This was originally a letter I wrote to my district representative, Renee Ellmers. I decided that it suited my needs for an “In my own words” response to the current legislation before Congress and the House.
CLIFFS: (i.e. a brief summary of the WOT before you [wall of text])
1st third: How I became the man I am through the anonymnity of the internet and why it should be preserved.
last two-thirds: A clear argument for why this issue isn’t just about piracy and never can be.
I apologize in advance for not being aware of your stance on issues such as the recently introduced PIPA and SOPA bills, but since I generally avoid politics I find myself ill-equipped knowledge-wise when approaching my representatives.
It is, however, an imperative for me to communicate to you and my other district representation the extent to which I stand in opposition of this type of legislation. While I confess this is lengthy, I urge you to read through it so that you can gather how deeply damaging this type of legislation would be to who and what the current environment of anonymous, free and open information has made my generation as well as the one the followed us; the current one.
How the anonymnity of the Internet made me who I am today
Unlike the vast majority of your constituents I have been actively involved in the development of the Internet since as early as 1980. At a mere 5 years of age I began to familiarize myself with WildCat BBS, SMTP email, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), gopher and other, less well-known technologies through my father’s friend and colleague whom I will call ‘Dennis’.Dennis had a rare thing in the early 80s: a very large satellite up-link to the Internet. With the assistance of an extensive bank of modems and a hefty telephone bill he was able to provide internet services to small businesses (and even some larger ones) throughout all of Eastern Horry County, South Carolina (further if you were willing to pay the extended range fees our coop imposed for not-quite-long-distance).
By the time I was 14 I had already used my meager salary and a loan from my father to purchase my first 286SX (with a 287 math co-processor and a whopping 256k of SIPP memory!) Two things at this time changed my life forever. The first began with the aforementioned WildCat BBS. By this time I had become assistant sysop on the ISP and as such I had access to virtually the entire system. While perusing some of the shared files I came across some child pornography. I worked anonymously with the local FBI office providing detailed information that lead directly to the arrest and prosecution of the person responsible. The oh-so-important thing here is ANONYMITY. I was a child and I knew that if the true nature of my age came out it could (and probably would) prevent justice from being administered.
Only a short time later I realized that while being a computer freak had helped bolster my math skills, literary dexterity and broadened my general knowledge it had not done a thing for my social life. I was one of the few geeks capable of understanding that while appearances and mannerisms SHOULD not affect one’s acceptance in society, it most definitely DID affect it. Through the anonymity provided by the internet I was able to engineer no fewer than fourteen distinct personalities built up from traits that I possessed and some that I was considering developing. I then would act out these personalities according to scripted performances with other people in live online activities all the while observing and documenting the response(s) of others to the personality traits I was considering adopting.
I fully understand that this is far more analytic, methodical and scientific than the processes followed by most of my peers during adolescence but it seemed the most logical course of action to me at the time. Even so, it worked. I was able, with a few notable exceptions, to successfully adopt the most admired and successful traits and integrate them into my personality. I have continued to hone this skill of intentional self-help development throughout my adult life and career and it has served me quite well in job searches and social engagements.The point of all of this is that the person writing this, the personality that I call “myself”, would never and could never exist in a social environment dominated by the legal restraints imposed upon the users and uses of our social technology by SOPA and PIPA.
Is this really about “Piracy”?
Moving past the issue of anonymity I must next direct your attention to the issue of Piracy, the foundational issue upon which these monstrously misguided bills are constructed.Some organizations among whom I single out the MPAA, RIAA, SBA as well as a very (very) few ‘pen and ink’ authors would have you believe that intellectual property ‘piracy’ is substantially reducing their profit margins and possibly even threatening their respective industries. They are lying. Oh yes, I called them on it: they are LYING outright and unabashedly for the pathetically despicable combination of vices known as LAZINESS and GREED.
Wher authors destroyed by the public library system which allows people to go out and pick up books free of charge, read them, and then return them without ever so much as sending a single penny to the author? Not even close, quite the opposite in fact.
Wher the production companies, movie studios, distribution labels and other companies involved in the motion picture industry destroyed, as they claimed they would be, by the VHS tape? Of course not. In point of fact they quickly found out that they were making far more than ever before! Suddenly the movies that were too old or lacking to be worthy of a run in the theater could generate revenue streams indefinitely!
Now comes the Internet. Suddenly it is possible for a relatively unskilled person with limited knowledge to find, download and watch a movie or listen to a song they haven’t paid for… or have they?First off, let’s consider how this “IP” (a term I will attack later for it’s lunacy) gets on the internet.
- Someone with access to a viable recorded medium (preview disk, rental, video camera in a theater, etc… creates a compressed digital copy of the ‘IP’. While it is true that an uneducated person might get lucky and create a viable copy of a DVD using a simple ‘plug and rip’ technology like drip it is pretty rare. Most of the time the person making the copy has to understand compression algorithms, bit-rates, aspect ratio, playback speed, encoding quality, buffering… I’m losing you aren’t I? Suffice it to say that creating a high-quality distributional copy of a movie is non-trivial.
- Someone, possibly the same someone but unlikely, with access to relatively high-end hosting equipment needs to provide the initial share. Even when considering P2P technology the initial ‘seeding process’ requires extensive bandwidth.
- Promotion and cross-linking drive the knowledge of the source up the chain until it has been sufficiently seeded to be generally available to the average Internet-savvy seeker.
Let’s rehash shall we? For some reason an intelligent and well-educated person collaborates with another intelligent and well-educated person to commit a potentially life-destroying crime that requires the identical equipment, time, expense and knowledge of a modern media publishing house or distributor. Surely that has to be for money right? Nope. It isn’t for a single cent of money.
Well then it’s fame right? You get famous for doing this right? Are you friggin’ kidding me???? You may have a famous pseudonymous avatar that has absolutely no ties whatever to your real identity but to allow ANYONE, even your family, to know that that avatar is really you would be fatal to your freedom.
Ok, so why on earth are they doing this? If it’s not for money or fame what could it be for? Try this: freedom. It’s a technological revolution. It’s a fight to the dirty end against big money’s grip on information and the dissemination of that information.
Do you remember the first time that you saw “Mr Smith goes to Washington”? Do you remember how angry it made you when that political machine destroyed the reputation of Mr. Smith. While the politician in the movie owned the machine, we all know who really owns the machine: the distributors. The pipeline. The telephone, cable and publishing houses that control what gets out at what price and at what time can totally control what and how people think by simply manipulating a few of the massive number of variables that control the dissemination of information to the public.
In a country where nearly everyone has the ability to say something nearly everything gets said. It isn’t WHAT is said that matters… it’s about WHO SEES AND HEARS IT.
So then consider this: if there ever becomes a way for someone to have absolute control over who can and cannot read, watch or listen to a piece of content, no matter who OWNS it, we have ALL LOST. If one can sufficiently control distribution for the purpose of limiting unauthorized access, the very next logical step is to limit access to unauthorized information.
It has always happened throughout history and we, as a society and as a species, haven’t changed that much yet…
This isn’t about anyone watching a movie or listening to a song they didn’t pay for… this is about control of information… we can’t allow it or we will ALL lose.