With today being the internet blackout day for websites protesting the SOPA/PIPA bills currently working their way through Congress, I thought I’d toss in my two-cents.

For those not familiar with the SOPA/PIPA bills, they’re the United States Congress’ attempt to squash a bug with a bunker buster. They would destroy the “safe haven” provision that internet service providers and content sites have been operating under since the DMCA was passed back in the Clinton administration.

To understand what this means, consider a site like YouTube and a service provider like Earthlink. A customer of Earthlink’s uploads twenty minutes of a film to YouTube.

Under the current rules, a content producer who believes the upload is infringing would notify YouTube and Earthlink that their customer violated copyright. YouTube, under the safe haven provision, has the option now of either removing the content or telling the content producer that they need to prove their claim in court. If they choose to do the latter, so long as YouTube immediately complies, they are not liable for the uploaded clip. Neither is Earthlink, any more than an electric utility is for what people do with the electricity they provide.

Is this a difficult process for those who believe their copyright has been infringed on? Yes. But that’s the purpose of an adversarial system. Prosecutors shouldn’t be able to just throw someone into prison because they believe the person to be guilty. Nor should a content producer be able to shut down entire sites and companies because of what those sites users are doing.

Under the proposed changes, content producers would be able to do exactly that and the government would serve as their enforcement arm, literally taking control of sites, shutting down their bank accounts and advertisement dollars out of mere suspicion that they’ve abetted infringement.

Why is this important to readers of this blog?

The Unified Republic of Stars is a collaborative storytelling site. The idea behind it is that anyone can contribute by writing their own stories, creating artwork, or adding to the reference wiki.

What would happen if someone contributes a photo to the wiki that they didn’t have clearance for?

Rather than being issued a take down notice and allowing me, the site editor, to either take it down in a timely fashion or notify them to challenge it in court, the URS could be reported to the Commerce Department and taken down with no notice.

The same could happen just for the blog you’re reading. The Righthaven mess has already proven that some companies believe quoting as little as a single paragraph from a newspaper story is tantamount to infringement, forget the Fair Use Doctrine for a moment.

And the URS wouldn’t be alone. In fact, this is probably the least important site on the internet. But it’s built on technologies that run some sites that probably are your favorite. Think every major site. No one would be immune.

What can you do?

Call your congressman, senator, and the White House.

Flood those sons o’ bitches with with calls, emails, and letters. You know why? Because it won’t work.

Not one of the solutions offered in the SOPA/PIPA bills will solve any of the copyright problems with the internet right now. Not one.

But it’s not like it’ll be repealed when people figure out that it’s not working. No. They’ll double down. And the internet you know and love will never be the same. Imagine all the interactivity and conversation of radio. And that’s what many people want. The internet is too open. It’s breaking too many models that have been working too long for many interests. They know they can’t go back so they’re trying to limit what it could become in the future.