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The real reasons why SOPA and PIPA are real bad

Backspin By , Network World
January 27, 2012 10:09 AM ET

Network World - Following last week's Backspin, reader Alex Gonzales (Sweetwater, Texas) wrote to me: "Just read your SOPA article and I guess I'm just not seeing the big picture. If the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) could put an end to online piracy and stop a lot of those damn viruses, maybe even stop hackers -- what's bad about that? You say bad for business, bad for Internet -- but how? How is stopping/policing the bad stuff on the Internet bad? Give me some real reasons as to why [SOPA/PIPA] is bad. And don't tell me to go read the SOPA/PIPA bills in their entirety."

I figure that if Alex is asking these questions then so are lots of other people. So, let's dissect the issues of SOPA and PIPA and figure out why these proposed attempts at legislation are so misguided and downright dangerous.

First, let me point out the SOPA and PIPA don't address and will do little to stop virus and malware distribution, and will definitely do nothing to reduce hacking (indeed, as we will see, SOPA and PIPA may well make hacking easier!).

ANALYSIS: SOPA and PIPA: What went wrong?

OK, so, what's the problem that SOPA and PIPA are trying to address? Simple. There are many people who have no qualms about acquiring and sharing the intellectual property of others without paying for it.

What these crooks are doing is purely and simply stealing; they are "pirating" and distributing content such as music, books, videos, movies and software, and hawking knockoffs of tangible goods such as pharmaceuticals, brand name handbags, perfumes ... you name it. This is big business.

Not surprisingly and not unreasonably, the people who produce these products and the people assigned to manage the sale and distribution of said products are, to say the least, not happy. The Internet makes it easy to set up a website to promote, sell and distribute these pirated and fake products.

So, who represents the content owners? Over the years this contingent has evolved and now includes powerful trade organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

These are very well-heeled groups whose lobbying efforts operate on an amazing scale and who have been among the greatest supporters of legislation targeted at improving the ability of law enforcement to stop the distribution of pirated intellectual property. For the sake of simplicity, let's refer to the content rights holders and their trade organizations collectively as "Big Media."

Now, I think all of us law-abiding citizens respect the rights of content owners and see piracy as morally corrupt and antisocial. We'd support laws that made it easier for companies and organizations to defend and control the duplication and distribution of their intellectual property, but only insofar as those laws might actually address the real issues, don't allow for over-reaching, and aren't obviously ripe for creating unintended consequences.

So, what about SOPA and PIPA? The core idea of these proposed laws that have been aggressively (and expensively) lobbied for by the likes of Big Media, would allow a company that believes, rightly or wrongly and for substantive reasons or simply because it fulfills their commercial or political agenda, to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice that a website was infringing their intellectual property rights.

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