Since my senior senator is spearheading the fight to “?protect the internet from stolen goods”, I have taken the time to listen to the arguments he makes. It sounds reasonable, and ought to be answered in real terms, not rhetorical name-calling.
Here are the arguments advanced by Senator Leahy — a good man who genuinely does good and believes the logic of what he says. He’s fought many a good fight, and I do not doubt that if he thought this were wrong, he would shoot it down. And since he’s the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he spends a lot of time helping President Obama keep the judiciary safe from the “strict constructionalists” who want to either bring back feudalism or introduce fascism.
I would prefer not to get into discussions — which have merit — about government policing of public discourse. That would quickly get sidetracked into concerns about terrorism and we’d never recover the SOPA issue. My advice is to stick to the Occupy Wall Street approach and focus on the corporate arguments for this bill.
So here are the corporate arguments I have heard, and then, my countering statements. SOPA advocates assert that internet servers who sell stolen goods are no different from the neighborhood fences who buy and sell stuff stolen out of houses, stripped cars, etc. The corporations contend that they have spent millions of dollars nurturing products, obtaining and protecting patents or copyrights, and they provide a public service by maintaining quality control over the products they sell.
Let’s look at these claims closely.
1) “These products only exist because we invested in them.”
So, corporations, let’s talk about your in-house, lifetime protection for the people who did the work. How are you paying the scientists and lab support teams, the designers and suppliers, in comparison to how you are paying management and shareholders? And when you downsize the support staff, the people who wash the chemistry beakers and file the records, etc, what are you doing to the quality of concentration for the folks who do the real innovating?
2) Corporations, let’s talk about “patent and copyright protection as a public service.” How many of these legal fortresses are actually are bogus — i.e. fraudulent — efforts to maintain brand-name prices by making slight alterations to existing technologies are designs? How many are “defensive purchases” of patents or copyrights, in order to prevent the innovations of your competitors?
3) The argument that you are the best enforcers of product quality is so laughable that I can hardly believe you put it forward with a serious face. Have you tried on three different designs in Size 7 shoes lately from China — same brand name, similar designs — and noticed that they fit completely differently, they aren’t even the same length from heel to toe? How is that quality control for the woman who needs to locate something for work the next day before she goes home tonight? And what is up with the poisoned foods and the drug recalls? Don’t get me started on the things that break the first time you use them.
So the real problem with theft in the patent and copyright system is that the primary thieves are corporations themselves. They rob from their innovators, they constantly lie to their customers about the cost-value of their products, and more and more, they are shutting down the function of the market itself — which is to see a need and innovate — by removing essential tools and information from the public square without making any use of these assets themselves.
Sorry, Senator Leahy. There is a huge world out there of patent theft, and it isn’t on the internet. In fact, that’s the last place you’ll see most of it: it’s hidden in sealed court records, corporate “confidential memos” and lawyers’ private discussions with their clients.
If you want to protect the people on this (the real people, who work, raise kids and get sick, go on vacation, not the legally-created fake ones), you’ll rephrase the question of thievery in protected materials and hold some really big hearings really soon.