Help Stop Some Bad Legislation

More bad legislation is headed our way. Sorry for the long rant, I hate politics but it seems unavoidable sometimes. If you already know all about the PROTECT IP legislation, feel free to skip the following rant, but please scroll to the bottom of this post, click the PopVox links and register your opposition to the bills.

Big media corporations are trying to buy more legislation that will boost their profits and restrict our freedoms. This time they’ve written legislation that will create a “great firewall of America” similar to the one in China. It will allow the government to block access to any website their corporate donors disapprove of. It would do a lot of other bad things too. How can they get away with this, you ask. The media corporations claim this legislation will stop “pirates” (by which they mean people who share ideas and creative works with their neighbors, not people in funny hats who steal your boat and make you walk the plank). Here’s how the Fight for the Future blog describes the new legislation:

It’ll give the government new powers to block Americans’ access [to] websites that corporations don’t like. The bill would criminalize posting all sorts of standard web content — music playing in the background of videos, footage of people dancing, kids playing video games, and posting video of people playing cover songs. This legislation will stifle free speech and innovation, and even threaten popular web services like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

But even though the legislation would make us all suffer, maybe that’s worth it because it will eliminate piracy, right? Wrong. It won’t affect piracy at all. Zeropaid posted a detailed explanation of 8 technical methods of circumventing these censor ship laws that would allow piracy to continue unaffected while the rest of us lose our freedoms.

So it makes life worse for us and doesn’t affect piracy? That sucks but like a Ginsu knife commercial, this is the point where I say “but wait, that’s not all! You also get a broken Internet!” That’s right, this legislation was written by Hollywood lawyers who don’t have a clue how the Internet actually works and have probably never even used it themselves. The technical changes this legislation requires to allow censorship of the Internet will literally break the Domain Name System. Anyone who knows anything about the technical side of the Net knows Paul Vixie (as in Vixie cron, BIND, that sort of thing). He described in detail all of the breakage that will be caused to the Net if these bill pass and also noted that it would create new security issues:

Say your browser, when it’s trying to decide whether some web site is or is not your bank’s web site, sees the modifications or hears no response. It has to be able to try some other mechanism like a proxy or a VPN as a backup solution rather than just giving up (or just accepting the modification and saying “who cares?”). Using a proxy or VPN as a backup solution would, under PROTECT IP, break the law.

Just a few of the groups who are helping to oppose this awful legislation include the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, The American Library Association, Public Knowledge, Center for Democracy and Technology, American Association of Law Libraries, and Association of Research Libraries. Even a few of the least evil corporations like Google are opposing the legislation. But unless there’s a big outcry, Congress will do what the highest bidder pays them to do. A lot of big companies stand to profit from this legislation. They are paying a lot of money for it to be written and passed. The MPAA supports it – that alone should be enough to convince any reasonable person that it’s bad legislation!

The bills are S.968 “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011” and H.R.3261 “The Stop Online Piracy Act”. Like most bills, these have deceptive names. The bills will neither stop online piracy nor prevent threats to creativity. The bills are themselves a threat to online innovation and creativity. What they will do is help a few big corporations boost their profits while significantly curtailing your freedoms. That’s just how the bill-naming process works these days.

So what can you do? Unfortunately not much. Legislation has become a commodity that’s bought, written, and passed by large corporations with lots of money (that’s what the Occupy movement is protesting – the 1% who influence our legislative process to further their own greed). But you can at least make your opposition clear to Congress and entertainment industry folks who are buying this legislation. The easiest way to do that is to write a letter to you congressional representatives. If you’re used to doing that anyway and know who they are, please do it today.

If you’d like to fire off those letters but don’t have time to write and mail a paper letter, you’re in luck. There’s a cool site I’ve been using call PopVox that allows you to track bills through congress and fire off a letter supporting or opposing a bill with just a few clicks of the mouse. These electronically delivered letters count just as much as papers letters. The other cool thing about PopVox is that your opposition or support will be tabulated in a nice pie chart so everyone can see the stats on who’s for and against the legislation. H.R.3621 was closing in on 99% opposed and 1% supporting last time I checked the numbers (hmmm… where have we heard those numbers before?).

Here are the PopVox links for the two bills:

Antics of the DVD CCA

If you’ve been following the DVD CCA’s antics, you’re probably aware that the initial hearing is today. If you’re haven’t kept up with the news, here’s a summary. The designers of DVD included a badly designed encryption system to prevent unauthorized viewing or copying of discs. Linux users with DVD drives can’t watch DVD movies they’ve legally purchased because there is no player. To solve the problem, the DVD encryption system was reverse engineered and open source software was created and distributed to play DVD discs. The DVD CCA is now trying to get a restraining order against hundreds of individuals and organizations who have talked about the open source decryption software (like I’m doing now), who have included links to sites that offer the source, or have links to the source code itself:

css-auth_tar.gz – CSS authentication source

LiVid.tgz – the Linux DVD source code

nist-0_6.tgz – an initial Linux DVD player – for Windows

The DVD CCA has mounted a PR campaign to make it appear that the software in question is used to pirate the DVD content, something that is untrue, highly impractical, and will probably only be believed by computer illiterates (which unfortunately includes most of the media and legal system). You are encouraged to join in the fight against the forces of evil in the world by downloading the source, mirroring it on your own web site, or making a tax deductable donation to the EFF, who will be fighting the DVD CCA in court for your right to free speech.