So easy, even a child could do it

My family moved the summer between my third and fourth grade year. It was a bigger house, and a nicer neighborhood, closer to my school and right across the street from the town’s country club. The downside, though, not many kids near my age, and the few that were, well, they didn’t particularly care for me. New kid, went to the parochial school, a bit on the socially awkward side, all added up to no real friends in the neighborhood. All this after moving out of a neighborhood with a bunch of kids all around my age, with side streets instead of main roads.

Fortunately, though, I had an outlet. My dad worked in computers, and there were always some in the house. So I tinkered. I messed around with modems, terminals, tried to learn BASIC, but frankly my brain never could quite get the hang of programming. I also suck at foreign languages, so it’s not really surprising. But I really liked connecting to BBS systems and communicating with people around the country, and eventually the world. I also got into it a little too seriously at one time, and started doing some things that could be considered outside the realm of legality to be able to make the long-distance phone calls to connect to those BBS systems.

In the early 90s I also started ripping CDs and swapping the mp3 files with some of the people I worked with, including some guys who showed me a network at Northeastern that one of their fellow students set up for music file-swapping. (As it turns out I ended up meeting that student later, since he was related by marriage to an old friend of mine, small world.)

I also have worked in television production, in software development, and in music groups. While I never registered them, I have copywritten content that I am somewhat proud of. So really, I can see both sides of this ongoing copyright debate, but I really have a problem with this idea that the rights of a copyright holder can supercede due process. That’s the crux of the acts going through Congress, giving companies like Sony Universal Entertainment the power to shut down a website simply for having what they claim to be copywritten content, or even a link to content. So if I posted a link to a video that contained music that the site owner did not have license to use, *my* website can be just shut down, and not by me or my ISP, but rather by making it unreachable. No process, no hearing, it just gets done. Then I have to prove my case, or remove the link, and then *I* have to go through a process to get back on the grid.

Also, some provisions call for making copyright infringement a felony, making it a jailable offense, forfeiting the right to vote, and making it a worse crime than Driving Under The Influence, prostitution, and simple assault. Really? Yes, it may be illegal to post a pirated copy of “Dude, Where’s My Car?” but a felony? Really? When the producers of that movie go unpunished for their assault on our culture?

So please, contact your Congressman, Senator, and anyone else you would think would listen, and tell them to not support SOPA and PIPA, because the acts go too far, and do nothing to stop the copyright infringement that goes on across the internet. Remember that bit earlier about my finding ways to sidestep the long-distance phone system? I was in seventh grade, and it wasn’t too hard to do when I really wanted to. If people really want to distribute content, they are going to do it, and not be stopped by the tricks that SOPA and PIPA are using. Hell, your nine-year-old can find ways around it. What it is going to do, though, is punish people and companies that don’t mean to infringe, or do so after a hacking. It’s a lazy proposal, and one that gives corporations more power than they deserve, and frankly they already have far too much power than they should anyhow.

Oh, and that Northeastern student?  His name is Shawn Fanning, and his network for his friends at Northeastern became the game-changing peer-to-peer network called Napster.  While Napster as it was is long gone, it’s still very easy to find music sharing on the internet, and I know several people who have not bought a CD in years.  So really, the legal approaches haven’t worked.  The only way to really fight it is to work to change business models, like iTunes or other music services, and Hulu and Netflix for other entertainment.  Change thinking, don’t stifle the innovations through ham-fisted legal means that do nothing to solve the problem anyhow.