Oh how appealing the corporate (mis)information appears, but it's probably not vegan and surely not kosher. I just have to say, "What the hell!?" Looks like the Internet's lost what little sense it had. If you don't like your politics analyzed in the context of religion, just skip right over this post. Many of you probably won't support what I'm about to say, but I probably won't support the hate mail that many of you will send. ^_^ Image source.
I am really disappointed by the way the Internet public is reacting to SOPA and PIPA. I am a lawyer, I used to be a Republican, now I'm a Democrat, and many people consider me to be a "bleeding heart liberal". Nevertheless, I support SOPA and PIPA. Let me be clear, I believe 100% in the First Amendment and the rights to freedom of speech and expression, however, I do NOT believe in STEALING. I have recently felt even more disillusioned by the sangha and Buddhists' responses to these acts. People who have embarked on a path that prohibits stealing should think seriously about where they stand when it comes to anti-theft measures. This statement applies to Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and anyone else on a spiritual, ethical, moral, and/or religious path.
Opponents of SOPA and PIPA are suggesting that these acts will be the end of freedom on the Internet as we know it. I guess since the Internet revolves around a culture of stealing and piracy, especially since the advent of Napster in 1999 and other services later, we should turn a blind eye to the Internet crimes that are happening every day and costing Americans millions of dollars in lost revenue. I guess we should oppose SOPA and PIPA because we're trendy and we jump on all of the popular Internet bandwagons. Worst of all, we should oppose SOPA and PIPA because we are uninformed, uneducated, or have all of our thoughts fed to us by corporate America.
Yesterday I saw that Craigslist has taken its SOPA/PIPA opposition public. Today I noticed that Google and Wikipedia have also noted their opposition, and I am disappointed by these corporations' efforts to sway the (mostly) uninformed Internet public. I think most people are opposed to SOPA and PIPA because they are blindly following whatever (mis)information corporate America is feeding them. As Buddhists, we need to stay mindful of the Second Precept of Buddhism, which opposes stealing, and realize that SOPA and PIPA are efforts to stop Internet crime. Maybe these acts aren't the most artful efforts and maybe they won't be the best efforts to stop Internet crime, but Buddhists should stand up against stealing. *Cough.* Buddhist Torrents. *Cough.*
Are SOPA and PIPA bad? How do SOPA and PIPA work?
Let's first look at how SOPA and PIPA would work. These acts would allow the US government to take action when individuals, websites, web hosts, or corporations post, host, sell, promote, or link to infringing materials on the Internet. Most Internet users are vaguely familiar with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This law requires web hosts and service providers to monitor the content on their sites and remove infringing content if these hosts and Internet service providers want to avoid liability for copyright infringement. Unfortunately, many Internet users have preyed upon this act to engage in a war of DMCA notices as a way to limit true marketplace competition. Nevertheless, few people are out there screaming that the DMCA is bad. In general, the DMCA aims to stop stealing, even if there have been some unwanted and unfortunate side effects.
SOPA and PIPA address issues that are not addressed by the DMCA. The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act require hosts and service providers to be responsible for the content on their sites, but SOPA and PIPA extend the existing law of the DMCA. These new acts would prohibit linking to infringing content and would allow the US government to take action if hosts and service providers don't. Under these acts, the government would have the power to alter the DNS of infringing websites. When Internet users type URLs in their browers, that web address points to the IP address of a server where that particular website is hosted. If SOPA and PIPA become law, the government could redirect infringing URLs away from infringing IP addresses and to a generic page informing the Internet user that the site has been blocked because of infringement. Nowhere do SOPA or PIPA allow for unchecked government censorship just because an idea is unpopular. These laws provide for censorship of content that violates the law, not for uninhibited censorship. For these reasons, I think that SOPA and PIPA are not so bad.
Of course companies like Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist, etc. are concerned. If these acts become law, these corporations will have to stop piracy, stealing, and copyright infringement on their domains or risk being shut down by the government. They will no longer just sit back and wait for someone to file a DMCA claim. SOPA and PIPA shift the burden of policing the Internet from the individuals who are infringed to the corporations who are infringing. These corporations would also be responsible for policing what their users post. Just ask yourself how long you have to search before you find a link to an infringing website on Google. I'd guess if you just search for "MP3", probably not very long. Corporations don't want the burden of modifying their policies and complying with copyright law because it would take a lot more manpower and effort than they are currently expending. Google cites jobs as a reason to oppose SOPA/PIPA. I disagree. Wouldn't more jobs be created if corporations started actively monitoring content on their domains and removing infringing content proactively? Wouldn't we also gain millions of dollars in profit because less counterfeits were sold and less piracy happened? Notice that Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist, etc. do not profit from the sale of goods. These companies profit from content, and some of that content is no doubt infringing. These sites also contain a majority of content that is posted by users, rather than content posted by the companies themselves. These companies could no longer allow their users to infringe under SOPA and PIPA.
The idea that the Internet is going to go dark some time after January 24, 2012 is simply unfounded. Might infringing websites have a tougher time engaging in business? Yes. Should people who sell knock-offs, illegally upload and download music and movies, authors of spam blogs that copy the content of others, and anyone engaging in copyright infringement be concerned? Absolutely. In general, the American public does not need to be alarmed unless they are concerned that their free (stolen) music and movies might be cut off. That probably will happen sooner rather than later, and will probably happen regardless of the PIPA/SOPA outcome. As with most American laws, these laws will be subject to public scrutiny and will be challenged and interpreted through the courts. There are likely to be some bumps in the road as everyone gets everything figured out, but SOPA and PIPA probably won't affect my Internet use at all. Then again, I don't illegally download, upload, link to, or host infringing content.
SOPA and PIPA in Light of the Second Precept of Buddhism
The Second Precept of Buddhism prohibits stealing. Notice that this precept is very high on the list of things not to do, preceded only by the prohibition against killing. Buddhist beliefs oppose the Robin Hood idea of stealing from the rich and redistributing to the poor. The Second Precept defines precise conditions that comprise stealing.
The Five Conditions of Adinnadana (Stealing):
- The property is possessed by another.
- There is knowledge that the property is possessed by another.
- There is an intent to steal.
- There is an act done with the purpose of stealing.
- By the act, the property is taken.
Most but not all people who link to infringing content are linking with the intent of stealing or helping others steal. I would guess that the remaining people who link to infringing content without the intent to steal do so because they do not realize that the content is infringing. Under Buddhist law and US law, lack of knowledge that the property belongs to another negates the act of stealing. Notice that there is not a sixth condition in the Second Precept of Buddhism that says stealing is permissible in certain circumstances. I think that's where Buddhist Torrents ran into trouble.
Maybe not everyone will agree with me, but I believe that we need to be responsible for what we are publishing, uploading, downloading, and linking to on the net. With the right to freedom of speech comes responsibility. I do not believe that poverty is an excuse to steal or violate the Second Precept. I do not support uneducated bandwagoners blindly supporting corporate America or corporations who can't be bothered to do what's right. I do not support people who irrationally believe that the US will become China after January 24th because the US government is trying to take a stand against copyright infringement.
I believe that people with Buddhist beliefs need to take a tough stance against Internet piracy. Supporting or opposing PIPA and SOPA is a personal choice. I respect anyone who has educated him or herself about these potential laws and reached an informed decision, no matter what that decision is. I don't think PIPA and SOPA are great, and I don't think they're foolproof, but I do think the US and the Internet have been lax about addressing stealing and infringement. I want to see tough laws passed that make it harder for people to infringe, and I want to see corporations held responsible for what they host. As I said at the beginning of this article, I believe in free speech and I believe that stealing is wrong.
What do you think about SOPA and PIPA? How has your spiritual, moral, religious, or ethical path affected your decision about these acts? Please leave whatever comments you want here, but please don't write to Congress unless you have reached a fully informed decision.
Posted as part of Orange Tuesday, What the Hell, Whatever You Want, Rednesday.