If you've been online at all in the last few months, no matter where you live, you've doubtless heard of SOPA and PIPA, the two bills that were set to become laws in the US and that were soundly defeated just a few days ago by the voice of opposition, ie: the massive public outcry that led to the bills' main sponsors pulling their support. That's good. We won. But we only won a very small battle, and there's no time to celebrate.
We need to rethink how we, as Netizens, respond to attacks on our online freedoms because the way it has played out in the past isn't good enough. So what's the problem? Well, we tend to ignore an awful lot of potential legislation until the people sponsoring it try and take something away from us. Then there's a huge public outcry, the petitions circulate, the calls pour in, the sponsors of the bill pull it back and they say, "OK, we'll compromise." And we fall silent, because we beat the big ol' fire-breathing dragon, and compared to that, an orc or goblin isn't so bad.
This is the slope to failure. Because we don't want compromise. We don't want to have our rights stripped away one at a time as opposed to all at once. We don't want our rights stripped away AT ALL. But once we win the big battle, we shrug our shoulders and say, "We won, back to business as usual." And in a few months, we get SOPA-lite or PIPA 2.0, which aren't nearly as bad and maybe don't affect us quite the way the originals would. There's no outcry, they win another small battle, and another right bites the dust.
It's time to stop that right in its tracks. Instead of resting on our laurels, we need to actively bring our interests to the forefront of the debate, because losing by compromise is the death of 1,000 cuts. It's time to get right up in the faces of the MPAA, the RIAA, and anybody else who wants to control how we, as end users, use the products we rightfully pay money for, and push them back. Make them waste every last ounce of political clout and goodwill they've built up in the Senate and House over the years by making them fight on OUR turf from now on.
How can we do this? Simple: we start pushing for things that are the opposite extremes of what they want and force THEM to compromise in our direction for once. Let's lobby for a system where the loser in patent and copyright infringement cases is burdened with the entirety of the bill for the lawsuit, thus making companies think twice about willy-nilly throwing around their might and saying, "We know we'll win because we have a legal budget and you're just a 40-hour workweek drone without the money to hire a lawyer, so how about we settle instead?" Screw you: the burden of proof is back on the accuser, right where it belongs.
Let's push for a rollback of the current copyright laws so that they're not so long-lasting and draconian. In the digital age, copyright as it stands now is more or less a joke. Copyright was intended to give artists and creators the ability to be the sole profiteers from their works for a period of time before the information was released to the public, it wasn't meant to allow the creation of multi-national dynasties and families who ride the coat-tails of work done by relatives who are long-dead. Life plus seventy-five years? Let's try ten to fifteen years and then it's public domain. If you're that creative, you'll be just fine creating additional works that will also have the benefit of 10-15 years of protection. If you're a one-trick pony, then you get paid for your trick and make way for someone else in a few years' time. Seems fair to me.
While we're at it, let's push for the death of software patents all together. Open source projects have shown time and again that creative contributions from large groups of individuals are faster, more efficient, and more agile than the limited releases from giant software companies. We push for death, they compromise with "No, no, but how about 5 years on software patents?" and we win by compromise again.
We need to reinforce and buff up the First Amendment on freedom of speech. Merely linking to something online is not a violation of anybody's rights, just like it's hardly against the law for me to mention Disney, Coca-Cola, Federal Express, or any other company name in my post despite the fact that I don't work for or own any of them. If I link to a YouTube video that contains copyrighted content, that's simple freedom of speech. Period. Paragraph. Go ahead: TRY and compromise with the public on "Congress shall make no law..." I dare you.
So there it is. They pushed, we compromised, and in a few months we'll lose ground we fought so hard to secure in the first place. Now it's our turn. We're going to push, and push, and push, and keep pushing until they're the ones performing a strategic withdraw and yielding back the rights they tried to take away.
Keep writing. Keep calling. When people sponsor, co-sponsor, or rise in favour of legislation that besmirches your rights, flood their offices with reminders that you vote and would like nothing more than to see them ousted from office if they continue to behave in this fashion.
We CAN do this. There are hundreds of millions if us, and only a few hundred of them. Talk with your wallets, talk with your internet connections, talk at the voting booths, and if you live outside the US but have friends there, talk to those friends and pass the message along. The fight isn't over, and it never will be over until we understand that when we compromise on these grounds, we lose. And losing isn't acceptable.