Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Stop Online Piracy Act

The Stop Online Piracy Act is a bill pending before the US house of representatives that would substantially increase penalties for copyright infringement, including breaking the internet by taking down websites through DNS blocking, ending access to online ad networks for infringing sites, forcing search engines to de-index whole websites with even one piece of infringing content, and sending ordinary end users to jail for streaming copyrighted material they havn't paid for.

I oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act, but that's not why I'm making this video.  I'm making this video to share my story about one of SOPA's co-sponsors, my congressman Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV2), and how he won his election by STEALING my content, and to explore for his benefit exactly what would happen to HIM if this bill were to become law. 

In 2008 and 2009 I was the videographer for the Douglas County Democratic Central Comittee; I voulenteered for almost two years making videos of our candidates for this YouTube channel.  One of those candidates was Nevada state treasurer Kate Marshall, who went on to become Mark Amodei's opponant in a hotly contested special election for Nevada's 2nd district in Congress last year... And that's when things got REALLY strange: I tuned into my local TV station and saw THIS attack ad:
The footage you see in his attack is of Kate Marshall is from TWO of the YouTube videos on the DouglasDemocrats channel.  Proof? Here's an exerpt from the video it was taken from... (Click the annotation to see the whole video in context.)

As you can see, this is a simple crop and filter of my videos.  Between Representative Amodei and his supporters in the National Republican Campaign Comittee my two videos were used to make over 10 attack ads.  I was mortified, so I filed a claim with YouTube under the Digital Millenium Copyright act on the NRCC video.  YouTube promptly took down the videos I flagged, and the NRCC did not choose to appeal to a court of law because they didn't want to spend the resources; and they also took down ALL the videos that had my footage in them.

I didn't bother filing takedowns on the videos that remained up on Mark Amodei's channel because the election was over by that time and I wanted at least SOME proof of what he'd done up on the internet so my blog post about it would still make sense.  What I didn't know at the time was that now-representative Amodei was going to go on to be the co-sponsor of of the most draconian copyright law ever proposed, the Stop Online Piracy Act.

Now, I'm sure you've all seen the ads on DVDs that compare illegally downloading a movie to shoplifting.  Well, if streaming a song you could've paid 99 cents to own is the copyright equivilant of shoplifting, then spending 3/4 of a million dollars to broadcast footage you don't own and have no liscence to use is the copyright equivilant of bank robbery!

So, let's take a look at what would've happened to Representative Amodei and the NRCC if the Stop Online Piracy Act had been law when these videos were made.  As the copyright owner, I could complain to the justice department that 10 different videos spread across 3 YouTube channels on two websites used my footage without my consent, and they would then be able to seek a court order to do the following:
  1. Order that the offending videos be removed from YouTube
  2. Order Google and Bing to COMPLETELY remove Mark Amodei and the NRCc'S websites from their directory
  3. Force the Domain Name Service to de-list MarkAmodei.com
  4. and YOUR ISP to do deep packet inspection to make sure you aren't visiting those websites.
  5. Order Visa and Master Card to cut off ALL online donations to both the Amodei campaign and the NRCC
  6. Perminantly ban both sites from EVER participating in an online ad network
  7. Send Mark Amodei to prison for up to 5 years, making him a felon who can't run for office or vote
  8. And even shut down YouTube's WHOLE SITE if they're ruled to be abetting infringement.

Now THAT'S power!  But my pleasure as a partisan at the thought of being able to do this to my enemies is tempered by my absolute horror as a free citizen and social media user at the MANY ways this could be abused. 

Ask yourself, if this was the law, how long could sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter stay online before somebody abused the process and took them down?  And if they could stay up, how different would these sites be?  Could Twitter still provide real-time results if they had to hand-censor each and every link?  Would anyone dare to post a birthday party video to YouTube if they'd go away for 5 years for infringing the copyright to "Happy Birthday"?  Would anybody even WANT to watch a YouTube scrubbed clean of things like auto-tunes, independant news commentary, and video game reviews? I don't know.  And that's why I think SOPA is a terrible bill.

Don't get me wrong, as someone who's made most of the money he ever made off of intelectual property, I DO believe that piracy is a serious crime that should be punished; but having filed a DMCA claim and had it honored by YouTube when NONE of the TV stations I contacted would pull the ad without a lawsuit, I can say that the current law is more than sufficient to adress this kind of stealing on YouTube and other US based sites.  US Customs already shuts down hundereds of websites every year for selling pirate videos and counterfit merchandize, including over 150 of them last Super Bowl Sunday.  As such, I believe that current US law is more than sufficient in this respect.
I don't dispute that we badly need copyright reform, but we must choose a path of reform that protects the rights of copyright holders without stifling free expression, banning "fair use", breaking the basic archetecture of the internet, or placing an undue burden on the innovative companies that make the internet go. 

Mr. Amodei, if you're watching; I want you to know that as a voter I do "Judge you by what you do" and I'm especially watching your stand on this issue.  If you worry there might be a chance of your own website getting taken down, it's only self interest to vote against the bill.  And if you really believe that copyright holders deserve to be paid for their work, PAY ME my due for making the videos that (indirectly) helped get you elected.
For more information about SOPA, please check out somke of these excelent videos:
Click here to sign the petition to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act