a legal analysis of the Stop Online Piracy Act and its Senate Counterpart, the PROTECT-IP bill. Our story prompted a spirited, logical, and largely rational debate between e-novel author Rowena Cherry, who supports the legislation, and TechDirt founder Michael Masnick, who opposes it.Last Wednesday, ReadWriteWeb published
I've been on record as saying that we as a society have forgotten how to debate. These two have not. While they may not always have been as strictly civil with one another as Lincoln and Douglas, they both demonstrated some lessons that both opponents and supporters of the bill may perhaps put to good use:
1. It's better to oppose a concept by taking it apart than by building it up into something big, bureaucratic, and conspiratorial. There is opposition on both sides of the SOPA issue: One side is opposed to piracy, the other to government regulation of Internet domains. Thus far, the efforts to demonize piracy in the public mind by ballooning it into a global conspiracy to destroy the entertainment industry, has had the opposite of the intended effect. And on the other side, the effort to demonize legislators and the supporters of the bill(s) as global conspirators to suppress the free speech of private citizens, has only empowered legislators to blindly press ahead rather than consider the merits of the actual language they're proposing. Just because bigness is, by virtue, unpopular does not mean a cause can or should be rendered unpopular by casting its supporters as bigger than they truly are.
2. Causes change, and viewpoints must change with them. Last year's version of Senate anti-piracy legislation (which went under the acronym COICA) included a provision where authorities would accumulate blacklists of suspected bad actors, and give service providers rewards for thwarting access to blacklisted addresses on their own. That provision was largely unpopular, for obvious reasons; and in the current PROTECT-IP legislation, the language has been stricken. Nevertheless, popular opposition continues to rant against the non-existent blacklist provision, and has even tried to suggest that by omitting the language, Congress is injecting blacklists into the system through some sort of stealth. Not keeping up with the changes in stance of one's opponent makes one's own opposition look foolish and feeble, and gives those whom you're debating with opportunities for advantage.
3. It serves one's own cause to respect his or her opponent's viewpoint as earnest rather than subsidized. Going back to #1, part of how the more automated opposition to a cause works is by painting him as a "paid shill" for one of the more demonized, "big" parties - e.g., the entertainment industry, lobbyists, Microsoft, Google, the "pirate mafia." You can win a chess game once you respect the fact that your opponent is playing chess with you, rather than some other duplicitous game under the table. When a debater trusts her or his own chances at success on a level playing field, he demonstrates his own self-confidence, as well as the belief that his cause is just and his arguments are sound.