SOPA Teach-In

January 31, 12-1pm

Open to the public.

The New School

66 5th Ave, Kellen Auditorium

organized by

Trebor Scholz

David Carroll

with Wendy S. Walters

and Michelle Bogre

On January 18th, Google, the English version of Wikipedia, Reddit, the Internet Archive and 7000 smaller websites “went dark” in protest against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). One day later, the file sharing website Megaupload was shut down by the US Justice Department and the FBI after an 18 month long due process involving a grand jury. Without any significant public discussion, SOPA would hold websites liable for all user-posted content, which pose serious competition to the media entertainment complex. Even though Megaupload property was seized without public civil or criminal trial across international borders, it represents some degree of due process. SOPA and PIPA eliminate due process to simple accusation of infringement to trigger the authorization by subpoena to completely isolate the offending website, including its DNS (domain name directory service) record, its search engine indexing, its ability to serve ads, and process credit card transations. Accused infringers are granted 5 days to remove whatever accuser claims ownership upon before shutdown orders can be obtained by a judge.

While SOPA and PIPA are not likely to come up for a vote, they are but the latest two attempts to enact legislation that stops our ability to share with one another. The objective is to rise the cost of copyright compliance by suggesting the removal of infringing sides from the domain name system, which would not even be an effective way of stopping copyright infringement. Signed into law, SOPA would prohibit search engines from linking to infringing websites and block anybody from conducting business with those sites.

If you want to continue to produce and share files online, and learn what is an acceptable and legal use of copyrighted music and film, come to this teach-in. It will offer a brief context of the history of previous copyright battles, from the VCR to the MP3 player and various more recent attempts to break the Internet. Let’s discuss the difference between legal and illegal file sharing and why we should say no to SOPA.

We may also consider what kinds of technological or market based solutions could fight piracy instead of over-reaching legislation.

Wendy S. Walters

Some Notes on Poetry, SOPA/PIPA/ACTA and Censorship

Assistant Professor of English
Eugene Lang College
The New School University
31 January 2012


            The recent debate over Internet censorship has been framed around tensions between the following parties: (1) the holders of copyright; (2) the violators of copyright; and (3) the users who demand free access to whatever can be copied.
            A fourth party exists in this debate.  They are the Poets, or those independent holders of copyright whose work is so financially devalued that they are not considered to be purveyors of knowledge, progress, or innovation.  In this context their rights, in effect, are worthless.

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There have been many in-depth pieces written about this topic in recent weeks, and there are better experts than me to summarize the content of one bill versus another.  More than any particular act of legislation, what I am interested in is the trend towards legislating access to digital media and some of the philosophical questions that such a trend brings to light:

The problem:

Piracy is a problem for the entertainment and music industries, and the lines of defense that have been drawn against perpetrators have not been very effective.  Revenues from the licensing of copyrighted material have been diminishing due to theft of that material, often by parties outside of the U.S. 
The proposed solution:

SOPA and PIPA were designed to allow corporations and governments to arrest the infringement of copyrighted material.  The proposed legislation was devised with broad limits in applicability to allow for flexibility in enforcement. 1    

The problem with the solution:

It has been argued that the biggest risk posed by this legislation is to emerging businesses and independent users of social media and file-sharing platforms.
 Opportunities for self-publishing, aggregating content and conducting research would be curtailed as independent users would be exposed to the kind of censorship and litigation designed to target larger criminal enterprises.  Critics have also argued that private citizens should not trust the whims of corporations to deliver a consistent protocol of law enforcement.
            The proposed changes would endow corporations with temporary powers of government and increase the influence corporations have web culture, which still aspires to function democratically. 
            On a global level, the enactment of this kind of legislation has the potential to result in further non-standardization of the Internet, thus affecting its overall transparency and reliability.
The rub:

The possibility that any independent holder of copyright attempting to exercise the impulse to aggregate, curate or otherwise participate in the unlicensed sharing of copyrighted material might end up as denigrated as a Poet is reason enough to interrogate the scope of all proposed legislation.

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In her 2006 essay “Legislators of the World,” Adrienne Rich summed up some of the reasons why Poetry is considered irrelevant to most people:

Poetry has been written-off on other counts: it’s not a mass-market ‘product’, it doesn’t get sold on airport newsstands or in supermarket aisles; it’s too “difficult” for the average mind; it’s too elite, but the wealthy don’t bid for it at Sotheby’s; it is, in short, redundant. This might be called the free-market critique of poetry.  There’s actually an odd correlation between these ideas: poetry is either inadequate, even immoral, in the face of human suffering, or it’s unprofitable, hence useless.2

Poetry’s “uselessness” grants it freedom from the expectation to substantiate a point.  The claim could be made that Poetry is, in fact, the refutation of a point, that it is the maelstrom whose power comes from tides moving in opposite directions.

A prelude to Rich’s critique of the critique of poetry can be found in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1812 essay “A Defence of Poetry.”   In it he notes that the function of Poetry is contradiction.   He argues that Poetry “is at once the centre and circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science, and that to which all science must be referred.”  This claim that Poetry, in essence, is beyond and outside of itself suggests that it has the capacity encompass areas of knowledge that might refute its own significance.

Shelley aspired to see Poetry recognized for being a principal impulse in a demonstration of human progress. 
For the next few minutes, let’s presume that it is.

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Let’s call the unlicensed sharing of content across websites that generates controversy an act of Poetry.

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            Key words used during the protests against SOPA/PIPA that took place on the 18th of January 2012 included “piracy”, “copyright infringement” and “unlawful file sharing,” all of which imply the ease of copying without the right to do so.  For those of us who create work that is by-in-large undervalued by the publishing, music and entertainment industries, it would seem that haggling over the control of content is a performance of hyperbole, the enactment of exaggerated metaphor.

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On the day after these protests were carried out, the Eastman Kodak Corporation of Rochester, New York filed for bankruptcy.  Most of us carry the legacy of their simple, inexpensive box camera, affectionately called “Brownie,” in our cellphones or PDAs.  And while the medium of film photography has become outmoded, the gesture of taking pictures, of the photographer holding the camera between herself and her subject, remains strikingly similar to the actions required by Kodak’s early personal cameras.
The speed with which the function of a technology is subsumed by a newer device or platform means protocols related to its first use linger beyond the technology’s initial function. We take pictures with the camera held between our self and our subject because we have always “done it that way.” We hold on to arrangements or gestures that are no longer necessary because that makes it easier to deal with change. 

At some point, the physical aspects that define the Internet as we know it will become obsolete.  If, at that time, corporate or private control over the network of networks that comprise it is enacted, the dominant philosophy that governs the sharing and distribution of content is likely to be built into any new system.

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The Poet John Milton’s essay Areopagitica (1644) argued against a move by Parliament to issue licenses to allow printing.  A proliferation of new religious groups, including the first Baptists and Quakers, meant that the principal material being put to print was advocating for newer theologies.  Milton’s argument against the state-control of the press never mentions censorship outright, but it does make the case that individuals should be charged with the responsibility to negotiate external compulsions with internal discipline, that each of us have the capacity to interpret the ways we are being manipulated by ideas that defy our core values. 

Milton suggests that the process of gathering truth and putting information in order is pleasurable and is an innate aspect of the human pursuit of truth.  He explains, “If we think to regulate printing, thereby to rectify manners, we must regulate all recreation and pastimes, all that is delightful to man.”3 By extension, if we are not allowed to gather truth and put information in order, we have relinquished our core values, that which makes us aspire to do good.

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Any change in liability laws for copyright infringement will likely silence online speech.  On the web where remixing and redistributing content has become standard practice for bloggers and other social-media sites, users will have to be particularly careful in linking or making reference to copyright-protected material.
Some big questions will arise for those who value history: is it too costly to note the origins of all acts of representation?  Do we have to ignore the inter-referentiality and inter-textuality that has come to define our understanding of a tradition?  How much political impact can a set of discontinuous fragments lacking origin points deliver?
            These are philosophical questions, which may mean that they are unimportant in a conversation about commerce and capital.  However, the way we answer philosophical questions has always had to do with how we define human evolution.

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In a recent article in Boston Review, Professor Frank Pasquale predicts that the SOPA/PIPA “battle is merely a prelude to a much more contested debate about the proper allocation of digital revenues.” 4 If this is the case, then the ability to license or control the material foundations of creativity may be what is at stake. 
It is interesting that only content that has the ability to generate income seems to be what is being debated about—especially in industries suffering through a grand reorganization due to decades of accommodating an exaggerated compensation structure.

Poets know a little about dealing with an exaggerated compensation structure, though not one weighted in their favor.

They have learned in the last several centuries of experience that when the copy has little value, so does the copyright holder.  Because poetry has been devalued for centuries, it is quite likely that no other art form will achieve such depths of disregard, at least financially.  The example of Poetry offers us the opportunity to reset expectations of value and ownership in the pursuit of the broadest interpretation of liberty.

Slides Presented at the Teach-In

A radical, free market proposal
to solve the problem of online piracy.

David Carroll

Khan Academy Explainer

Still don’t understand what all the fuss is about?


from SOPA and PIPA : What SOPA and PIPA are at face value and what they could end up enabling, Khan Academy

Fight for the Future’s

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo


Aired on MSNBC during the Chris Matthews Show on January 18, 2012

Big Tweets


Ensuing Ink