We all deserve better than SOPA-PIPA

As of this morning, SOPA and its evil twin, PIPA, are effectively dead. A tsunami of public outrage pushed a major realignment in Congress. Plans for votes were canceled.

But these bills are not truly dead. Like zombies, they'll be back, propelled by the rage of content owners.

I don't share the rage, but I understand it. In the nearly 18 years I've been working in digital media, I've had to deal with a number of cases of outright thievery -- stolen images and artwork, copied stories, hijacked data, trademark violations. Once I discovered that some geek working for Lexis-Nexis was reposting to Usenet every newspaper story that mentioned the Grateful Dead. It happens.

And I understand the resentment of Google, which has become insanely wealthy by fixing a problem (how to find things) that content creators weren't smart enough to understand, much less address. Google's rise contributed to a glut of ad inventory that has hammered down ad prices, exacerbating the troubles of old-line media companies struggling to figure out the disruptive forces of the Internet.

But I don't share it. Google created value, and is not responsible for the plight of (for example) newspapers. And let's keep in mind that jealousy is not a virtue.

"Intellectual property" is not a natural right. It's a limited artificial monopoly enforced by the government for practical purposes, such as described in the Constitution: "the Progress of Science and useful Arts." It's not absolute, and there is such a thing as "fair use" of copyrighted materials, which is why I'm illustrating this post with a screen shot from The Simpsons.

As someone who's worked in the content creation business all my adult life, I think we need copyright laws that are fair, enforceable, and in the public interest. They should not violate free-speech rights. Persons accused of violations should be able to defend their case in court before suffering penalties, not after. Penalties should be in reasonable proportion to substantiated claims of genuine damage. And only actors, not third parties, should be affected.

And such laws should be written by representatives of the people, not by lobbyists.

These things seem obvious. The very existence of SOPA-PIPA demonstrates how corporate money has corrupted Congress. We all deserve better.