Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Take on SOPA/PIPA


On January 18th Wikipedia and many other high profile websites will be shutting themselves down for the day (or half day in many cases) in protest of the proposed SOPA and PIPA bills in the United States congress.  These bills intended to be a tool to fight against online piracy.  I believe that was the initial intent and that intent is good.  Content Piracy is already illegal.  These bills would not suddenly make them legal.  What these bills will do is empower companies and the government.  The power given allows them to circumvent constitutional rights and rule of law.  A simple accusation of piracy is enough cause (according to these bills) search and seizure of any company or individual by the government.   Instead of being innocent until proven guilty the accused would be considered guilty.  This may be a harsh and over simplification of the bills but the possibility is there. 

The problem with online privacy is that it is a difficult task to enforce.  It takes time, equipment and manpower.  Remove the red tape (like getting a court order, proving quilt, following the law, etc.) and the task becomes much more simple.  As written, it is my opinion that SOPA and PIPA are not good for the public nor are they good for business.

As a blogger, writer, author, and video creator, I do not want my content illegal used.  Why?  Because my content is my product.  My product provides income.  If that income is circumvented then I loose.  Yes, illegal copyright infringement hurts my wallet so I don’t like it.  I’m selfish that way.  I have only been creating CAD training videos for a few years but those videos have already been pirated and given away illegally on the internet.  I would love to extend my accusatory index finger at the perpetrators and shout “STOP THIEF!!!”  But I can’t.  There is a proper process to follow.  If SOPA/PIPA are passed then I will have the power to shut them down and send the government into their businesses, homes and into the homes and business of the people providing them internet connections, hosting space, etc.  Anyone that downloaded the files illegally can be searched, jailed and held.  When your adolescent child downloads illegal CAD Training videos so he can create a drawing for a school project remember SOPA/PIPA could have been stopped while you and your home computers are being carried off to jail.

Ok.  That’s extreme.  I know, and it’s probably not fair either.  But the U.S. government, though it claims to be free, has in the past, gone on “witch hunts” against groups of people on far less of an accusation.  It will happen again unless we hold our representatives accountable to the people.

Let’s get back to reality for a minute.  Let’s look at things from a small engineering or architectural firm’s perspective.  A firm the with twenty or thirty (or even one hundred) employees does not have a lot of resources.  However, most of us work for a company about that size.  If you have created a drawing or exhibit with a project location map on it, what data did you use?  Was it the GIS linework that was provided to you from your local municipality?  Or did you PRINT SCREEN and use an image from Google Maps?  If you did the later then you committed a copyright violation.  OOPS!  If that drawing gets anywhere near the internet or if you host a similarly obtained image on your company website you are in violation of SOPS/PIPA and could be subject to a whole lot of trouble.  The reason is that Google has a copyright on the Google Maps data (the image) and there are certain procedures that have to be followed in order to use that data.  If you followed their procedures then you are not in violation.  What are those procedures?  Better find out and soon because if you don’t know then you probably aren’t following them.

Let’s look at something else while we are at it.  My friend and fellow CAD Trainer, Michael E. Bell had a website called “autocadtrainerguy.com”.  Now Michael is a professional CAD Trainer and has been for a very long time.  He is well respected and depends on Autodesk products for a living.  Very much the same way you and I do.  A few months ago Autodesk contacted him to let him know that his URL (website address) was a copyright violation and that he needed to stop.  He was happy to oblige because technically it was in violation, as far as I understand it.  His new site is CADTRAINERGUY.COM.  (Go check it out.)  Under SOPA/PIPA Autodesk could have called the authorities and had his website forced down, his IP, his hosting service, and have seized Michael’s computers and training material.  Michael wasn’t the only website Autodesk sought out and I bet they won’t be the last.  I’m ok with that.  Why?  Because if there is a copyright infringement then it needs to stop.  Autodesk seems to have handled things well and within the boundaries of the law.  By the way, Autodesk has publicly announced that they do not support SOPA.  If anyone would Autodesk would support it because AutoCAD (and other Autodesk products) is one of the most pirated programs in the world.  If SOPA passes and you are using an illegal version of AutoCAD you might want to freak out.

Long and short I do want copyright protection but I do not want to subvert the rule of law.  And I do apologize if I have missed the mark on this but it is what I am thinking and feeling.

 Sorry for the rant.  Move along…nothing to see here…
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