Home > Corporate World, Corruption, RIAA & Piracy > SOPA, PIPA, and the Erosion of the Separation of Corporate and State Police

SOPA, PIPA, and the Erosion of the Separation of Corporate and State Police

January 18th, 2012

While it’s a slightly encouraging sign that the White House has signaled its opposition to the SOPA and PIPA legislation, it does so only on some technical grounds, not on what I would think are the more fundamental grounds, leading to the distinct possibility that the worst of these acts will eventually pass.

If you get a copy of the legislation (PDF file), you’ll note an entire section (starting on page 34) which allows a “qualifying plaintiff”–effectively a corporation holding copyrights–broad powers to act against anyone they feel is infringing on those rights. All they have to do is try to send mail (pages 35-36), if any addresses are available, and the action has started. If there’s no mail or if no one responds in seven days (page 38), then their powers expand considerably. The corporation can then get a court order which will go into effect in any jurisdiction (no more of this filing individual actions in each district) which will, within 5 days, shut down the web site’s account, force financial services (e.g., VISA or PayPal) to cut off their accounts (page 38-39), force advertisers to cut off all ads for the site which could include normal search engine results (page 40), and allow the corporation to send threatening messages to the site’s users (page 41). If the site owner still hasn’t shown up, the corporation can get a court to force them to comply and fine them (page 42).

Let’s say you have a monetized blog and a music label doesn’t like how you quoted lyrics from a song they own. They can not only send you a cease-and-desist order, but now that is backed up by an effective nuclear arsenal of legal weapons which, within 12 days, can utterly destroy your web site. You might be on vacation, or simply didn’t post an email address. Too bad, sucker–Sony Music just had your site taken down, all your links struck, all your accounts shut down, and sent threatening messages to everyone who left comments on your site or whose IP got any content from you.

Or let’s say you have an online business selling items, which may include items which make fair use of copyrighted material, say in the form of satire, protest, or other protected speech. If the corporation which owns that content wants to, they can take you down–and your powers to fight back are now excruciatingly limited, considering that they can smother your livelihood virtually at will.

More to the point, they can threaten you with all this–unless you do exactly what they tell you immediately. If you want to fight it, you might have to travel a great distance at great expense on a very short timetable, hauling your attorney along with you–while the corporation threatening you has to exert only minimal effort and expense. This could make for the mother of all nuisance lawsuit runs.

The proposed laws would effectively give the music and movie industries a host of powers they have tried to abuse in the past but could not. Instead of having to threaten lawsuits in which people could defend themselves, they can now threaten immediate action which could cost the accused even more if they tried to defend themselves. No more “pay us $3000 or we’ll sue you” nonsense–now we’ll start hearing about threats where people are forced to cough up much more, once the amount of damage they can incur with only minimal expense has increased greatly.

Note also that these copyright holders are being given similar powers as law enforcement. I can’t be the only one concerned about this as a trend, can I?

The same copyright holders who routinely sue people for outrageous amounts based only upon an IP address, when it is clear the targets had nothing to do with the infringement? The same copyright holders who have made a habit of shaking down individuals for thousands of dollars apiece against the threat of costing ten times more to fight what may be specious allegations in a court of law–in effect, hundreds of thousands of sham nuisance lawsuits? The same copyright holders who then opened the door for innumerable scam artists to wield the same legal weapons as means for even greater shakedowns of the general public?

The same copyright holders who paid off politicians to get the DMCA, and made it the law of the land that stealing one song could incur fines of up to $150,000?

These same people are now paying money (let’s face it, our government was up for sale long before Citizen’s United) for legislation to get these new acts passed, ones where the copyright holders are given access to similar powers as law enforcement? Where they will be able to, with the same flimsy standards of “proof” that they have abused for years now, have any person they choose lose their web site and possibly their livelihood, have their access to advertising shut down, close off any methods of receiving income, and even force search engines to erase any sign that they exist? Even lead to their imprisonment?

Yes, yes, I know they will not start doing this to everyone. But from their past actions, it is clear they will cast a wide net and will not hesitate to ruin people who are clearly innocent in order to maintain the illusion that they don’t make mistakes because their system of collecting evidence is a sham. And yes, I know they are not becoming a new armed police force who can act independently and with impunity. But they are beginning to take on roles that traditionally have been wholly in the realm of public law enforcement.

This is what concerns me most: the precedent that is being set. The precedent that corporations are now active participants not only in creation of absurdly lopsided legislation (which gives then extraordinary awards for pedestrian crimes, the effects of said infringements being in fact very much debatable), but are also becoming active participants in the process of enforcement of these laws. Corporations as police, corporations which can act not just to sue people but to immediately erase their businesses in an age where many businesses are based on the web. And then, later, sort things out and maybe impoverish them or send them to jail for a few years. Based upon legislation they wrote to their advantage and then paid lawmakers to make into the law of the land.

Surely I cannot be the only one who sees this not only as an exercise in rabid plutocracy, but also as a trial balloon for future expansion?

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  1. Roger
    January 19th, 2012 at 08:28 | #1

    It concerns me deeply that I do not hear others saying this… and yes, you are not alone. I see these efforts as very troubling and a sign of a very bad trend.

    There’s another one I got alerted to just the other day… the “Research Works Act” (RWA) (HR 3699)… this would make the findings of science research funded by tax payer dollars (such as the NIH – which contributes to a vast array of health research) – it would make such research results private… and thus would remove the current requirement that all such tax-payer funded research be publicly available. It would make such research less effective… it would slow down scientific advances and limit scientific knowledge – at tax payer expense… so that corporations could make a few bucks on the side as they sell access to the data/results – or block access for market advantage. As long as money is in politics in the unlimited manner it is now, I think we can fully expect an ongoing assault on our system through various such legislative vehicles.

  2. Tester
    January 19th, 2012 at 09:02 | #2

    Public assets going to private corporations is a much older story, from the land grabs of the railroad barons to the no-bid contracts for administration cronies. Some are institutionalized, like the fact that energy companies get to suck oil from public lands virtually for free, then turn around and charge us for the result, and then get billions in tax rebates to boot. I hear idiot politicians and pundits whining about how much NASA spends and costs the taxpayer without profit, but nothing about how corporations get to milk the advancements which the public paid for.

    Bad as it is, shaking down the taxpayer / citizen is one thing… but taking on the role of police is another. The role is ripe for abuse, and could lead to more significant police roles. We already have private firms doing crap like running prisons for profit, which results in longer incarcerations and less interest in reforming criminals. And what with people like Gingrich starting to openly support the idea of arresting judges for making legal decision which are constitutionally correct but he does’t happen to like, how long before they find a way to “privatize” that as well?

    Weird as it may sound, shutting down open inquiry in science for the sake of private profit is, while reprehensible, far from the worst that’s going on. But absolutely, add it to the list.

  3. Troy
    January 19th, 2012 at 09:51 | #3

    As a creator of IP I would profit much more than lose in the world of draconian anti-piracy controls. I have a close friend who likes downloading JPOP torrents and would hate to lose that source of free entertainment.

    At some level SOPA etc. are kinda like PPACA’s health insurance mandate, people who are already “following the rules” won’t be affected, and overall we’d find the market working better over time.

    But I don’t want to see the state instituting a content-control legal framework, for what *can* be abused probably *will* be someday.

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