Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The one where "SOPA" makes me think of drinking Greek liquor, showering, and the richest woman in the world

Okay, so I don't actually know if Oprah is the richest woman in the world. And, I just tried to look it up, but Wikipedia, my primary source for all facts of the world, is blacked out for another couple of hours. But, even if she's not the richest woman in the world, but just the richest woman in America or something like that, "SOPA" makes me think of her. Not for any substantive reason, though, just because the word and the name sound alike.

Anyways. Wikipedia folks are so smart that even though when I type in "Oprah" or "Irish Spring" or "Arab Spring" or "Ouzo" or "the Beatles", all I get is redirected to a dark screen threatening me to:

Imagine a World
Without Free Knowledge
I can still find out all they want me to know about SOPA. Like: that if made law, the bill would "expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods." Now, assuming this is true - I haven't actually read the bill, nor do I really want to unless someone is paying me to - I really honestly don't know what to think. I do think that piracy is bad. Stealing is bad. Copyrighted stuff should be protected. Counterfeiters should stick to the streets of NYC. Etc. Etc. BUT... how the heck is this bill, if passed, really going to work without, as the Wikipedia article suggests,"crippling" the internet?  Will I get charged every time I want to read or look at pictures of my friends and "friends" on Facebook?
On the other hand, I think Wikipedia's question about free knowledge is a little on the dramatic side. Most of the world doesn't have access to the internet. [I'd tell you the real stats, but, um, Wikipedia is still down.  The World Internet Usage Statistics Newsletter says that 30.2% of the world's population are "internet users" and even in North America, over 20% of the population are not "internet users". Granted, I don't know if this counts small children, people with significant disabilities, etc... like I said, the real info is currently unavailable.] Many people, even a lot in the U.S., don't really have access to education. Sure, the American dream is realized by some despite unfortunate circumstances, but education, and the knowledge that comes with it is rarely truly free. Ask my checkbook every time the student loan bills come in. And, though end consumers may be able to use certain cites and features of the WWW for "free" its not actually "free" to get the information there. There is costly infrastructure, there are annoying ads that pay for content, and people who take the time to contribute to "free" sources like Wikipedia simply choose to give up their time and the education or information that they paid for elsewhere to build a site that is useful. And, the really good, most reliable stuff (like, the stuff you'd cite in a legal brief) does cost something to access. It costs a lot. And a lot of people who are already bajillionaires make a lot of money off of you and me wanting "free knowledge." My point: knowledge is not really free. 
And that's why we value it. 
So, like other things we value - our privacy, our autonomy, our health, our safety - maybe we should have to pay something for it. Or at least strike a balance. I'm not saying that SOPA is the answer or that more regulation of the internet is necessary, because actually, since Wikipedia is down, I can't do all the research I need to form a fully educated opinion. Plus, I don't have the time. And time is money. See how that works?
Anyways. I'm just saying.

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