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For Chrissakes, Al

by Paul Rapp on June 1, 2011

Here we go again. Last year, loaded up with mountains of money, shiny lobbyists, phony statistics and cheap rhetoric, Big Media landed on Congress and nearly passed a bill called COICA (“Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act”) that would have allowed the government and courts to block domains of sites determined to be infringing on someone’s IP, and to require Internet service companies to do the government’s bidding in blocking traffic.

COICA was an awful bill, one that essentially ceded control of the Internet to Big Media (because government enforcement would be completely at the behest of Big Media), and shifted the responsibility for the enforcement of IP rights from the owner of the IP (Big Media) to the government and ISP’s (we would be paying for the government and Internet providers to prop up the record and movie companies’ otherwise unsupportable business models). Finally, the whole effort was doomed to fail anyway. COICA was nothing more than a blueprint for another big, expensive and stupid game of Whac-A-Mole, and when COICA inevitably failed to stop stuff moving across the Internet, Big Media would use that failure as fodder for even more expansive government-corporate control of the Internet. There was a lot of highly paid think-tank support for the bill. Opposition to COICA flowed out of academia, from human-rights groups, from First Amendment advocates, from entrepreneurs and artists who owe their careers to an open Internet. More than one commentator said that COICA would “break the Internet.”

While you’re pondering the law, consider this: The corporate sponsors of COICA have at one time or another accused Google (and almost every other search engine), YouTube, MySpace (when it mattered), Netflix, Apple, your phone company, your cable company, your Internet company, libraries, colleges, the fair-use doctrine and the First Amendment all of being responsible for “piracy” and “stealing.” With COICA, Big Media wanted the government to bring down the hammer and kill whatever world-changing disruptive technologies came along next.

Shamefully, the bill was supported in the Senate by the likes of Chuck Schumer, Pat Leahy, and Al Franken, who joined dimwits like John Kyl and Jeff Sessions in letting this thing out of committee. If it wasn’t for a single brave senator, Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon, COICA would be the law today. Wyden put a “member’s hold” on the bill, and it died. A member’s hold is one of those ridiculously arcane and anti-democratic Senate maneuvers that most recently has been abused almost exclusively by Republicans seeking to kill anything remotely progressive.   Good to see a little karmic balance with the silly thing.

Well, that was last year; this year there’s a new bill, the “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act,” or the PROTECT-IP Act. Don’t these titles make you want to throw up?

This year, the rhetoric is all about how this scary bad Internet thingee is stealing good American jobs and needs to be “reined in.” Jobs! America! The bill is a slight improvement over COICA, but is largely the same highway to Internet fascism, all in the name of saving those terrific record and movie companies that supply us with an endless stream of uplifting and inexpensive entertainment products!

Pretty much the same senators voted for it. Yup, Schumer, Leahy and Franken, again. C’mon Al, fer chrissakes you’re smarter than this. Or have you been bought off, too?

Once again, Sen. Wyden has stepped in and put a hold on the bill. His statement makes you wonder if maybe he’s the only guy in Washington who understands what’s going on here:

“I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective. At the expense of legitimate commerce, PIPA’s prescription takes an overreaching approach to policing the Internet when a more balanced and targeted approach would be more effective. The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet.

“The Internet represents the shipping lane of the 21st century. It is increasingly in America’s economic interest to ensure that the Internet is a viable means for American innovation, commerce, and the advancement of our ideals that empower people all around the world. By ceding control of the Internet to corporations through a private right of action, and to government agencies that do not sufficiently understand and value the Internet, PIPA represents a threat to our economic future and to our international objectives. Until the many issues that I and others have raised with this legislation are addressed, I will object to a unanimous consent request to proceed to the legislation.”

We can’t let this brave soul be the only thing standing between us and corporate stifling of the Internet. Help him before Big Media takes care of him. Write a letter.