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SOPA-box Letter

IT industry, Politics

Those of you who have been following my Facebook and Twitter posts, should know that I am very much against the new proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation.

So I wrote to my Congressman, John Sarbanes. This is what I wrote:

Congressman Sarbanes,

I was distressed to hear that you are a supporter of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA – HR 3261), and would like to ask you to consider changing your mind.

My assumption is that the members of Congress who are supportive of this terrible piece of legislation either don’t really understand it, or are in the pocket of the Entertainment and/or Pharmaceutical industries. And they already have the DMCA and other laws to protect their interests.

But please allow me a minute to explain some of the wrongs that SOPA will cause:

SOPA has several “layers” around it. But all of them wind up by providing draconian measures against US companies, with nothing more than an allegation of wrongdoing. These measures can be put into play before the alleged wrong-doer is even informed that there is a problem. Can you imagine what damage would be done to a small business, like mine, if one day I came to work and discovered that:
– My website was down.
– My company’s web-presence were suddenly deleted from all Internet search engines.
– Payment sites, like Paypal, would suddenly no longer provide payment services for me.

And why? Because someone CLAIMED that I violated a copyright. Even if the allegation was limited to one small thing, which could easily have been removed and/or corrected if needed and asked, SOPA gives the courts the power to destroy my business.

Imagine the misuse to which this legislation could be put!

Even software companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter & Zynga, are opposed to it, with Google actually scheduled to testify against it during the congressional discussion. Even Microsoft, which makes the majority of its money licensing software, and has backed other IP legislation efforts in the past, has come out against it!

Congressman Sarbanes, we live in an increasingly litigious world, frankly, much to our detriment. HR 3261 will only compound it, making it that much easier for the “big guys” to stomp all over us “little guys”. Is that REALLY what you want to support?

Please rethink your position and stand with the rest of us; the folks not in Big Entertainment and Pharma.

Thank you!

Since I wrote him that letter, the vote has already taken place in the House, and the Senate version of the bill seems likely to pass. “Congressman Sarbanes” wrote back to me, as follows:

Dear Mr. Spigelman:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the prospective legislation to curb online theft of intellectual property. I appreciate hearing from you about this important issue.

Online commerce should not be a mechanism for abusive business practices, violations of individual privacy rights or copyright infringement. Intellectual property and privacy laws should apply to all forms of commerce. I am privileged to serve on the House Committee on Science and Technology, the committee with jurisdiction over technology policy, and I will be certain to keep your views in mind when the Committee or the full House of Representatives considers these issues in the future.

Again, I appreciate hearing from you. Please do not hesitate to contact me about other issues of concern to you in the future.


John Sarbanes

Now I may be just jaded, but my read of his response is, “I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do in the future. I’m not really that interested in your opinion. But thanks for writing me.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not necessarily against IP legislation. I do believe that it’s important to protect people’s work, and that if you take away the profit motive, there will be much less incentive for people to create. But I’m opposed to THIS legislation because it gives too much latitude to cause too much damage, without the subject even having the opportunity to defend themselves.

And don’t think that the companies and organizations involved won’t use that latitude to their complete advantage. They do all sorts of legally-questionable, morally-reprehensible things now, to even very small players, even without the legal backing. Take, for example, the recent behavior of Universal Music on the website Megaupload: They’re inappropriately using even the laws they DO have available, and then sitting back to see whether the victims will be able to afford to defend themselves.

That’s right. As it is, a large conglomerate can squash a small business flat, by litigating them to death. And that’s with the laws they already have. They don’t need this. And they shouldn’t have it.

To his credit, Pres. Obama has promised to veto this, if it comes to his desk, but it’s a funny thing about politics… Things change. But maybe, if enough of us start reading up on SOPA; start writing our Senators and Congress-people, we can stop this thing from actually becoming law.

Personally, I think this whole thing is going to go until the Webster’s Dictionary folks file suit against everyone in the country, including the Federal government, for unauthorized use of the words in their dictionary.

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