It was a good run. For almost two decades anyone with an internet connection could blithely view any first run movie, listen to any album, buy any prescription medication, gamble themselves into penury or learn how to make deadly ricin with the ease of point and click. An entire generation has been raised in the assurance that they can get anything they want on their monitors for free, but now that’s all going to come to a screeching halt thanks to the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect IP Act. Or at least that’s the theory. And it’s a theory that is so fundamentally flawed that it begs the question of whether the legislators who drafted it understood even the most primary basics of the information infrastructure they seek to “control.”
Just Type in the IP
The details of this legislation are arcane, but the essence is that foreign sites that offer content that allegedly is in violation of US intellectual property law can be blocked from the access of American internet users. Technically the resolution of the domain name is what would be blocked, so the site would still be accessible via its IP. Therefore, instead of being able to watch Captain America by typing in www.allthepiratedmoviesyouwanttowatch.com, you could still do so by typing 172.16.254.1. If that overwhelming obstacle is not enough by itself to banish piracy forever from American shores, the creation of a massive national firewall will certainly stop these regrettable practices… right?
The 1,874 Mile Straight Line
From the tip of Lake Superior to the Pacific Ocean there is a straight 1,874 mile-long line which doesn’t even have as much as a chain link fence along most of its length. This permeable border is so ethereal that there are airports with runways that cross it, while on the other side of the continent there are private homes that lie half in Quebec and the other half in New England. Technically the inhabitants of these homes should show their passports when going from their kitchen to their bathroom. Given the imaginary status of this “line,” the reality of sealing off American wireless space from its northern (and southern) neighbors is simply not feasible.
A Wireless LAN Stretching 200 Feet
The Canadian Department of Justice states it outright: “Several Canadian wireless companies and satellite communications system operators have service areas that overlap the Canadian/US border. This can mean that the subject of a Canadian authorization may be physically located in Detroit, although the interception itself is being carried out on a wireless switch located in Windsor.” How long will it be until some bright entrepreneur sets up an ISP located on Princess Street in Queenston, Ontario, or Avenida Francesco I. Madero in Mexicali, Mexico with a wireless LAN that only needs to reach over a couple of hundred feet? Whoops, there goes the national firewall.
$5 Mailbox = Citizenship
So what is a foreign or domestic website anyway? Anyone in any country can pay a few bucks a month to a UPS Store and have a legitimate US address that they can use to register their domain name. The opposite is also true. The vast majority of the world’s nations have companies offering simple, cheap ways to obtain a legitimate mailing address, and no one needs to know that it’s a $5 a month box in a store. Throw in the use of national internet proxies and any American can appear to be a Brazilian, Kenyan or Australian online… and vice versa.
What pirate consumers do not seem to understand is that the very act of freely accessing the various media they love so much handicaps the producers of that content by minimizing their budgets, and what the legislators seem unable to comprehend is that Pandora’s Box cannot be sealed back up once it’s opened. Copyright violation and the other ills of the internet are serious issues that merit equally serious responses, not the current House and Senate versions of this legislation – which are tantamount to taking a knife to a bazooka fight.