New Year’s resolutions are a great idea, but following up on them is kinda difficult. Which is why I haven’t written about mine, here or anywhere else: private failure is one thing, public failure is something quite different, and not something I’m going to invite on myself.
However, in amongst all the usual “lose weight, exercise more, budget better…” resolutions, I also planned to write here more. As you can see, it hasn’t happened. Oh, I’ve had ideas, just not at a convenient time to follow up on them. Damn my self-imposed rule about only writing on my lunch hour (although tbh it’s really the best time anyway).
So what’s motivated me today? Well, as anyone who is remotely interested in tech news (and countless others who were oblivious until today) will know, today is a day of action against two bills currently going through the US Congress, SOPA and PIPA. These bills have the potential to change the internet forever – and not in a good way.
Presented under the guise of improving copyright protection online, and thus safeguarding American jobs in the TV/movie/music industries, at first glance it would seem a fairly reasonable piece of legislation – online piracy is widespread, it is diverting money from creative industries (although how much money is debatable) and there is a chance that future output will be affected. So far so good. But that’s only half the story.
The trouble is that the wording of these bills is a bit woolly to say the least, and people far cleverer than me, with the time to read, digest and understand legalese are worried that it puts too much power in the hands of the US court system (and thus those people/entities with the money to make use of the US court system), and that it will lead to internet censorship, not just for protection of copyright.
You might ask why someone in the UK should care about a piece of legislation being enacted thousands of miles away. Well, off the top of my head:
- As a fan of American sports, a lot of the content I read comes from the US, and a lot of it comes from blogs and fan sites, y’know, the little guys who can’t afford expensive lawyers when their site gets pulled because of one comment. Some of the big boys won’t even be able to afford expensive lawyers – Wikipedia is run on a relative shoe-string, yet is pretty important to millions around the world
- The internet is a global entity – protecting your own is fine (and yes, I know it’s really about the corporations, and we shouldn’t care a rat’s ass about them) but surely that shouldn’t come at the expense of someone else? Losing a (potential) US audience could kill an internet start-up stone dead
- It’s the top of a very slippery slope, and one that’s not even clearly defined. Today it might be about protecting copyright, but putting too much power in a few people’s hands has a nasty habit of getting out of control very quickly – who knows we could end up?
- What happens in the US has a nasty habit of quickly spreading around the world. If these bills are passed, expect similar in your neck of the woods
So why am I writing this post? Well, the day of action is about raising awareness of the problem – that’s why the likes of Wikipedia, WordPress.com etc are blacked out. But it’s not just about the big guys – smaller sites are joining in too. I commented on Twitter that with a readership of practically zero there was no point joining in, and in response a friend pointed out he only ever visits when there’s a link to a new post. And it’s true that there’s always a spike in visitors when I actually get round to writing something. So here it is, my tiny contribution to the cause.
Shame you won’t be able to read it until tomorrow.
You can learn more about SOPA, PIPA and why Wikipedia et al are doing what they’re doing here.