

And if you wanted some, hypothetically speaking of course, well it wouldn’t take you more than a day to find whatever it is that you went looking for even if you had no idea how to go about it.

Those of you who know me, know that I’ve spent some time in the counter-narcotics field. I’ve hunted drug smugglers in South America and on the high seas. I know more than a bit about counter-narcotics.  And I’m intimately familiar with the soup sandwich which is the so-called “War on drugs” and the agencies responsible for waging it.

I’m going to let you in on a secret: the war is over, we lost.

The war is over, and everybody is out back smoking a fatty in celebration.

It’s been more than twenty forty years now since Reagan Nixon declared war on drugs. Forty plus years and billions upon billions upon billions of dollars, and what? Nothing. That’s right, nothing. Not a goddamned dent in the drug trade. And in fact, it’s worse now because now we’ve got a bunch of new drugs and our idiotic, disorganized, ineffective efforts to curb the problem have only made the drug makers, smugglers, and dealers more innovative and cunning.

Oh sure, we’ve burned thousands of tons of pot and coke and hash and heroin in DEA incinerators, we’ve killed a few drug lords, and we’ve got hundreds of smugglers (about forty or so I helped put away) and we’ve managed to put tens of thousands of smalltime penny ante drug users in prison.

And yet…

And yet, anybody anywhere in the US can get any kind of illegal drug they want any damned time they want and there isn’t a thing anybody can do about it.  And that, my electronic friends, is a goddamned fact.

The so-called war on drugs is a joke.  A sick, sad, stupid joke.  It didn’t get rid of drugs, it didn’t reduce drug use, or drug smuggling, or drug violence, or drug related deaths.  It didn’t, in fact, do a damned thing.  All it does is keep a lot of law enforcement types employed chasing their tails.

See, counter-narcotics law enforcement is big business. There’s a lot of money in it. Counter-narcotics operations fund ships and planes and intelligence centers, it buys tactical training and satellite time and banks of monitoring equipment, it funds a dozen three letter law enforcement agencies and government operations and drug sniffing dogs, it pays hundreds of thousands of lawyers and judges and legal eagles and special courts, and it pays the salaries of uncounted thousands of enforcement folks in a dozen different uniforms, it buys the fuel that powers the Coast Guard and Navy ships patrolling the drugs lanes of the Caribbean and the Eastern Pacific, it pays informants, and it pays billions in foreign aid.

But what the war on drugs doesn’t do is actually stop anybody from using illegal drugs – including the folks currently in prison for selling and using illegal drugs.

And the reason that the war on drugs doesn’t stop anybody from doing drugs is because it attacks the symptoms and not the disease.

Here’s the simple truth: illegal drugs exist because Americans want drugs.

Americans want to get high, they want drugs and they will get them. It’s really just that simple. Prohibition should have taught us that, but apparently we were stoned and didn’t get the message.

Until you fix that, there will be a lucrative illegal drug trade here in the United States.

Just so.

Now, let me ask you something, what makes anybody think that a bill as utterly stupid as the Stop Online Piracy Act or the Protect IP Act is going to actually stop online piracy in any way whatsoever?

Because it won’t.

It won’t even slow it down.

At least drugs are a tangible object that can be detected with a lot of hard work.  Dogs can sniff out drugs.  You smell some drugs on people, and you can spot the physical and mental effects too. There are piss tests and blood tests for drugs.  You have to have a lab to make certain drugs. You need precursor chemicals.  Drugs have bulk, weight, mass, they have to moved over the border in trucks and planes and boats or smuggled through tunnels.  And you still can’t stop illicit drug use.  You don’t even have that basic advantage when searching for illegal downloads.  A kid with a bunch of pirated music on his MP3 player doesn’t smell any different than any other kid.  Dogs can’t detect pirated movies.  We’re talking about a collection of electrons here. What in the hell makes anybody anywhere think that they’re going to stop illegal downloading just because Congress passes a law? Especially one as utterly stupid and ineffective as this one?

At best, SOPA/PIPA will be a momentary inconvenience to online piracy – and a monumental long term headache to everybody else. Just exactly like the war on drugs is a mild inconvenience to drug users and a huge sucking chest wound of a problem to the rest of the country.

And at worst, SOPA/PIPA will mean that for all intents and purposes, the American version of the Internet will become indistinguishable from the Chinese version or the Iranian –  and likely worse since we’re currently actively helping the Iranians and the Chinese circumvent their government’s restrictions. Goddamned ironic, that, don’t you think?

Just like drugs, Americans want online content, and they are going to get it.

One way or the other. Legally or not.

Does that mean that I think online piracy isn’t a problem or that we shouldn’t do anything about it? No, of course not. As a creator myself of online content which is routinely pirated, I damned sure would like to see some protection. But SOPA isn’t it. SOPA is a hell of a lot more likely to result in the end of Stonekettle Station rather than its protection.

The simple fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Congress doesn’t understand how the internet actually works, just as they have no idea how the illegal drug trade works either.

There are a few, very few, elected officials in this country who have any idea whatsoever about what makes the internet the place that it is.  Politicians talk about freedom and innovation and free speech, but real freedom and innovation and unfettered free speech scares the ever living beejeebers out of them.  The chaotic uncontrolled untaxed dynamic of the internet is anathema to everything your typical governmental bureaucrat holds sacred.  This isn’t particularly surprising considering that over forty percent of the House is made up of people with law degrees, in the Senate it’s well over fifty percent. Most of the rest have business degrees of one flavor or another. There are a few doctors. There’s one nurse. There’s a distressingly large number with degrees in theology. And about thirty members of the House have no advanced education at all.

So far as I can determine, none of them have a degree in computer science, information technologies, or any computer/network related field.

Or any experience at all working in the IT field.

Or much experience in social networking since they usually pay staffers to do that sort of thing.  There’s no way to determine how many congressmen download music or shop online, or read blogs, or watch YouTube channels, but it is likely that number isn’t particularly high given the average age and lack of technological curiosity that pervades much of Congress.

Other than tweeting pictures of their junk to random woman, or hiring a rentboy to carry their bags on a trip to Cancun, or surfing for gay porn, it would appear on the face of things that the vast majority of lawmakers who are right now deciding how the rest of us will use the internet have no actual education or experience or expertise in it whatsoever.

So, no, it’s not particularly surprising that SOPA/PIPA has jumped the shark.

Of course, Congress didn’t actually write SOPA. Hollywood executives did. Recording industry executives did. And it shows.  SOPA and the Senate version, PIPA, are specifically designed to preserve a dying industry, to perpetuate a model of pre-internet monopolistic studio systems that made a few media moguls very, very rich, but didn’t do much at all for either the public or the creative folks who make the movies, sing the songs, write the stories, and paint the artwork.  This really isn’t about piracy at all, it’s about the death rattle of those very same media moguls.  Once giants of the media industry, now they are as wrinkled and pathetic as Hugh Hefner whining on about how the internet has degraded the porn industry.

Every time I see some thick-lipped studio exec in Armani talking about how he just wants to protect the rights of the poor artists I want to vomit.  On him.

SOPA and PIPA are about forcing people to buy buggy whips long after the world switched up to jetpacks.

Both versions of the bill are fundamentally flawed and demonstrate a profound lack of understanding of network architecture by lawmakers.

Start with the central idea behind both Acts:  putting a stop to online piracy.

Now, piracy, i.e. copyright violation and the theft of intellectual property, is already illegal in the United States. You can already go to jail for it, and people have.  SOPA doesn’t make piracy any more illegal.  The copyright laws of the United States as they exist right now are more than sufficient to address online piracy inside our own borders.  If a site within the legal jurisdiction of the United States is found to be engaged in illegal activity, be it content piracy or kiddie porn or terrorism, it can be shut down and its operators jailed just like any drug dealer in the real world. 

However, the nature of the internet is such that it ignores political and physical boundaries, and that’s what SOPA/PIPA was designed (poorly) to address.

See, the United States has no authority over sites that operate outside of its territorial borders (I know, shocking, right?) – the most infamous example currently is without doubt The Pirate Bay, a media sharing site based (probably) on servers located in a former NATO Cold War nuclear bunker somewhere in Northern Europe and run by a couple of Swedes.  The site hosts links and bit torrent files which allow users to share electronic media. Not surprisingly, the vast, vast majority of those files, more than three million of them, are pirated copies of popular movies, TV shows, music, games, and software.

Despite the fact that the site has been sued repeatedly by both American and foreign parties, and despite the fact that operators were found guilty of copyright infringement and online piracy and fined millions of dollars and given jail time, and despite the fact that the site was taken offline, blocked, and hacked, and despite the death of one of its founders, it’s still up and operating.  And thousands of Americans access it every single day to upload and download the latest episodes of their favorite TV shows, music files, movies, and game software.

SOPA and its even more retarded sibling, PIPA, were supposedly designed to address this. 

Not by taking down The Pirate Bay or other off-shore pirate sites, but blocking American access to them.

See, under SOPA, anybody, copyright holders or folks just claiming to be copyright holders could report a site for piracy.

Then the US government would have the authority to order search engines and internet providers to remove the names of those sites deemed piratical from their lookup tables. In other words, the domain name of the suspect site becomes invisible.   Understand something, the site itself doesn’t go away because the US doesn’t have the power or authority to make it go away, the only thing that changes is just your convenient access to it, i.e. it stops showing up in Google search results and DNS tables. 

There are many, many, many things wrong with this approach.  So many in fact, that it’s impossible to see all of the ramifications.  The more you pull the thread, the more idiotic it gets.

For starters, removing the offending site’s domain name from global DNS tables does absolutely nothing to block access to the site.  Domain names are simply easy ways for human beings to remember Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.  For example, the IP address of Stonekettle Station is, which tells internet routers that the data that makes up this website is physically located on a specific server somewhere in the bowels of a Google server-farm in Sunnyvale, California. When you type “www.Stonekettle.com” into your browser’s address bar, a DNS (Domain Name Service) server somewhere looks up the appropriate entry in the global address book and takes you to IP Address

Here’s the thing, you can still get there even if the Domain Name is blocked, you just have to know the IP address of the site you want to visit.


How will people find out the addresses of hidden sites if the easy names are blocked? Simple, the same way they do right now.  Exactly the same way your friend up above always seems to know how to find a drug dealer any damned time he needs a bag of weed. The web is full of hidden sites right now.  Addresses not indexed by the search engines.  Not in the DNS system. Hidden from the view of the average user, but there if you know where to look.  Ask any pedophile or any member of the Aryan Nation.

Blocking the offending site’s domain name does nothing except mildly inconvenience those who engage in illicit activity and it does absolutely nothing to stop piracy itself.

However, for those folks trying to gather information on piracy sites, such as reporters, bloggers, researchers, network security firms, copyright holders, law enforcement, and government agencies to name just a few of the obvious folks who might have legitimate need to search for pirate sites, blocking the domain name takes away the best tools they have, i.e. commercial search engines.

As Homer says on my pirated totally purchased in a store with real money copy of The Simpsons, Doh!

The road to hell might be paved with good intentions, but the traffic on that road is governed by the law of unintended consequences.

Blocking the domain names of illegal sites means that law enforcement and government agencies won’t be able to use standard, i.e. free, tools. Instead they will have to have special custom-built search engines to do their jobs and an infrastructure similar to Google’s.  Want to guess what that will cost the taxpayer?  Get in on the ground floor now and you likely stand to make billions.

How long do you think it will take before an entire black market arises to provide the exact same software to civilians for basically nothing? (Note, software like this exists now, if you know where to look). 

I’m going to make a prediction here, if this law passes and you feel the need to download the latest episodes of Glee illegally, ask any random 14-year old to help you find the secret invisible sites and I strongly suspect you’ll be watching your show within ten minutes. In HD. Without commercials. And 14-year olds work for soda and a bag of chips. Just saying.

Expect off-shore search engines that index blacked out sites to arise almost instantly.  Note that American laws cannot touch such sites, and they wouldn’t be illegal anyway, outside of the United States. Certain countries stand to make a tidy profit hosting such enterprises, North Korea or maybe Kazakhstan say.  Or, more likely what will happen is that Google, Yahoo, Ask, YouTube, and so on, will simply move their corporate headquarters off-shore.  I hear Trinidad & Tobago has a very favorable tax climate and some great beaches.  You’ve really got to admire the irony when a bunch of politicians who whine endlessly about government red tape and regulations that make America a shitty place to do business turn right around and dream up a law that will very likely drive our most forward leaning, profitable, and innovative companies either out of business or overseas.   Really, well done.


Here’s a funny question: how exactly would the copyright holder, or his lawyers, know if his material is being pirated, if he can’t see the pirate sites in search engine results? 


Yeah, you’re going to want to think about that for a minute or two, because it’s just that fucking stupid.

I’m a copyright holder, will I be issued a special search engine? Or allowed unblocked access to foreign sites? Or will the government steadfastly defend my copyrights along with the millions of other Americans who also hold the rights to their material?

Didn’t think of that, did you?

So, where does that leave us? 

I’ll tell you where, nowhere.

Just like the war on drugs. 

So, we’ll have to go a step further and actually block the IP addresses.  That’s a whole different ballgame altogether.  See, to block actual IP addresses, you have do what China does, what Iran does, you have to intercept and analyze every single bit of web traffic. That’s right.  Basically you can throw the 4th Amendment right out the window, because every single packet sent from your computer will have to be searched, based on the assumption of guilt without any proof whatsoever that you might, just possibly, be visiting a proscribed site.   There are a couple of ways to do this without a fundamental trillion dollar overhaul of every internet device in the world:  a) you can force each ISP to monitor all traffic from their customers, or b) you can route all internet traffic through a central hub and monitor that yourself – kind of how a company implements gateway based nannyware, only on a massive national scale.

Option a) would turn your internet service provider into an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, and would require that the ISP be subsidized by the same organization because they would need to install large amounts of very expensive equipment and software and hire a whole bunch of tech savvy folks. Obviously each ISP would have to be standardized and any changes to their hardware and software, i.e. their service, would have to be approved by the government. So much for competition and innovation. Also, given the nature of both people and businesses, I’d expect immediate corruption, i.e. unscrupulous ISP’s providing uncensored access for a certain fee that somehow doesn’t end up on the company’s account sheet.  So, then the ISPs will have to be policed. Who’s going to do that? And how much do you think it will cost?  And likely that would result in unlicensed pirate ISPs, tapping into the internet undetected. So we’d have to hunt those. And so on.  We’re going to need a whole new, very large, law enforcement agency.

Then there’s Option b), which would require all internet data to be routed through choke points, just like in China and Iran.  The enormous and exponentially growing volume of internet traffic will require vast, vast, vast resources on a scale never implemented before - for comparison, imagine if you had to monitor the origin, position, speed, contents, and destination of every single vehicle on every road in America every second of every day – times about, oh, a billion.  I would expect that wouldn’t be cheap, even if it wasn’t being done by a defense contractor (because who else do you think would be doing it? Seriously?).  Also, given my experience in similar architectures in a much smaller setting, i.e. secure military networks, I wouldn’t expect your surfing experience to be anything but horribly slow, painful, and fraught with massive amounts of fail.  Just the kinds of things that make innovation and web-based business suffer massive failure and screaming death.  All of which is fine, if you like living in 1970.

One other note, also from my military experience, one of the pillars of information warfare is physical destruction. Choke points are points of vulnerability.  Route everything through a few choke points, and you give an enemy a vastly simplified target set should he decide to take down your network.  Right now, no single physical strike could take down a significant fraction of the internet, route everything through a single point and that is no longer true. A fire, a lightning strike, an earthquake, a flood, terrorism, and no more internet in America.  Of course, the rest of the world would go on while we devolved into the stone age.  Imagine the impact on the economy, but I digress.

Those are some ramifications of this idiotic law, there are many, many more.

And of course, we really couldn’t implement either Option a) or b).  Not that we wouldn’t try. And not that we wouldn’t happily create the same kind of massive, bloated, ineffectual monstrosity that is the current war on drugs.

Here’s a few more things to think about:

SOPA/PIPA would require that sites accused of copyright infringement be immediately shut down, not that content in question be removed, that the site itself be shut down.  Note that SOPA/PIPA doesn’t require those accusations to be proven true.  The copyright holder, or anybody purporting to be a copyright holder, lodges a complaint and the site host would be required by law to shut down the site while the site operator appeals – if the site operator can afford to appeal, which somebody like me probably wouldn’t.   Don’t like what I have to say here on Stonekettle Station? All you have to do is accuse me of stealing your ideas, and Google will have to shut me down (I’m hosted through Google’s Blogger service). 

What you’re looking at here is nothing short of a return to Napoleonic Law, i.e. the accused is assumed to be guilty unless he can afford to prove his innocence. 

Now, tell me that won’t be abused. 

You’re a politician running for president say, and your SuperPAC is running attack ads against your rival in South Carolina and using clips of his speeches.  Those speeches are copyrighted material – or could be, easily.  See where this is going? Politicians would use this to silence critics and rivals. So would business. So would any jerk attempting to settle a score.  Tell me that Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t use this power to shut down anybody who criticizes his media empire, go on, make me laugh.  Needless to say, Murdock is one of the SOPA’s biggest fans.  Think about that.  SOPA/PIPA wants to protect copyright holders at the expense of one of the most sacred rights we Americans have, the right to free speech.  

I know, I know, sounds extreme doesn’t it? Sounds Alarmist. 

Yeah, look at the political climate in this country, look at the number of frivolous lawsuits in this country, and tell me again why it wouldn’t happen.  It will, and it will destroy the internet you are looking at right now.  How many irrational trolls do I get here on a daily basis? How much hate mail?  I’ve lost track.  Just one, just one, of those angry unbalanced goofs would have to make a complaint, and Stonekettle Station goes dark. Ditto YouTube. Ditto Boing Boing. Ditto everything else.

Here’s something I bet those self same trolls didn’t think of: a provision in SOPA makes IP maskers illegal.

Heh heh. Didn’t know that, did you?

SOPA/PIPA prohibit the use of any technologies that are used to interfere with the implementation of monitoring and/or the blacklist.  So, any anonymity tool used to mask IP addresses or hide the routing path between your computer and the website you’re viewing becomes illegal.  Tools like this are used by trolls to leave nasty comments here without revealing who they really are, or to get around spam and comment blockers.  IP blockers are also used by perverts and criminals to download kiddie porn and conduct other illegal activities, but IP anonymizers like Tor, for example are also used by groups worldwide to speak out against corruption, genocide, oppression, and repressive regimes.  IP Anonymizers are used by whistleblowers right here in the United States.  If SOPA/PIPA goes through, all those sources of information, the information coming out of Iran and North Korea and Syria and from within our own government will go away, because without the ability to remain anonymous who the hell would risk it?

The simple depressing truth is this: SOPA won’t work. 

It just won’t.  It can’t. It absolutely will not stop or reduce online piracy in any way whatsoever and may in fact increase it by forcing it under the radar of basic search tools and law enforcement. SOPA/PIPA cannot work. Not without a complete and total radical redesign of the internet itself at a fundamental level, a redesign that would create a communication network counter to every basic freedom the United States of America was founded on. 

Not that any of that would stop the government from trying.

Allow SOPA/PIPA to pass and what you’ll get is yet another massive governmental bureaucracy, another “war on (drugs, poverty, debt, etc),” another Czar, another  endless giant money sucking black hole that does absolutely nothing whatsoever in any way to fix the problem it was created to address.  We’ll shut down websites and kill business and innovation, we’ll jail people, we’ll fill the dockets with endless petitions and silly minor court cases, and meanwhile, online piracy will be completely unaffected.

As I write this, it appears that the online protests by Google, Wikipedia, Boing Boing, and other internet giants have finally gotten through to the politicians.  But you need to understand that the totalitarian sons of bitches backing this abomination aren’t going to go down without a fight.  You need to write your congressman, you need to write your senator, and you need to voice your opposition to this UnAmerican nonsense in the strongest possible terms.

And you need to keep doing it until Congress listens.

The truly sad part about the whole thing is this: There is obviously, obviously, a massive insatiable legitimate market for online media.  If the recording industry and the movie makers would stop clinging to an outdated studio based concept that only benefits a tiny handful of selfish greedy backward looking bastards and got into the modern internet market whole hog themselves, the issue of online piracy would become moot. And we’d all get rich doing it. But it would take innovation on their part. It would take dropping woefully outdated business models.  It would take acceptance of the fact that artists are going to finally get much greater control of their own work and not be routinely bent over the barrel by studio and network executives.  It would take an understanding that people are sick and damned tired of having to wait for media to be released weeks and months and sometimes years after it first débuts. It going to take an understanding that people simply will not put up with bullshit like DRM. People want to enjoy media their own way, not how some studio exec thinks they should enjoy it.

It’s going to take understanding of this simple fact: People want online media, and, just like drugs, they will get it. 

One way or the other.

Again, don’t get me wrong.  Piracy is wrong.  And we need to do something about it. But SOPA is most emphatically not the way to go about it.  SOPA was designed to protect a handful of very rich people in a dying industry. It most certainly wasn’t designed with your best interests in mind and it certainly wasn’t designed to protect artists, innovators, or the folks who actually make the internet the vital future core of our economy and I say that as not only somebody who enjoys the internet as it exists right now, but as an artist, a writer, a blogger, and one of those people who create content.

SOPA and PIPA are bad, bad ideas. They are fundamentally contrary to the core concepts of liberty and justice we Americans hold dear.

Anybody who believes otherwise is high.

Write your congressman.

Write your senator.

Do it now.


  1. "The road to hell might be paved with good intentions, but the traffic on that road is governed by the law of unintended consequences."

    All time favorite quote...EVER. I may get it on a Tshirt (properly credited, of course).

    I use Pinterest. At first for a way to organize images I wanted to use later as writing inspiration, and later as a way to find other neat things, like recipes.

    I like Pinterest. The things I pin are credited automatically, which means I don't have mess with hyperlinks, and the sites that have content that gets pinned gets a nice jump in visits.

    This sopapilla thing? Pinterest is gone. Probably my blog too, since most of what I post is fiction - and how the hell do I prove that it came out of MY head and no one elses?

    Bye-bye sharing ideas, bye-bye making information easily accessible. Hello banjos and government-sanctioned info sites. I'm not generally much of a conspiracy nut, but even I can too easily see this going down that road.

  2. On topic: agreed. I don't get a vote in the US, despite paying taxes here, but I called the folks-who-would-be-my-senators anyway (not that it likely did much, given that they're Gillibrand and Schumer).

    Off topic: I think your first premise is wrong. I've occasionally wondered where and how I would acquire such substances if I wanted to; I even work at a large university, and so I am confident that there's a willing seller within 100 yards of my office. I doubt that I could find someone willing to sell to me - I'm just that clueless, sadly, and my most-knowledgeable friend (who's in the UK, hence not helpful) says that I'd be too straight to get a sale. Not that I really care, but it's always boggled me for similar reasons to those you note: how *does* Joe Doe go out and decide to *start* taking meth/mdma/marijuana/coke/whatever?

    OK, I'll return to my caffeine and ethanol now..

  3. This is certainly an effective analogy! Thanks for coming through with yet another intelligent rant.

    And not coincidentally, my Word Verification is "emess."

  4. I'm a music blogger and have been following this SOPA/PIPA issue with a great deal of interest. I've been busted by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) a few times for reasons that I will never know. Here's a really scarey example of what the DMCA can already do, which is just a shade of what SOPA/PIPA could potentially do. http://thepopcop.co.uk/2012/01/why-sopa-pipa-spell-trouble/

  5. Excellent article Jim... there will be much linking!

    The current DMCA rules work (maybe a little too well as evidenced by the article that Rockstar Aimz linked to) and we've all seen proof of that in our Internet cruising. How many times have you followed a content link only to see a variant on the "Content Removed At Request Of Copyright Holder" banner or you've had to watch a YouTube video without sound because "Audio Removed At Request Of Copyright Holder"?

    While I agree that piracy is rampant and that far too many people "don't give credit where credit is due" some do give credit and that can actually lead to revenue for the artists in question.

    I probably make about 1/4 of my online music purchases (yes, I pay hard cash for things I could download free if I really wanted to) as a direct result of hearing & liking a song that was used (probably illegally) as the soundtrack in YouTube video that I watched. And with very few exceptions, every one of the people that posted videos that lead to me making a legitimate purchase (which puts money in the pocket of the original artists) was polite enough to include a music credit somewhere in the video or the comments.

    We already suffer from the "guilty until you can afford to prove innocence" approach to this issue (seriously, go read the link Rockstar Aimz posted... the cases of mistaken content identity cited would be laughable if they weren't true) but my biggest fear about SOPA/PIPA (beyond the risks that Jim explained) is the proviso that if my website links to a website which contains links to a third website which (without my knowing it) contains disputed intellectual property on it, I could be penalized... even if the offending links didn't exist at the time that I first added the link to my web.

    My fear is that SOPA/PIPA could break the Internet as we now know if people become afraid to link to content that is outside of their direct control because they could be punished for doing so.

  6. Wait. Wasn't the whole internet an offshoot of a U.S. Defense Department program to pass communication around dead nodes and bottlenecks? Now the idiots in Washington want to create dead nodes and bottlenecks? Holy WTF Batman.

    Jim_ I feel sorry for any of your staff who ever did a dumbshit thing a second time. You prepare before pulling the trigger on something for damn sure.

  7. First, a small correction. The War on Drugs was actually initiated by Nixon in 1971. Other than that, you are spot on - it was a fail even before it began. Prohibition, by it's very nature, cannot EVER work.

    Second, as a blogger that has already lost a site to something similar to what they are proposing to do (a lawyer goffer to a mayor I was challenging used legalease to convince my ISP that what I posted was "possibly" actionable and the ISP dropped my site without even consulting me - effectively stealing my intellectual property in the process), I can see a vast depth of issues come out of the proposed legislation. I have already written my representatives about it.

  8. I'm writing a response, but because I have to run out, don't have time to finish right now.

    First SOPA, which I have actually read, is dreadful.

    I agree with much of what you say about it won't work, on the other hand there is a real problem here unless you want to start watching movies produced by your son's class mates and shot on hand held cameras.

    [In the interest of full disclosure, on this subject I reported to a guy who reported to Mickey Mouse himself, Mike Eisner of Disney]

  9. An excellent post, Jim, though I noticed the same thing Moorcat did: Nixon declared the War On Drugs, though Reagan did escalate it considerably. That really just emphasizes your point, though: it's been almost forty years, not twenty, and it hasn't worked.

  10. Just in case you get baseless complaints about your comments on the obvious failure of the 'war on drugs', here is a link to the Global Commission on Drug Policy and its report.

  11. Excellent analysis of the many weaknesses in a poorly written law. You are quite correct, that this is the typical governmental bass-ackwards approach. So I have a Modest Proposal that I believe will put a serious dent in this dreadful problem of unfettered communication. Since the problem, Piracy, is an old one, I propose a return to an old solution: Privateers. Let the government issue Letters of Marque to the pimply faced assholes who are constantly hacking legitimate sites, and pay them to use their talents on the off-shore pirates that our legal system can't touch. Or better yet, from the Repugnantan point of view, privatize the process and let the studios hire these geeks. Sort of a twenty-first century version of the East India Trading Company. There would be several benefits. First, it would inconvenience the pirates. Second, it would be paid for by those who benefit, the studios. Third, it would give the little bastards something to do with their time other than fornicate with my Facebook account.

    Seriously, though, this proposed law and its obvious effects bring two issues into clear focus: First, the true constituents of the US Congress are the big business moguls, and second, that we cannot trust our government with any power that we do not expect them to abuse.

  12. Thanks for explaining this in a way that a rather dim old lady can understand.

  13. In the interest of full disclosure, my retirement check is paid by Disney. I have also represented MPAA (technically MPA) internationally on the subject of Copy Protection. For years I reported monthly to CPTWG (Copy Protection Technical Working Group) on activities of the Consumer Electronics Association in the area of Copy Protection. I was also first chair of the ATSC committee that produced A/70 http://atsc.org/cms/index.php/standards/published-standards/55-atsc-a70-standard (Conditional Access).

    In the 90s and early 2000s we, members of MPA and DVB, developed what we thought was a workable copy protection schema, obviously never implemented. I don't know why. It did cost a few pennies per legal copy, and we aimed at one legal copy per user. Actually developing a scenario about a user, a spouse, children, a vacation home and a girl-friend's apartment. All on one download (or DVD).

    Obviously it didn't happen, and since I've been out of this since about 02, I don't know why. Greed on the part of two specific studios would be my guess. It certainly had the support of the lawyers and engineers (an MPAA committee) that I reported to as well as the Disney lawyer I was partnered with.

    SOPA certainly doesn't seem like the work of the single General Counsel I knew of the MPAA members. He is bright enough to check with somebody who would know this wouldn't work.

    There is also the minor problem that one of the biggest pirates is the armed forces of a specific nation state.

    It is a real problem, tv much less movies is hideously expensive to produce, the talent and the people behind the cameras, who have the experience to do well, want to be paid well. This is not something you do well in a barn.

  14. Thanks for the technical explanation and the reality check on those people who have no technical understanding passing laws on those who do. And you are correct, authorities can do this already and just did it day after SOPA protest by shutting down megaupload and criminalizing them. I would like to hear your take on Obama's signature for indefinite detention. Also, here's a link to where SOPA is now - 'shelved' - at least until they can line the pockets of any congressional fenceriders who are only happy their kids aren't screaming incessantly about not being able to access their favorite media site.

  15. A useful analogy for explaining DNS to the non-technical minding is to describe it as the telephone book of the internet.

    Blocking DNS for a site is no more effective then removing someone's name from the phone book. You can still reach them, you just have to use some other means to find their phone number.

  16. Thanks so much for this indepth analysis. I haven't read the actual text of the bills and most site just have a vague handwaving about how they will destroy the internet but didn't go into any details.

    I see these bills as a deliberate attempt to make it easy for the copyright holder and harder for those accused. A simple text search results in thousands of DMCA notices because the words match, not because there is actual infringement - and although you "could" sue, in practice nobody can afford to. SOPA/PIPA continue this approach.

  17. The irony of all this, when you say 'write your senators/congressman' you really mean via snail mail. I would like to state that it is because these bozos aren't savvy enough (though I believe that is part of the reason), but they know that anybody can click a button. Actually writing a letter takes some effort...

  18. I knew a guy who set up satellite boxes and dishes for folks.
    They watch everything! From everywhere, free!
    Where did he get the gear? Google!
    How will we get around SOPA/PIPA?

  19. My first reaction when American friends started to talk about this was to think that the big companies would just take their servers/headquarters to other countries where they could do whatever they please.
    Most people told me I was being ridiculous.

    Makes me kind of glad to be as ridiculous as Stonekettle Station, means I'm probably much smarter than I ever thought I was ;).

    I don't live anywhere near Iran or North Korea, but our Internet is already being monitored (thankfully not anywhere close to what is happening in these countries). We have a number of Youtube vids "not allowed in your country" (getting more and more of those in fact), our downloading informations "should" be monitored by our providers who "should" then report to the authorities if they think we're downloading illegally... All it did was that people went from downloading stuff to watching the same stuff in streaming feeds. Like you said, one way or another, people are going to get what they want (*watching* a stream isn't yet being regulated... mostly because I don't think the people voting laws around here know what it is, they are still trying to understand downloading.)

    Great post.

  20. I linked to this on Facebook. If you don't stop making so much sense, you'll get a reputation for being smart. Oh, wait.... Fantastic post. Thank you.

  21. As Roxanne said, thanks for making this clearer for me, another old lady who loves your take on things.


  22. Dan, may I quote your proposed solution?

    (verify: protypet: the early versions of AIBO)

  23. Another good one Cee-whoa,
    The war on drugs is a perfect analogy, a shit ton of cash getting pissed away on can't win policy.
    I was posted to Ft. Sherman, and was involved in W.O.D. ( war on drugs, but we called it" waste of dollars").
    Panama being the only docile, friendly country astride the only land route from the places coke is made to the USA, they assumed what a good place to stop trafficers. Total fail. We caught 5 tons, but that's a drop in the bucket.
    If Americans knew how much loot DEA spent just moving us groundpounders around that godawful place, they'd have the 3letter boys washing dishes till they paid off every million.
    It'll be no different with Sopa/pipa, hopfully it won't pass, but if it does we need to tell congress to buy some rubber gloves, and soap, the cash we've flushed on W.O.D. will look like chump change compared to the loss of e- commerce.

  24. excellent prose, and, I could write a book on on-line gambling and controls on internet funds... if you want the vice, impossible to stop... cheers, and thanks again for your prose !!!

  25. @Warner: I hate to quibble, but your closing statement requires that I speak up:

    "It is a real problem, tv much less movies is hideously expensive to produce, the talent and the people behind the cameras, who have the experience to do well, want to be paid well. This is not something you do well in a barn."

    First up is "hideously expensive to produce". This is a moral argument and really shouldn't be part of the discussion. We understand that sometimes it costs a lot to make a movie or show. Unfortunately, we also know that sometimes it does NOT. Take a look at "Paranormal Activity". Made on a shoestring budget and yet, it's made millions. We also look at stories like how the original Star Wars has earned billions and yet the actor who was in the costume of Darth Vader has never received a single penny in royalties. Any attempt to bring cost and money into the discussion merely serves as a reminder that it's really the studios that earn the money, not the artists.

    Next is "the talent and the people behind the cameras, who have the experience to do well, want to be paid well". Please. We ALL want to be paid well for good work. In the end, the larger the company you work for, the smaller the chance that will actually happen. And if your company is publicly traded, forget about it. You'll get whatever they think they can get away with - movie studios included. Even if everyone was going to the theaters every night and buying DVDs when they hit the stores and renting OnDemand movies, the talent behind the cameras (and even quite a few in front) will still get stiffed by the companies in favor of the shareholders.

    Finally, "This is not something you do well in a barn". Well isn't that a nice little strawman. A piece of entertainment is only as compelling as the story. You can spend $175 million making a movie with special effects, explosions and A-list actors and it can still turn out to be a flop (Waterworld anyone?). You can spend $15,000 and film a movie with one camcorder in one house and have it be a smash hit bringing in over $100 million (Paranormal Activity). It's the story that sells, not the budget.

    In the end, until "Hollywood" and "the music industry" learn that we just want to be entertained with a good story/song at a REASONABLE price at a time and place of our choosing, there will continue to be problems. Unfortunately, their desire for total control over ALL aspects of distribution and viewing/listening tend to make this difficult at best.

  26. Kind of cheesy, and the subtitles keep you speed-reading in order to keep up, but this video outlines some of the most cogent arguments against SOPA that I've seen yet (aside from your most-excellent blog post of course, SLotU :)). Funniest line from the whole thing is when one woman turns to another, about 3/4 through and says, "Don't cry. Disney owns the rights to that emotion."


  27. @virtualchoirboy I think you miss the point. Entertainment that people want to listen to/watch, in the majority, is extremely expensive to produce. Period. Now I'm down with all sorts of cheap indie stuff, but, honestly, would rather see something like Avatar or the LOTR flicks. And you're telling me that buying this stuff legally isn't cheap enough? Really?

    The actual point is the distribution system and business model is flawed. It required complete control of the distribution channels and now that's out the window forever with the internet. So what these people are trying to do is roll the clock back and make believe that they can still control the channels if they just can *write a law*. You know, the old-fashioned ham-fisted way it is done everywhere when something happens and we think a law will stop it. It doesn't. Statistically the probability of getting caught is minute, hence Jim's point about the drug "wars". It's so vast you can't control it, and then there's a the problem of *demand*.

    You know, *demand* is the reason for drugs and the reason for illegal copies. You can't make something go away until you address the demand problem. So for the content providers the question should be "given the internet, how do we modify our channels to meet this demand and make money". It may be LESS money, but the sums would still be vast. But they're just trying to get laws passed. But they are not approaching this correctly. I'd gladly buy a legal copy of something I can use as I want the week the movie comes out instead of, like my 70 year old mom the felon, buying it from the local Asian corner store's back room the week it comes out. Or downloading it from a foreign site as tech savvy people like me do. They're protecting the theaters here, instead of trying to say "it looks better on the big screen" which, of course, most movies do...unless they're just mass-produced chick flicks (sorry people who like them!).

    So they should stop wasting the time and energy in laws and start realizing that the money train, as they knew it, is over. Perhaps the new one isn't as opulent but that doesn't mean money can't be made here.

  28. @Skyman123: I think you're on the right track with the business model being off. Almost sounds like you read TechDirt... lol. As for the "not cheap enough", I think it clouds the issue because so far, a lot of people seem to be assuming every customer is the same. To me, there are at least 5 different major kinds and all have different needs:

    1) The "true fan": This is the consumer that wholeheartedly enjoys the content and has no problem forking over whatever money is asked so that they can enjoy it. They do not make up a large percentage of the fan base, but can be a significant portion of the revenue base. Hollywood seems to be assuming that everyone falls into this category.

    2) The "fan": Different from the True Fan in that they have limits on what they will spend. Some people in this category will "download" to get a preview before buying because they want to make sure they're spending limited funds in the best possible way.

    3) The "curious fan": Interested in seeing the content because their friends are all talking about it. Willing to rent it for a night so they can join in the conversation, but really not all that interested. Some will "download" the content if it's not readily available, such as with the 28 (soon to be 56) day Netflix delay on new movies. Others will just give up and accept that the media companies don't really want their money.

    4) The "uninterested": Will occasionally watch with friends or if it happens to be on broadcast TV and there's nothing better on. Really could care less. Not likely to "download" either because they just couldn't be bothered.

    5) The "pirate": Refuses to pay for content and never will. There are a variety of reasons, none of which actually justify the behavior - poor, anti-establishment, even "just because". They will never be a paying customer and trying to force them is a lost cause because they will actively work to find ways around restrictions.

    Now, here is the most important part. Just because you might be a True Fan of one movie or song or book or painting or whatever, doesn't mean you won't be completely uninterested in the next - even if it's the exact same genre or type. People change. Tastes change. The media companies need to stop treating us as if we are all the same.

    To go back to your idea a bit, how much extra money do you think a studio could make if they release a movie in ALL formats at the same time. In other words, on opening night, the people that enjoy the theater experience go to the theater. Those with kids who couldn't afford a baby sitter that night could rent it on demand. Those who already knew they wanted to own it could go buy the DVD. Heck, put a copy of the DVD in the theater snack shop so you can pick up a copy on your way back home. Opening night revenue would be immense and I bet, but taking advantage of the early buzz, sales (# of units) would actually be higher.

  29. I think you are on the right track here Virtualchiorboy. Although I would say that even releasing the movie the week of the premier is enough. Speaking of cost, have you gone out to the movies lately? The reason I usually don't go unless it's a big screen blockbuster is the price has crossed my "suck" quotient. You know where I feel ripped off if the movie sucks and I don't want to take that chance. There are also DVD movies. The ones you won't pay the theater price for but would rent it through some service.

    So yes, what you speak of are the business models. The industry needs to stop all the law crap and take advantage of the channels now available. Perhaps rip a page from the entire "black friday" fiction: you have cinema debut night, then you have "cyber monday" for the electronic channels, then you have "DVD wednesday" for the sales in stores all quickly following. No need to pirate there.

    And yes, there will always be the people that won't pay. They are a small, small, minority. Just like music now. So ignore them they're the heroin addicts of the industry. Or the cockroaches if you like that better. They'll always be with us.

  30. Hey, the last time I actually put some money into buying music (I'm broke, in school, and not currently getting music, movies or anything else either legally or pirated. Let me pass grad school, and then we'll see about whats at the theater etc) ANY way - the last serious chunk of money I put into media was buying a musician's CD's, straight from him and his website. No middle man, no big chain store. Finding his website, and buying straight from him got him the maximum money for his art. And can't you just see the big companies accidentally-on-purpose using something like SOPA to shut down individual artists sales because they - the company - aren't getting profit from those of us who buy from the artist?

  31. Thank you for this. You funny intelligent man you.

  32. David Lowery (from Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker) has been posting a lot of things on his Facebook page about various aspects of piracy from an artist's point of view. And holy hell, it's been kind of amusing to watch the pretzel-shapes people are twisting themselves into so that they can justify, to the artist himself, why they took his music for free.

    SOPA/PIPA are not the answer, obviously. There may not be an answer at this point, because the problem is so pervasive...and people feel so very entitled.

    I don't know what the answer is. But I feel like there should be a more collaborative process in trying to find one - and that it probably shouldn't involve Senators or Representatives who have big business whispering in their ears.


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