came out forcefully against SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy legislation on Saturday or he staked out a position enabling himself to back away from opposing it outright.The Internet and politics have a way of magnifying each other's faults. Depending upon which source you read this morning, President Obama either
Buried in-between the apparent opposition and the apparent ambivalence is the most important part of Saturday's statement, which would otherwise resound like a clarion call: "Rather than just look at how legislation can be stopped, ask yourself: Where do we go from here? Don't limit your opinion to what's the wrong thing to do, ask yourself what's right."
The actual Obama Administration statement itself may have been as good a compromise as King Solomon himself may have managed in this environment: Speaking on behalf of the administration, a trio of technology officials including the U.S. CTO came out against all the principles that the populist movement against SOPA claimed to be against, without Mr. Obama having to personally stand against the entertainment industry which supported the legislation.
Mr. Obama is a man who insists on walking the tightrope, and doing so quietly and without fanfare lest he get too excited and lose his balance. Finding common ground in this political atmosphere is a nearly impossible feat. Nevertheless, any blueprint for a generally acceptable solution to the Internet anti-piracy problem would have to resemble a mechanism for combatting piracy that:
1. Would not involve any alteration to Internet infrastructure
2. Would not preclude any user from acquiring any content the Internet makes available to him
3. Preserves the safe harbor granted to Internet service providers by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act
4. Maintains guarantees against prosecution for secondary liability already considered to have been granted to service providers who choose their own methods for monitoring and managing content
5. Enables the investigation and prosecution of offenders
6. Would be embraced by the entertainment industry as an effective combat tool for foreign entities suborning piracy
This is the puzzle that the Administration has just handed the American people. "Washington needs to hear your best ideas about how to clamp down on rogue Web sites and other criminals who make money off the creative efforts of American artists and rights holders," reads Saturday's statement. "We should all be committed to working with all interested constituencies to develop new legal tools to protect global intellectual property rights without jeopardizing the openness of the Internet. Our hope is that you will bring enthusiasm and know-how to this important challenge."
Or put another way: If you think you're so smart about the protection of American liberties and the simultaneous upholding of the principles of free speech and free enterprise, you try sitting up here on King Solomon's throne and splitting the baby along the proper lines.
The existing attempts to safeguard the intellectual property of content providers by purely technological means, have collectively been nothing short of hilarious. By building obstacle courses for traffickers to navigate through or, more frequently, around, cryptographers have done little more than create training grounds to improve the skill and acumen of content pirates. And all legislators have managed to do is elevate anti-anti-piracy into a populist cause, so in the future, almost any new effort to seek some sort of effective legal measure to combat piracy will be met with opposition waving the flag of human rights and free speech.
Opposition alone will not resolve the issue. One ReadWriteWeb reader launched a White House petition calling for the substantial alteration or abolishment of copyright law.
We're so accustomed to the easy route to change; we confuse disruption with solution. The status quo is both unacceptable and intolerable because, for it to survive into the future, the Internet must sustain a healthy industry. We can't just strike down the old structure simply because it's old; at some point in time, we must establish a system that respects the rights of everyone who contributes positively to it. If this solution will not come from the technology industry or from lawmakers, then it must come from someone, somewhere among the rest of us.
White House photos.