Danger: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

We keep seeing articles about the new proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. I’ve long been opposed on principle to copyright piracy. As an author, webmaster and occasional utility software programmer, I have no sympathy for content pirates of any age or motivation. I agree that software piracy and other forms of intellectual property theft are a serious worldwide problem. On the other hand, previous industry efforts to combat piracy have been anally self-serving at the expense of end users. They penalized legitimate consumers and distributors,. They were flagrantly draconian. So, now that Congress is trying to get into the act again, I finally decided to read up on SOPA.

This bill would allow copyright holders or the U.S. Justice Department to seek a court order which goes against internet providers (instead of just against individual offenders) when websites are accused of “enabling” copyright violations or counterfeited goods.

The bill does require a court order before enforcement of its provisions. But by all accounts the bill is poorly written and vaguely worded. So it should not be too hard to find sympathetic judges to issue those orders based on personal interpretations of loosely worded law.

One of my questions was: what would prevent copyright holders from seeking redress now? The Millennium Digital Copyright Act currently allows copyright holders to ask internet providers to take down specific content that’s in obvious violation of copyright law. In fairness, many providers view this as infringement of First Amendment rights, or an impossibly onerous burden of policing and adjudication, or both. Most would not be expected to be too cooperative with efforts to involve them in efforts to censor their subscribers’ content in any way. And they have a point. This kind of censorship, so prevalent in the far east and parts of the middle east, is used to strengthen totalitarian regimes and neutralize or eliminate dissent. It appears SOPA would partially dismantle protections for websites that act in good faith.

We should not miss noticing this is just a new example of one segment of our “free enterprise system” trying to legally ensnare another segment into doing its bidding.

SOPA advocates claim the bill is not aimed at sites like YouTube which host all manner of content (usually excerpted snippets) uploaded by the public. But, SOPA does not appear to have any protections that would prevent action against a site on the YouTube model if a plaintiff felt like it.

So it is strange indeed that the SOPA bill was introduced by Lamar S. Smith, Republican U.S. Representative from Texas. Smith’s own website prominently banners his aim of “lifting the burden of regulations that is strangling small businesses.”

The “counterfeited goods” provision is also interesting. It has nothing to do with online piracy as the public understands it; it has to do with the intellectual property of the pharmaceutical industry (drug patents), such as Pfizer, which is involved in committee hearings. SOPA could completely block U.S. citizens from gaining online access to Canadian and other international pharmaceutical sites. It is currently already illegal to ship prescription drugs from outside the U.S. whether or not a legitimate doctor’s prescription is supplied. SOPA could prevent you from even viewing those sites:

True censorship: [quote]SOPA would allow judges to order internet service providers to block access to certain websites to customers located in the United States by checking those customers’ IP address, a method known as IP blocking. There have been concerns that such an order would require those providers to engage in “deep packet inspection”, which involves analyzing all of the content being transmitted to and from the user, and which could lead to an invasion of those customers’ privacy. — Wikipedia[/quote]

When Congress placed new restrictions on fees banks could charge retailers for debit card usage, a Bank of America spokesman howled this was “unwarranted interference” with the bank’s ability to conduct its business. BofA then announced its intent to impose a $5 monthly “swipe fee” on its customers, but backed in face of a howl of public protest and boycotts.

The Republican Party, the party of favor for corporations and big business, has long charged moderates and liberals with exactly this kind of “unwarranted interference,” going so far as to claim Big Government is destroying America. Yet, where their own business and lobbying interests are concerned, conservatives and their sponsoring corporations are capable of being even more interventionist than their more moderate political opponents. SOPA isn’t just bad law. SOPA doesn’t actually accomplish what it claims to do. What it instead accomplishes is disturbing. It’s a stealth attack on freedom – a very dangerous thing for business, the country, and informed citizens of any political persuasion.

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Steve Jobs: The Man Who Changed Everything

In my Wednesday October 5th memorial article I said a few words for Steve Jobs:

[quote]Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak brought personal computing out of the science labs and back offices and into average American homes in the 1970’s. The Macintosh, a brilliant synergy of great hardware and a user-friendly software interface, created a sea change in home computing which still raises our expectations today.[/quote]

As I predicted in that article, only days after the passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs, even hardball political commentary broadcasts like Inside Washington were rediscovering how many ways Steve Jobs will continue to influence how we conduct our daily lives. One commentator said that people who used to read real newspapers and real magazines now read the online edition on their iPad. I’d like to take that a step further and say I know people who never used to read real newspapers or real magazines, who’ve started devouring serious professional news resources on their laptops and iPads.

It really doesn’t matter if one does or doesn’t “like” Apple. Some of us have a contrarian distrust of anything that becomes too iconic, too popular, or attracts anything that smells like a cult. Some people may feel all the credit given to Jobs somehow diminishes the real innovations of the many others in other competitive industries. And of course most homes, and the entire business community, still run on the Windows platform. Continue reading

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25 Year Mark for PC’s

This month’s PC World magazine is celebrating their 25th anniversary, which pretty much coincides with the rollout of the IBM PC. Holy cow, has it been that long?

I bought my first personal computer, an Apple II with two 5-1/4 inch floppy drives and 48KB of RAM, in 1979. By 1982 PC Magazine was launched to cover the new IBM PC. (PC World was a spin-off startup after the earlier PC Magazine was sold to new owners, in the same year).
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Google Bid for DoubleClick?

Today’s news reveals rumors that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are exploring bids to acquire the premier internet advertisement firm DoubleClick, for something in the range of $3 billion. It’s even on the radio, but this may be stale. WikiPedia states Google has reached a deal to acquire DoubleClick for $3.1 billion.
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Dell Computer Link

We’re still getting mail on our Dell Computer article “Dell Customer Firewall“. It’s been four years since we posted it. It’s been almost a year since we tossed our Dell i3800 laptop in the dumpster.

I’ve worked for major corporations most of my life. As both employee and interested party, I know the upsides and downsides as well as most folks. I remain generally “pro-business” but also very pro-consumer. In my capacity as medieval serf, I know that some feudal barons are good for the economy and the consumer, and relatively benign. I know that some are bad.

Dell did more to shake my confidence in corporate America than Enron. My personal experience with them revealed so much about their inner workings that I can never again feel the same about large corporations. It would be too much to ask for objective internal checks and balances. We remain at the mercy of the work ethic, business ethic and sense of justice of other individual Americans like ourselves. I’ll take that over government micromanagement, any day.

We also remain at the mercy of customer service policies that would shame Homeland Security. To make sure that not one customer ever cheats the corporation, all suffer under draconian policies and machiavellian attitudes that thinking people simply cannot tolerate.

This is not endemic to all corporations, only to the worst of them. Is corporate consumerism getting more hostile and anti-consumer? It’s hard to say, but look at your credit card agreements sometime. And pay those cards off. A few companies like Dell tar all companies with the same fetid aftertaste.

In that happy vein, I give you a link to another site which studies the modern American phenomenon of feudal consumerism. Visit Crackpotpress. Their Dell article, “Dell Computer: Worst Company Ever” certainly resonates with my own experience.

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Adobe Systems

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle ran an interview with Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe – the PhotoShop software company. Chizen is upbeat about the acquisition of MacroMedia (Flash, Dreamweaver). He has a clear grasp of his company and industry. He comes across as the sort of cool CEO one would like to meet and talk with in person.

On doing business with China, Chizen commented that “it’s a society that hasn’t shown yet an ability to control intellectual property theft.” In other words, China has not come to grips with its runaway software piracy problem.
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The Last Word on Dell

Dear Readers,

Many of you write Summitlake.com about your experience with your Dell computer. Most of you discover the link to my site through Google (or other abstracts). This would not show you that Summitlake.com already has numerous postings on this topic, and even a little-visited bulletin board forum on this topic.

If you want to find out what happened as a result of my own experience with my Inspiron 3800, follow this link:

http://summitlake.com/COMPUTERS_NET/resources/Dell_Customer-Firewall.html
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