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Dear Congressman Posey, SOPA is both dangerous and un-American

Take action. Otherwise we're selling the Internet down the river to a couple of lobbying organizations who couldn't care less about the future of America.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Image courtesy Flickr user joewcampbell.

I live in Brevard County, Florida, Florida's 15th District, represented by Bill Posey, a graduate of Brevard Community College and former real estate agent. He is, in his own way, then, a perfect representation of my lovely Brevard County.

In any case, one of his constituents, one of your fellow ZDNet Government readers, forwarded my recent article on the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its sister in legislative stupidity, PROTECT-IP, to our esteemed representative.

See also: New House of Representatives bill may strangle the Internet or nerf the First Amendment

Congressman Posey responded to her with a very carefully worded form letter, which she then forwarded on to me, with the request that I undertake setting Representative Bill to rights over his little bill.

Now, as a matter of disclosure, I've encountered members of Mr. Posey's staff before, and they've always been quite pleasant, if as startlingly ineffective as all the other politicians running around unchecked in the nation's capital.

In any case, Posey first responded with some basic background on SOPA and PROTECT-IP (the Senate variant) stating, "Both of these bills would expand the federal government's authority to track and prosecute websites unlawfully using intellectual property."

This, right away, tells us that he's not on our side, not because we support unlawful use of intellectual property, but because we don't support crappy lawmaking.

He goes on to say, "I believe it is important to both ensure internet freedom and freedom of expression, and I also believe that those who have created intellectual property should have their property rights protected." He apparently thinks so little of the Internet that he refers to it in the lower case.

Then, the Congressman talks about the much-ballyhooed international provisions by stating, "A growing concern is that there are an increasing number of overseas based websites that are beginning to violate U.S. intellectual property right protection."

I beg your indulgence for a moment, Dear Reader, for I must now directly address our elected representative.

Bill, Bill, Bill, can we talk?

Look, I, and almost anyone in the creative class, appreciates attempts to protect intellectual property. So, atta-boy for the thought. But the thought is not what counts. Most of us want good laws, not ones that are poorly written and destructive.

Here's the deal. This law isn't just written for the primary benefit of the lobbyists all you politicians love to cozy up to, it's written badly. It won't even benefit them.

Take, for example, the provision that allows the domain name system to be mucked with, to prevent domain names from being used by pirates. See, uh, the domain name system is designed to be redundant and self-repairing and just because you nuke a domain name here in the U.S., don't expect that some pirate in Belarus won't just route around things. The piracy will still go on.

But then there's the whole complaint process, where one entity can file a complaint and the entire online payment structure for the alleged pirate can be taken down. There's no due process in the bill.

You do remember due process, don't you, Bill? I know Brevard Community College has a fine government course, and I know they have a stringent attendance policy, so I'm assuming you showed up for class on most days. If so, you know that due process is this silly little thing here in America that allows all our rights to be venerated as a way of balancing the law of the state.

Basically, due process means you can't go around taking away people's cash flow, Web sites, and domain names without some level of court oversight. Your bill does away with that, which is very bad lawmaking.

Let me give you a simple scenario of how things might play out once your bill becomes law.

Let's say, for example, that another Brevard resident wants to be the elected representative, rather than you. He knows you have BillPosey.com set up, and he also knows you have a nice little YouTube channel. Further, he knows you use Campaign Services, Inc. to process campaign contributions that come into BillPosey.com.

How can he shut you down? Oh, wait, he can use SOPA. All he needs to do is file a complaint that you're using some of his music on your video page. Note that he don't have to prove this, nor does he even have to have any music that you might or might not have used. He just, simply, has to make that claim.

At this point, two things can happen. First, notice can be made to Network Solutions (the company that registered BillPosey.com) that Data Targeting, Inc of Gainesville, FL (the company that operates your domain name) should no longer be allowed to operate your domain name. After all, you're an accused pirate, and with SOPA, assumed to be guilty.

Network Solutions might or might not give him your domain name, as a Nevada judge did recently for the benefit of perfume maker Chanel. But, almost undoubtedly, Network Solutions would find it far easier to just shut off your domain until they decided what to do.

See also: Ridiculous: judge orders sites de-indexed from Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Further, and probably more near and dear to that campaigning heart of yours, your beloved little SOPA law would make its way to Campaign Services, Inc., the company that handles your online contribution money. It would require Campaign Services to withhold paying you your contributions.

You're a Representative, Bill, and that means you come up for election again in about a year, in November of 2012. Imagine you're in a neck and neck race and you're about to buy some of those wonderful campaign ads you run each election season. It's late September and you're about to dig into those nice campaign coffers and do a big media buy.

You get up in the morning, only to have one of those nice staffers I'd talked about earlier tell you that you have no money. What was due to be sent to you by Campaign Services is now frozen and out of your reach. Worse, your Web site is offline as well.

You had no notice. You had no chance of appeal. You had no chance for damage control. You had no chance at all.

I know that doesn't feel like the America you and I grew up in, but it will be the America you will create if you pass SOPA and if you let your Senate buddies pass PROTECT-IP.

Listen Bill, I'm generally supportive of your efforts. After all, you're a fellow Brevardian, which means you're a neighbor. I'm also generally supportive of good legislation that protects Americans, especially from predatory practices by foreign nationals.

It's not that I don't want you to pass any anti-piracy bill. I just want you to understand that you shouldn't pass these particular bills because they, quite frankly, suck.

I, all the other Brevardians, and every American is counting on you to grow a pair of stones and tell your lobbyist buddies to go back to the drawing board. We know they want more and more paydays. It's what they do, despite the music industry having grown in 13 markets.

This is also a bad time to pass a bill that could cause Americans to hold back even further on investment. The Internet is the only thing holding growth together in this country, and if you contribute to a sense of uncertainty in our one sure thing, you'll be contributing to pushing us into more difficult times.

You don't want that, do you? After all, you have to run for office every two years. Pass SOPA and I guarantee you, 2014 will not be a good year for you.

Before I close, I'd like to extend an offer to you directly, Congressman. Judge Fran Jamieson Way is only a short distance from here, and the Perkins in that area makes fine pies. The pecan pie is particularly nice.

I'd be more than happy to meet you and help you get a deeper understanding of the Internet's infrastructure, how it was designed to work, and why keeping that integrity intact is so important to American jobs, competitiveness, defense, and the very future of our nation.

Okay, folks, I'm done talking just to Bill.

Back to you guys. Look, you need to take action as well. You need to call your Bill Poseys, your elected representatives, and have a good heart-to-heart with them. If you live in Brevard, click here to share your opinions with Mr. Posey. If you live anywhere else in these United States, click here to find your representative.

See also on Techdirt: The Definitive Post On Why SOPA And Protect IP Are Bad, Bad Ideas

Take action. Otherwise we're selling the Internet down the river to a couple of lobbying organizations who couldn't care less about the future of America.

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