On SOPA/PIPA (For the People Who Aren’t Blacked Out)

I’m using WordPress’ “blackout” function today, so most people are seeing the site blacked out through 8pm tonight, but some folks can see it (it seems mostly in countries other than the US, but also some in the US). For those not being blacked out, here’s what I wrote on the blackout page.

I am speaking for myself and only myself.

Here’s the deal. I am a professional writer and the owner of copyrights. I strongly believe that I have a moral and legal right to control how my work is displayed and distributed, online and off. I believe that when my copyrights are violated, I should have a robust set of tools to deal with the issue, if such is my choice, online and offline. I believe every owner of copyrights — everyone who creates art — has these same moral and legal rights, and should have the same ability to address violations. Creators should be able to present their creations on their terms, not anyone else’s.

SOPA/PIPA aren’t the way to do this. These proposed laws are poorly constructed, overly broad and frankly thoughtless, the equivalent of dealing with burglars in someone’s home by carpetbombing every house on the street. You might stop the burglar, but the collateral damage makes it a hollow victory. The collateral damage here would be the hamstringing of the Internet, and trampling rights of speech and expression. That these proposed laws have been debated by a number of US Representatives and Senators who seemed proud of their ignorance of how the Internet works (and at least initially didn’t want to hear from technical experts) made it that much worse.

Let me reiterate: I strongly support the right of creators and copyright owners to control and defend those copyrights, online and offline, and welcome rational, useful tools that allow us to do that. I think it’s possible to create laws, treaties and agreements that allow for such tools without fracturing, possibly to the point of destruction, one of the most successful media for individual expression that we’ve yet managed to devise. We just have to decide to do it intelligently. Encourage your representatives and senators to do that, rather than passing SOPA/PIPA.

— John Scalzi

(Whatever will return in its usual form at 8pm Eastern)

10 Comments on “On SOPA/PIPA (For the People Who Aren’t Blacked Out)”

  1. I liked your WordPress blackout app better than mine. Wahh. :) I blacked out Podrunner and Groovelectric today, too. I have to say that one of the unexpected benefits of an oppressive corporate oligarchy would be a lot less email to answer.

  2. I think the best way to fight against piracy on the internet is to be competitive and to ease the barriers to digital accessibility, companies like Valve’s Steam have proven this true in places like Russia. The the fight against piracy is an asymmetrical one, so the bigger bomb you use, the more people you are going to piss off and the internet is already pissed, so this will only make it worse. Fight piracy by winning the hearts and minds of the people, convince them that legitimate media is far superior to that of pirated media, than sell us that superior media.

  3. Thanks for saying this. As much as average people being opposed to this travesty helps having real living Artists that depend on copyright to make their living oppose this helps undercut the central argument that supporters have ‘Content creators need this or else DOOOOOOOM’. As someone outside the US who is watching this I’m really thankful for those of you calling your Senators and Representatives because the moment the US passes awful copyright legislation they start pressuring our governments to pass matching awful copyright legislation to ‘normalise’ the legal climate.

  4. Here’s a wonderful site that will literally call your phone and then connect you with a real, live person in your Senator’s office in less than a minute. It works remarkably well.

    Believe it or not, Senators often listen when voting constituents tell them about wrong-headed, one-sided, and invasive legislation. Don’t think that the Senate and Congress are done with PIPA and SOPA. The MPAA and RIAA have invested too much in Washington to let this one die.

  5. A moral right? It seems to me that you have a moral right to work, and to own property, and to dispose of that property how you will, but the precise details of property rights can’t be spelled out a priori by some context free moral theory. A long time ago you could say that, if someone built a farm on uninhabited land, they owned that farm and had a right to keep it. These days it probably would mean they’re squatting on a national park. Copyright wasn’t handed down by god on stone tablets; it was designed, tweaked and modified by governments over the last few hundred years, in order to provide certain incentives.

    Is it morally right or morally wrong that a musician doesn’t have to ask permission to cover a song? I don’t think that’s a moral question. A better question would be “is that efficient, economically?”.

    Copyright is a pretty good institution, but it should be evaluated as an economic tradeoff, not a moral right.

  6. I am wondering if this is the Congressional equivalent of a bake sale– PIPA and SOPA aren’t going to pass, but Congress is going to toy with the idea just a bit longer to make sure they’ve wrung the maximum in donations from both sides.

  7. Wow! Congress finally got people from both sides of the political spectrum to com together and speak as one. They found a truly nonpartisan issue and got the fascists and the communists and everyone in between to all shout with one voice, “Don’t break the Internet, you foolish old farts!”. World peace must be just around the corner. Hey, everyone come over to my house and we’ll have a campfire, eat shmores and sing ku ba yah!
    In all seriousness, it was good to see how many people don’t want to break the Internet.

  8. The potential abuses of SOPA/PIPA are not an accident or “gosh, we never thought of that”; they are deliberate features. They are driven by the same mentality behind SLAPP suits: if people or companies with a lot of power and money don’t like what you’re saying, they can shut you down simply because you don’t have the resources to fight back, even if you are in the right.

  9. Hi John, was it here I saw the excellent links for non-Americans? For petitioning the State Department and such? If so could you link ’em up again?

  10. ‘Content creators need this or else DOOOOOOOM’.

    Call me a cynic, but I would be healthily skeptical whether folks like Rupert Murdoch and MPAA head ‘Senator’ Chris Dodd give a rodent’s sphincter about “content creators”. And they don’t have to – Murdoch is the head of a publicly-owned multinational corporation, and Dodd isn’t representing anyone but the big six studios. Nothing wrong with that, but they should stop pretending they’re disinterested defenders of consumers and creators.