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Hello, I must be going

18 January 2012

Blogging by Boz said everything I would have said, though I would have made one editorial change:
It’s unfortunate ironic that a number of industries are lobbying for legislation and regulations in the name of intellectual property…

I’m not only an author, but the part owner of a book and e-book publisher.  We take intellectual property rights very seriously.  I have had my work pirated, and probably have lost some income as a result.  But SOPA does nothing to protect me, nor our publishing company.  We depend on the internet for research and fact checking.  The penny-ante theft that goes on may not be something I can do much about (and, as it is, it probably generates more sales than it costs… I’ve sold more than a few books to people who ran across some odd unattributed factoid about Mexico and “googled it”, only to find the real deal and the context is available at a modest price), and where there is alleged major theft, there are already laws against that kind of thing.  Organized thefts can be prosecuted in the United States under the existing laws related to organized criminal activity.  If somebody robs a liquor store and deposits the money in his bank account, you don’t shut down the bank, you arrest the robber.  SOPA would shut me down because somebody else might have used something in another context, and even in an unrelated post, that was less than honestly acquired.  And may have not even been stolen:

If our liquor store hold-up man dropped a bag of loot and my neighbor  found it, and deposited in the same bank where I have an account, SOPA would be a closing my account because of something I knew nothing about.

And, SOPA would also allow marketeers to buy up public domain rights and force us to buy access to that information.  Information, of all kinds (good, bad, indifferent and off-the-wall) is the raw material we use to produce our “intellectual property”… and the dirty secret of the media is that the actual producer isn’t getting more than a pittance in the first place. Piracy, such as it is, is mostly just a consumer reaction to over-pricing of existing work.  The authors and creators aren’t the ones SOPA defends… it’s the seller.  Who, if they’re charging too much, can’t kick when consumers want their product but at a reasonable price… that’s called capitalism, not piracy.  And on a large scale, it’s run by organized crime figures, who aren’t about to let U.S. laws stop them, and aren’t the ones who are going to be destroyed by this… it’s you and me.

Here’s Boz:

As a freelance writer, my intellectual property is my livelihood. I take protection of it seriously. I also live and work online in Latin America. I’ve seen the potential for the Internet to be a disruptive technology for good, creating conditions that promote democracy and cut down poverty.

It’s unfortunate that a number of industries are lobbying for legislation and regulations in the name of intellectual property that would serve to undermine some of the basic architecture of the internet. Legislation like SOPA/PIPA directly and indirectly impacts US policy in Latin America in a negative way. That’s why, like many other websites, I’m using my blog today to oppose this legislation. While that seems outside the usual sphere of US-Latin America policy, it is relevant to how this hemisphere is able to connect and communicate online.

How does it impact the hemisphere? If legislation like this were to pass, it would hold back economic innovation in the US and Latin America, shut down small businesses in the technology sector, impact our free trade agreements with Central America, Panama, Colombia, Peru and Chile, strengthen organized criminal groups that already traffic in stolen intellectual property, and limit cultural exchanges between the US and the rest of the hemisphere.

If the US passes legislation like this, it will be utilized by oppressive governments to go after democracy activists who use the internet to organize and communicate. The US will also lose significant moral high ground on censorship as the enforcement of this law would create a firewall limiting US internet users’ access to numerous foreign websites, in some ways similar to how the Chinese government or the Cuban government block sites outside of their countries. The SOPA/PIPA legislation would set a bad international precedent for a region still struggling to figure out how to have smart regulations and security measures online.

At a very personal level, internet regulation poorly defined such as SOPA/PIPA could force me to shut down this blog. I’m an individual blogger who doesn’t have the resources to monitor and verify the tens of thousands of links I’ve posted over the past seven years, placing me at risk to legal action under this legislation. I also depend on hosting sites like Google, Blogger, Tumblr and Twitter, all of which say that enforcement of this legislation would be too heavy of a burden on their businesses and could force them to change how they operate. It’s not an exaggeration to say that if restrictive legislation passes and is enforced, this blog and every blog you read about Latin America policy could either be shut down or censored across borders. That’s bad for you, the reader. It’s worse for the nascent online community, which has grown over the past decade and given citizens the power to publish that that was once restricted to governments and big media companies.

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