Respond­ing to a pair of peti­tions call­ing on Pres­i­dent Oba­ma to take a stand against two bills that threat­en Inter­net free­dom (the so-called “Stop Online Pira­cy Act” and “Pro­tect IP”), three admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials have pub­lished a posi­tion paper on the White House web­site which sug­gests that the admin­is­tra­tion does not find SOPA or PIPA accept­able as cur­rent­ly writ­ten — but unfor­tu­nate­ly stops short of explic­it­ly con­demn­ing either bill. The post appears to be an attempt to acknowl­edge oppo­nents’ griev­ances with­out offend­ing the pow­er­ful trade asso­ci­a­tions (MPAA, RIAA, etc.) that want the abil­i­ty to start cen­sor­ing the Inter­net at will.

Here’s an excerpt:

While we believe that online pira­cy by for­eign web­sites is a seri­ous prob­lem that requires a seri­ous leg­isla­tive response, we will not sup­port leg­is­la­tion that reduces free­dom of expres­sion, increas­es cyber­se­cu­ri­ty risk, or under­mines the dynam­ic, inno­v­a­tive glob­al Internet.

Any effort to com­bat online pira­cy must guard against the risk of online cen­sor­ship of law­ful activ­i­ty and must not inhib­it inno­va­tion by our dynam­ic busi­ness­es large and small. Across the globe, the open­ness of the Inter­net is increas­ing­ly cen­tral to inno­va­tion in busi­ness, gov­ern­ment, and soci­ety and it must be pro­tect­ed. To min­i­mize this risk, new leg­is­la­tion must be nar­row­ly tar­get­ed only at sites beyond the reach of cur­rent U.S. law, cov­er activ­i­ty clear­ly pro­hib­it­ed under exist­ing U.S. laws, and be effec­tive­ly tai­lored, with strong due process and focused on crim­i­nal activ­i­ty. Any pro­vi­sion cov­er­ing Inter­net inter­me­di­aries such as online adver­tis­ing net­works, pay­ment proces­sors, or search engines must be trans­par­ent and designed to pre­vent over­ly broad pri­vate rights of action that could encour­age unjus­ti­fied lit­i­ga­tion that could dis­cour­age start­up busi­ness­es and inno­v­a­tive firms from growing.

We must avoid cre­at­ing new cyber­se­cu­ri­ty risks or dis­rupt­ing the under­ly­ing archi­tec­ture of the Inter­net. Pro­posed laws must not tam­per with the tech­ni­cal archi­tec­ture of the Inter­net through manip­u­la­tion of the Domain Name Sys­tem (DNS), a foun­da­tion of Inter­net secu­ri­ty. Our analy­sis of the DNS fil­ter­ing pro­vi­sions in some pro­posed leg­is­la­tion sug­gests that they pose a real risk to cyber­se­cu­ri­ty and yet leave con­tra­band goods and ser­vices acces­si­ble online. We must avoid leg­is­la­tion that dri­ves users to dan­ger­ous, unre­li­able DNS servers and puts next-gen­er­a­tion secu­ri­ty poli­cies, such as the deploy­ment of DNSSEC, at risk.

The three cosign­ers of the posi­tion paper (Vic­to­ria Espinel, Aneesh Chopra, Howard Schmidt) con­clude by urg­ing all sides to work togeth­er to pass leg­is­la­tion to curb copy­right and trade­mark infringe­ment in 2012, demon­strat­ing a com­plete lack of under­stand­ing of the pol­i­tics sur­round­ing SOPA and PIPA.

SOPA and PIPA are before Con­gress because a car­tel of media con­glom­er­ates and their indus­try mouth­pieces are obsessed with try­ing to restrict dig­i­tal free­dom. The Inter­net is the one medi­um they don’t own, because it was designed to be decen­tral­ized. Like many oth­er activists, users, and entre­pre­neurs, we believe the Inter­net’s decen­tral­ized design is its great­est strength — it’s what makes the Inter­net open and demo­c­ra­t­ic, allow­ing for true two-way communication.

But media exec­u­tives don’t like what they can’t con­trol. They claim that online shar­ing of movies, books, music, and tele­vi­sion shows is destroy­ing their prof­its, and they want to stamp it out. That’s the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion they’ve offered for SOPA and PIPA. But that’s not what they are real­ly after.

They don’t say so pub­licly, but their ambi­tion is to cableize the Inter­net, or in oth­er words, alter its design to make it more like cable television.

See, as long as the Inter­net remains decen­tral­ized, online shar­ing will be impos­si­ble to stamp out, and it will like­wise be impos­si­ble to restrict how peo­ple timeshift and spaceshift con­tent. Media con­glom­er­ates want to dis­man­tle the Inter­net and replace it with a Medi­anet they can control.

That’s what SOPA and PIPA are real­ly about: begin­ning the process of alter­ing the Inter­net to make it more like cable tele­vi­sion. The rea­son so many of the bil­l’s pro­vi­sions seem harm­ful to free expres­sion, e‑commerce, and inno­va­tion is because they’re sup­posed to be. It is no acci­dent that these bills were writ­ten with­out input from Inter­net engi­neers, entre­pre­neurs, or users.

The MPAA and RIAA have been hop­ing to avoid a big pub­lic debate about this leg­is­la­tion, (cor­rect­ly) fear­ing that it would lead to insur­mount­able opposition.

But despite their efforts to advance SOPA and PIPA as qui­et­ly as pos­si­ble, oppo­si­tion is grow­ing by the day, and law­mak­ers the RIAA and MPAA had pre­vi­ous­ly signed up as sup­port­ers are start­ing to back away.

We have no inter­est in attempt­ing to find com­mon ground with the likes of the RIAA and MPAA because we can­not trust them. They have already act­ed in bad faith by writ­ing this leg­is­la­tion them­selves and try­ing to ram it through Con­gress with­out a pub­lic debate. Besides, we don’t believe that online copy­right and trade­mark infringe­ment is a prob­lem that can be solved through legislation.

We would not be opposed to thought­ful­ly draft­ed leg­is­la­tion intend­ed to alle­vi­ate or mit­i­gate infringe­ment. But there’s noth­ing thought­ful or sen­si­ble about SOPA or PIPA. These bills have been craft­ed to dam­age and under­mine the Inter­net by cor­po­ra­tions that fear the Inter­net. They must be stopped.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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