By Johna Till Johnson (with Vladimir Brezina)
Shortly after I landed in Cleveland this morning, I drove by a sight that made me gasp with excitement: The Detroit Superior Bridge. Despite the name, it’s actually in Cleveland, and was built in 1914-1918.
Why am I so excited? Regular readers of this blog might recall that I love the shape of the Hell Gate Bridge, and its sister the Bayonne Bridge. And the Detroit Superior Bridge has the identical double arches, although it’s more than a decade older than the other two.
It’s like discovering an older half-sibling you never knew existed—and learning she’s not only beautiful, but graceful and accomplished, and living in a city you’d never have expected.
You might also notice that the above link is to About.com, rather than Wikipedia. Why? Today (Wednesday, January 18), Wikipedia has joined other sites around the Web in a blackout protesting the proposed SOPA /PIPA antipiracy bills currently in front of the U.S. Congress.
If you’ve somehow missed the controversy, here it is in a nutshell: SOPA/PIPA (the acronyms stand for Stop Online Piracy Act, the House version, and Protect IP Act, the Senate version) is intended to protect against online piracy by granting broad new powers to the U.S. Government when it comes to blocking access to sites that deliver pirated content.
That all sounds good, and you’d expect that I, as a founder of a business based on intellectual property, not to mention a regular recreational blogger, would be strongly in favor of strengthening protections against piracy—as, in fact, I am.
But SOPA/PIPA goes too far—way, way too far. There is plenty to hate about these two proposals, but the main issue is that, should they pass, the government could shut down sites that have not been proven to deliver pirated content.
Instead, all that’s required is an allegation.
That’s wrong for all sorts of reasons, starting with the fact that in a free country, I shouldn’t be able to stop you from exercising your rights by alleging that mine have been violated. A court of law has to agree with me that my assessment of the situation is, in fact, accurate.
Moreover, consider the potential for abuse: How long before, say, Americans United for Life and the National Abortion Rights League begin accusing each other of posting pirated content? About a New York nanosecond.
Sure, the bills’ drafters say that the laws aren’t intended to be used that way, that they’re primarily focused on offshore sites, yadda yadda yadda blah blah blah.
The reality is that, regardless of intention, the proposed legislation can easily be abused. And even if used properly, it’s far too broad and needs to be re-thought from the ground up.
By all means, let’s protect intellectual property. But doing it with vague laws that introduce worrying new powers is the wrong way to go about it.
If you agree with us, please write your Congresscritters and advise them to do the right thing when it comes to SOPA/PIPA: Vote ‘em down.