The House is entertaining a bill to shut down websites that traffic in pirate loot lifted from off the Internets. Arrrr. The Stop Online Piracy Act is the House version of the Senate’s Theft of Intellectual Property Act or Protect IP Act. The acts are designed to “crack down on websites accused of piracy of movies, television shows and music and the sale of counterfeit goods.”
Section 201, under Title II, states, “Streaming of copyrighted works in violation of criminal law.” One imagines this could include embedding copyrighted YouTube videos on one’s website or Ustreaming live events, whether for fair use of facilitating criticism, non-profit educational purposes, political satire, or other forms of normally protected speech. (A recent federal court case striking down political satire as protected speech, should cause us all concern, however.)
For those unfamiliar, Fair Use considerations constitute four factors :
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
As the Copyright Office admits, “The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined.”
The SOPA bill states obtusely that:”Nothing in this Act shall be construed to impose a prior restraint on free speech or the press protected under the 1st amendment to the Constitution.” Additionally, it qualifies, “Nothing in title I shall be construed to enlarge or diminish liability, including vicarious or contributory liability, for any cause of action available under title 17, United States Code, including any limitations on liability under such title.” Furthermore, in typical standard operating procedure, a “severability” clause is included, meaning that if any part of the Act is found to be unconstitutional, the rest would presumably still apply. This is pretty routine nowadays, but is a very dubious form of reasoning. The Constitution is what it is, and cannot be nullified or restricted in its applicability in such blase, declarative fashion.
If imposed on the people, the bill would effectively put unauthorized or “rogue” users of online entertainment and news in the crosshairs of both media giants and politicians with something to fear or to hide from the public. The alliance of politicians and mass media heavies is becoming even more apparent after the shameful in-the-tank cheerleading of the relatively obscure Obama during his last election campaign, which never effectively ended.
Certainly, the relationship between politics and art has never been closer in American history. An examination of several children’s shows reveal intense environmentalist propaganda and multicultural awareness raising almost across the board. A survey of the entertainment horizon shows the left-wing political messaging to be systematic and complementary. Dissent within that realm could very much be perceived as a threat to cultural marxists, who seek to dominate the economy through closely controlling the realm of mass culture.
Beyond the obvious left-wing bias that drives flocks of Americans into the waiting arms of FoxNews, for better or for worse, President Obama recently even had the brass cajones to hold a meeting with several entertainment industry elites behind closed doors. And no, it wasn’t a fundraiser. Those who follow the president’s administration closely might also recall its NEA scandal, where a group of artists were financed to specifically promote Obama.
Entertainment could become a trojan horse to silence speech on politically undesirable websites. Just as recently as last year, several websites were shut down without due process by a division of DHS. Such is a violation of Americans’ fifth amendment rights, potentially stifles first amendment rights, and could result in financial harm.
The entertainment industry has a right to protect its intellectual property. But it must do so through the courts on a case by case basis. The industry must show specific harm caused by a particular user, must address that source of harm and only that source of harm, and any criminal punishment must be proportional to the scale of the offense.
Instating an Internet version of the Alien and Sedition Acts, or the Espionage Act of 1917, which would effectively criminalize and suppress criticism of the government, would be greatly helpful to an authoritarian regime that has shown little-to-no restraint in violating the rights of Americans in other capacities. We must not allow the U.S. government to pick us off one at a time without causing a stir, incrementally eroding our rights while the government veils its true motives through obfuscation, and then flagrantly tramples the rule of law.
As posted on Political Crush.