My appearance on Dot Net Rocks – SOPA | John V. Petersen


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Recently, I was a guest on Dot Net Rocks. As you can see from the comments, this episode stirred the pot a bit. As I’ve always said, if you are not ticking off at least a few people – you are not trying hard enough! There is an update to this show that will be airing on 2/9. The original focus of the show was on SOPA – discussing what it is and perhaps more importantly, what it is not. During the show, I had added that one of the sources of intellectual property law are treaties that the United States ratifies. Seems like a non-consequential statement at the time. Turns out – it was not. For a few years, ACTA has been discussed  – but the topic has not received too much air play given that SOPA was in the news. Now that SOPA has been removed from consideration, ACTA has now entered the limelight.

I want to be clear here – I don’t agree with those that say that laws like SOPA and treaties like ACTA – subvert free speech. Stealing the intellectual property of others is not something that should be tolerated. That said, there were some troubling aspects in SOPA – mostly arising form the lack of due process. The major problem was that based on a mere allegation – a site could be shut down.  It remained to be seen how that law would have been enforced.

ACTA is another thing altogether in that it is a treaty. In my opinion, organizations like the Free Software Foundation (FSF) – completely mis-represent what ACTA is. If there is one thing about ACTA I think is worthy of criticism is the secrecy around the treaty negotiations.

In general, I’m a fan of the FSF. That said, the torch and pitchfork crowd goes a bit too far with their assertions. Here are the FSF’s points:

  1. It makes it more difficult to distribute free software: Without file sharing and P2P technologies like BitTorrent, distributing large amounts of free software becomes much harder, and more expensive. BitTorrent is a grassroots protocol that allows everyone to contribute to legally distributing free software.
  2. It will make it harder for users of free operating systems to play media: Consumers may no longer be able to buy media without DRM — and DRMed media cannot be played with free software.
  3. It increases the chances of getting your devices taken away: Portable media players that support free formats are less common than devices which support DRM, such as the iPod. Will this make them suspicious to border guards?
  4. It creates a culture of surveillance and suspicion, in which the freedom that is required to produce free software is seen as dangerous and threatening rather than creative, innovative, and exciting.

First off, folks need to read ACTA. It states pretty clearly that notions of due process and free speech must endure – that the manner of how ACTA is enforced must be consistient with those ideals. Put it this way, illegal activity occurs on cell phones and computers. Are we less likely to use those devices? Are those devices confiscated today? Of course not. File sharing technology supports legal activities. Indeed, it can support illegal activities as well. That however, does not mean those technologies will go away. This is where common sense and practicality have to kick in. For example – let’s say you in fact, have illegal copies of music on your iPod. How can you tell by looking at the device? More importantly, how could a customs tell? Do we really think this is going to be a priority? 

The fact is – pirated software, music and counterfeit goods are a problem – and it is well within the province of rights-holders to prosecute and protect their rights. That said, it cannot and should not happen at the expense of our rights and our rights to use technology that has legitimate purposes. I happen to think that the MPAA and RIAA, while they have some legitimate concerns, are also comprised of people that for the most part – are clueless on how to deal with these matters. If there is one point to take from the DNR episodes it is this – GET INVOLVED AND STAY INFORMED. If there is one suggestion I’d make to those who have to craft legislation and ratify treaties – it is this – G