My debate with Senator Dianne Feinstein on PIPA & SOPA
After writing letters urging my elected officials to oppose PIPA & SOPA, I got a response from California’s Demopublicratican politician Dianne Feinstein. Below is my response to her response. Looks like we’ve got a debate brewing. Fun!
Dear Mr. Larson:
I received your letter expressing opposition to the “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act,” commonly known as the “PROTECT IP Act.” I appreciate knowing your views on this matter.
The “PROTECT IP Act” (S. 968) gives both copyright and trademark owners and the U.S. Department of Justice the authority to take action against websites that are “dedicated to infringing activities.” These are websites that have “no significant use other than engaging in, enabling, or facilitating” copyright infringement, the sale of goods with a counterfeit trademark, or the evasion of technological measures designed to protect against copying.
The bill does not violate First Amendment rights to free speech because copyright piracy is not speech.
America’s copyright industry is an important economic engine, and I believe copyright owners should be able to prevent their works from being illegally duplicated and stolen. The protection of intellectual property is particularly vital to California’s thriving film, music, and high-technology industries.
I understand you have concerns about the “PROTECT IP Act.” While I voted in favor of this bill when it was before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have also been working with California high-technology businesses to improve the bill and to address the concerns of high-tech businesses, public interest groups and others. I recognize the bill needs further changes to prevent it from imposing undue burdens on legitimate businesses and activities, and I will be working to make the improvements, either by working with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) or through amendments on the Senate floor.
On May 26, 2011, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the “PROTECT IP Act” for consideration by the full Senate. Please know I will keep your concerns and thoughts in mind should the Senate proceed to a vote on this legislation. As you may be aware, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) has introduced similar legislation, the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (H.R. 3261), in the House of Representatives.
Once again, thank you for sharing your views. I hope you will continue to keep me informed on issues of importance to you. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841.
Wishing you a happy 2012.
United States Senator
Dear Ms. Feinstein,
Last week, I sent you a message urging you to oppose PIPA and SOPA. Yesterday, I received your response, and this message is my reply. I think it’s important that you consider my reply here, because you’ve made key errors in your reasoning, and I’ll help illuminate those errors below in a non-confrontational way. Ultimately, I hope that by the end of this letter, you’ll be able to see two issues from my perspective – flaws in the copyright system, and proportionality of punishment.
ADDRESSING YOUR ARGUMENT
I, and the vast majority of those who oppose PIPA and SOPA, would agree with your point that piracy is not protected by free speech. However, this is irrelevant.
1.) THE COPYRIGHT SYSTEM
There are structural flaws in the way our copyright and patent system allow for the ownership of “ideas.” Anything which can be copied an infinite number of times at zero cost cannot be traded for money. We need to address the flaws in our copyright system before we pass sweeping, dangerous legislation, which threatens the foundation of the internet.
The copyright system serves the purpose of incentivizing innovation, creativity, and ultimately, economic production. There are, however, many, many ways of incentivizing human action. Throughout the history of the industrialized world, copyrights have been the dominant way, really the *only* way, we attempt to incentivize individuals to make novel, useful things. As a collectively industrialized, global society, we haven’t even yet attempted to implement the best incentive structure.
Because of this, we need to implement a great many ways to incentivize innovation, no just one. We need to study, with great scrutiny, the success and failure of each method. Most importantly, we need to weed out the bad methods, and expand on the best. (link to relevant illustration http://bit.ly/zuNMjC)
What I’m suggesting, Ms. Feinstein, is that we must innovate on how we incentivize innovation.
2.) PROPORTIONALITY OF PUNISHMENT
Your response did not address an important aspect of PIPA and SOPA. This legislation makes it a felony to stream copyrighted material, punishable by significant prison time. Felons lose their rights, and it’s a very serious classification. Often, users could be streaming “the wrong” videos, and be completely unaware.
Proportionality of punishment is a necessary element of a healthy criminal justice system – without it, there can be no justice. Proportionality of punishment means that lesser crimes are punished to relatively lesser degrees than greater crimes. It’s a very simple concept that agrees with common sense. Let’s apply this concept to the following example.
Less than two months ago, I was present at a civil rights march when a terrible crime occurred. A driver of a car intentionally hit two activists, accelerating after hitting them, dragging one, and badly breaking her leg. The remainder of the marchers physically blocked the car from escaping, otherwise, the driver would not have stopped. Both victims were rushed to a hospital in an ambulance. The police arrived and eventually let the driver go home. No arrest, no prison time.
It would be an unconscionable violation of punishment proportionality to classify users of the web as felons, while in practice today, hit and run drivers aren’t even arrested. It can’t be a worse crime to stream videos than to maim pedestrians in the streets.
These are the two biggest issues in my interpretation, though I only claim to speak for myself. This is a very complex topic, and I advise you to research it very, very thoroughly before you vote.
I’d love to hear back from you Ms. Feinstein, and I wish you all the best.
I’m going to declare victory in this debate, pending another response from the esteemed politician. I don’t believe she’s declared a win in this debate, which clearly leaves me with a steaming mug of victory to enjoy at my own pace.
Things are more fun when there’s a winner and loser!