It must have been 1995, because I remember getting sick of Michael Jordan real quick after his return to the Chicago Bulls. We had just gotten AOL, and I took it upon myself to draw a mustache and giant eyeglasses on a photo of Jordan I downloaded, along with a giant cartoon knife poorly drawn in MS Paint.
I posted it to some AOL image repository, and they actually accepted it. I got my first-ever hate mail on the Internet at 12. I bring this up not to point out I’ve turned being a classless jerk on the Internet into my profession (okay, maybe a little). One of the first things I learned about the Internet was how easy it was to be creative, how there was all this information to download, process and remix to add to the conversation. I don’t think I need to draw a line from that stupid Michael Jordan defacing I created at age 12 to the animated GIFs I make at 28.
Today, Wikipedia and a host of other sites have gone dark or are otherwise protesting SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and I keep thinking of that stupid Michael Jordan image I made a decade and a half ago. Would I have been able to make that image in an Internet crippled by SOPA? Would I be spending my life doing something more useful, like digging ditches?
Everyone from this 16-year-old high school junior on the Huffington Post to William Gibson knows SOPA is a bad thing. Here’s why: The law is ridiculously broad. SOPA–along with PIPA, the Senate version of the bill—is broad in a number of ways, but most troubling is its effect on sites with user-generated content.
Currently, sites aren’t held responsible for its users actions, provided the sites take down items when there’s a copyright claim, under the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Under SOPA, sites would be responsible for the content its users post; one infringing video, comment or link could get an entire site shut down. The burden of proof would be on the site to prove it wasn’t responsible.
“So what?” you might say. “No one should be able to post pirated material on the Internet.” Well, hypothetical person, hear me out: True innovation on the Internet happens when people are allowed to use media as they see fit. There is a lot of gray area between piracy and fair use; companies already issue takedown notices for obvious instances of fair use. This bill will make it easier to do so. Give big corporations and law enforcement broad tools and they will always use them to the full extent. SOPA ends the Internet as we know it. I think my Michael Jordan cartoon would have been safe, but I wouldn’t want to have to face Michael Jordan’s lawyers to find out.
This bill is so obviously stupid and antithetical to how the Internet is set up I don’t feel I need to spend too many words on it. As such, I’m going to help you cope: Wikipedia is down today, but I’ve excerpted its five most important facts below.
1. The Clash was a huge influence on William Gibson.
2. The professional wrestling promotion that held the most shows at the old ECW Arena is Combat Zone Wrestling with 120.
3. The lesser yellow-shouldered bat (Sturnira nana) is a species of bat in the family Phyllostomidae. It is endemic to Peru. It is threatened by habitat loss.
4. The page for the Main Line contains this note: “Similarly, Narberth and much of Ardmore has never been considered part of the Main Line as much of it has relatively modest hosing built for the Catholic ‘help’ of the elite.”
5. The page for rapper Flo Rida’s upcoming album, Only One Rida (Part 2), contains this note: “The album is titled at a sequel of his last album Only One Flo (Part 1) (2010) the significance of the series is that the last word on both albums are put together. They spell out ‘Flo Rida’ which is the album artist’s name.” This type of delightfully bad writing is one of the Wikipedia’s greatest joys. For similar writing, check out the blog Citation Needed. Fortunately, it’s not dark today.