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Self-regulation better choice than PIPA, SOPA
The modern highway system is a wonderful thing.
Hop in your car, pump a dozen gallons of (high-priced) gasoline into the tank and drive anywhere you want.
As you travel, you'll meet all sorts of other vehicles; trucks loaded with hay headed for Oklahoma and Texas, cars full of families, buses of high school athletic teams.
You may also meet a car that has recently been stolen, an SUV with drugs under the back seat, or a semi of stolen cattle.
The highway doesn't know the difference. Nor, probably, does the person behind the counter selling gasoline or coffee at the convenience store.
Sure, the clerk should call the police if she suspects something, and drivers can use their cell phones to let the authorities know they may be following a drunk driver.
But the gasoline station doesn't interrogate everyone who uses a valid credit card to fill up, and there are no routine check points along the route where state patrolmen search everyone's trunk.
Society certainly doesn't condone the use of a public roadway for criminal activities, but we're not ready to give up all of our privacy and freedom to ensure that the minority of drivers who are criminals are caught and prosecuted.
Now substitute "Internet" for "highway" and "data packets" for "trucks" and "cars," and you'll understand why sites like Wikipedia and craigslist have gone "dark" today.
They're protesting the House's "Stop Online Piracy Act" and the Senate's "Protect (Intellectual Property) Act," which are designed to shut down access to foreign Web sites that sell pirated or counterfeit goods.
The bills would give the government the power to force American companies to stop carrying advertisements, processing payments and supplying search engine results for suspected sites.
Noble goals, but a heavy-handed approach that would force smaller websites out of business and destroy the openness of the Internet, according to opponents like English Wikipedia contributors and others who say they are already diligent in policing copyrights.
"Imagine a world without craigslist, Wikipedia, Google, [your favorite sites here] ..." said a darkened craigslist site today. "NewsCorp, RIAA, MPAA, Nike, Sony, Comcast, VISA and others want to make that world your reality. 80 members of Congress are in their sway, 30 against, the rest undecided or undeclared. Please take a minute and tell your members of Congress you oppose PIPA and SOPA ..."
Instead, some of the companies have proposed an approach in which Web sites police themselves, via an international nonprofit to track outlaw sites. Content providers like the Associated Press, which plans to include a snippet of code in its content in order to help track it across the Internet, are also taking their own action.
Yes, those who create intellectual property like books, news reports, movies and music deserve to be paid for their efforts.
But self-policing will be both more effective and nimble enough to keep up with new threats while avoiding heavy-handed government intervention that could bring the highway that carries much of our innovation and economic growth to a grinding halt.