Blog Wars, Blogging, Copyright, Google / Search Engines, Intellectual Property, Old People, Politics, Wikipedia

Should We Let the Internet Make Laws?

SOPA is getting pwned. Yesterday, all the uber players with their epic gear hopped on Vent and raided the SOPA base, and now the newbie Congress people who sponsored the law are running scared. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the sponsors of the Stop Online Piracy Act have “renounced” their law. The New York Times reports that Senators and Congresspeople are abandoning this thing like it was a campaign promise.

Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, all of the big internet corporations flexed their muscles — and oh, by the way, this is what it looks like when corporations use speech for speech, as opposed to pretending that anonymous corporate campaign contributions magically count as speech.

In the wake of this victory, here’s a question: Is this what we want? Yesterday, the internet used its power for good (though I fear the movie industry will strike back by making you watch full-length Kevin James movies before you can download the next Batman preview). But what if in the future “the internet” wants something bad, something that is more than the mere protection of freedom?

I’m not looking forward to the day where I Google “Facebook” and Siri’s bats**t crazy twin says, “I can’t let you do that, Elie. Why don’t you log into Google+… or I’ll cut myself.” But the internet might well be a better arbiter of our laws than Congress or the courts. Check out the Times’s list of elected officials who crumbled in the face of the grassroots power of the internet:

First, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising Republican star, took to Facebook, one of the vehicles for promoting opposition, to renounce a bill he had co-sponsored. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who leads the G.O.P.’s Senate campaign efforts, used Facebook to urge his colleagues to slow the bill down. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina and a Tea Party favorite, announced his opposition on Twitter, which was already boiling over with anti-#SOPA and #PIPA fever.

Then trickle turned to flood — adding Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Representatives Lee Terry of Nebraska and Ben Quayle of Arizona. At least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House members announced their opposition.

“Thanks for all the calls, e-mails, and tweets. I will be opposing #SOPA and #PIPA,” Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, wrote in a Twitter message. Late Wednesday, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, withdrew his support for a bill he helped write.

A lot of people this morning are looking at the list as an expression of the raw power of grassroots organization through the ‘net. I look at that list as representing a disturbing, yet common, example of our legal and political system. The fact that all these elected officials caved to “emails and tweets” shows one of two things: (a) they had no idea what they were supporting in the first place or (b) they had no idea how the internet works and how unpopular the legislation would be.

Either truth is bad. It’s no longer “cute” for aged lawmakers to not know how the intertubes work, nor should we have to accept a government where lawmakers routinely don’t understand what they’re signing or what the effects of their legislation will be. How do you think we ended up with Dodd-Frank — a bill that most supporters and opponents can’t claim to understand because the lawyers in charge of implementing the thing still haven’t figured it out?

And the courts are no better. Let’s say SOPA passes. Do you really trust a district judge who is probably older than your mother (or actually is your mother) to understand the fundamental workings of the internet well enough to render a wise opinion? Or would you be happy to live under this thing for a few years until SCOTUS got around to it?

We live in a world where old people are being asked to shape the course of emerging technology that they don’t understand. It’s always been like that, but I feel like back in the day, lawmakers at least wanted to understand how a light bulb works. They wanted to know how the railroad business operated. Nowadays, we’ve got people who have no desire to really get online, or understand Google’s business model, or recognize new media as a legitimate source of information, trying to tell us the rules under which those businesses operate.

It’s like asking a priest how to perform cunnilingus: Oh, he’ll have an answer, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have a damn clue about what he’s talking about.

In that world, the opinion of Reddit on law does become more relevant than the opinion of a lawmaker or a judge.

And maybe yesterday we saw a glimpse of what happens when the more relevant opinion is also the most powerful opinion. It was fun yesterday, but just don’t end up on the internet’s bad side. You wouldn’t like the internet when it’s angry.

In Fight Over Piracy Bills, New Economy Rises Against Old [New York Times]
Reddit Has Gone Mad with Power [Gawker]

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