Goodbye SOPA, Hello OPEN

The recent victory over SOPA is to be shorter-lived than anyone might have thought. The very same day over 7,000 websites went dark to protest SOPA, the OPEN bill was introduced.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) introduced H.R. 3782, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, the same day as an Internet protest when a number of high-profile websites such as Wikipedia went dark. Issa says the new billdelivers stronger intellectual property rights for American artists and innovators while protecting the openness of the Internet. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has introduced the OPEN Act in the U.S. Senate.

OPEN would give oversight to the International Trade Commission (ITC) instead of the Justice Department, focuses on foreign-based websites, includes an appeals process, and would apply only to websites that “willfully” promote copyright violation. SOPA and PIPA, in contrast, would enable content owners to take down an entire website, even if just one page on it carried infringing content, and imposed sanctions after accusations — not requiring a conviction.

Read the whole thing.

The danger of this legislation is two-fold. First, it removes copyright violation from the sphere of the US legal system and instead puts it in the hands of the ITC, a regulatory body in the pocket of the major corporations. Any law that would require you to surrender your right to public trial by jury ought to get tossed – and just by basic, common sense. This puts the entertainment conglomerates in the place of government over the internet, with the power to legislate, try, render judgement on and execute sanctions and penalties to anyone who threatens their bottom line. I hardly need tell you that’s a bad thing. Though OPEN is touted as keeping the internet open, it actually closes it in a different way. Websites still get shut down, you just get prosecuted by the international business interests, not the government.

The second danger is that, while aimed at foreign pirates, the OPEN act will still penalize culture and individual citizens, first by allowing the corporations to prosecute them still further, but secondly in removing the citizen’s appeal to trial by their peers – not that the courts have been any more willing to be reasonable in copyright issues either.

We can all oppose any business that is making money by re-selling copyrighted material for profit. That is real piracy and ought not be tolerated. What we should not oppose is the prosecution of individuals who are sharing content in a non-profit fashion with other people, or who are producing mash-ups and remixes of copyrighted content. All data available shows that the more sharing is done between individuals, the more money both parties spend on consuming goods. Sharing and remixing introduces content to those who otherwise wouldn’t have looked at it and in so doing creates more fans. The right to remix and mash up content is the expression of love by fans for their favorite entertainment shows and media content. There is no data to suggest file-sharing is detrimental to the industry’s bottom line. None. On the other hand, there’s lots of evidence to suggest that a fan getting prosecuted for participating in his favorite show’s culture by remixing footage destroys that fan’s appreciation of your work, as well as a negative impact on others who like the show.

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