Saturday, January 14, 2012

One Threat to Rule Them All

This is a Dungeons and Dragons blog. It may occasionally be a gaming blog, a teaching blog or even a family blog. One thing I never intended it to be is a political blog. It has been my experience that real world politics and D and D mix very badly.

And what about me?
It is especially tough for me because my view on politics is so often the opposite of the rest of the people at the table. However, even if my views were similar, it would still be an issue because people have very strong feelings about their politics. The only topics more likely to cause problems at the gaming table are religion, which edition is the best, and whether Kirk is better than Picard. I tend to be in the live and let live camp on most of those arguments, but I can understand why people get worked up about them.

There is nothing wrong with in-game politics in D and D. In fact, some of the best games I have played in have been very politically heavy. However, real world politics, whatever form they take, don’t mix well with D and D. The last thing you want at the gaming table is to have your adventuring buddies, the people with you in the foxhole as it were, arguing with you about who they support in the next election. You never want to worry that the fighter is going to let a bad guy through to you, or that “friendly fire” might be a little friendlier from the mage. The worst part is that even small disagreements can kill games and friendships.

For all of these reasons I am hesitant to publish my political views. I believe very strongly in them but I respect your right to believe very strongly in yours as well. I also don’t want to alienate anyone in my audience, whether we game together or you just happened to find my blog another way. Unfortunately, something has raised its ugly head that threatens all of us that use the internet. It concerns me enough that I am going to break my rule about politics and D and D and take a stand.

If you have not heard about SOPA, or its Senate cousin PIPA, take the time to follow the links. You may also want to check out what Wikipedia has to say about them. Basically, the MPAA and the RIAA, as well as other media concerns, have tried to find a way to deal with revenue lost from online piracy. Since so many of the sites that promote piracy are not in the US it makes it almost impossible to enforce existing US laws that protect against piracy. Whatever you believe about piracy, IP and the big corporations you want to be careful that the cure isn’t worse than the disease.

There are a lot of arguments about how much impact piracy actually has on revenue. Many supporters of the Creative Commons License actually believe that piracy can be beneficial in some cases. It is true that online piracy does have some impact on revenue even if we can’t agree on how much. Besides, just because it isn’t as bad as the MPAA claims it is doesn’t make piracy right or a good thing. I do think that all media outlets need to change their business model to one more friendly to the online community. Downloading is the future, and if the big corporations don’t find a way to tap into it positively then they will continue to have huge problems.

The major problem the companies are going to run into is that trying to prevent piracy is only going to create a better breed of pirate, not to mention the added bonus of upsetting the person who wants to give you money for your product. I am not saying that they should just give up and let people steal their IP. What I am saying is that they need a better way to market their product than reactionary firewalling.

Now that I have written two pages about politics and piracy let me take a look at what brought me here in the first place. SOPA is another attempt to enforce anti-piracy laws against targets that have found a way to get around current laws. I am not completely sure how it works. I know it has something to do with blocking the DNS, which I think means you couldn’t get to the sites by typing in their domain name. I also think that they can make it impossible to find the sites in search engines like Google.

Now, maybe you think, that’s not bad, these are sites taking money from Americans and keeping American’s from jobs. Well, one problem with this is that you can still get to the sites by going directly to their IP address so dedicated pirates will still be able to continue pirating. Another concern is that, although the law was crafted to target non-American websites, there is nothing in the language that limits it to only targeting them. In fact according to this website the DNS blocking of non American websites has been removed meaning that only American sites can now be targeted. It would seem that this invalidates the entire purpose of these bills. Additionally, the laws give companies broad powers to combat piracy, which may not be necessary. If a company complains about content on your site, for example, a custom designed monster that uses the standard stat block, the government can completely block your entire site. Not only that they can also block sites which host your content. Say if you posted the monster to Facebook, to share it with your friends, it is possible that Facebook could get taken down. And, you would only have five days to respond to the accusations before these draconian measures could be put into place.

In addition to giving companies broad powers to take down sites accused of copyright infringement, SOPA/PIPA continues to criminalize what is essentially a civil matter. You can get charged with a felony for streaming as few as ten movies. Again, I am not suggesting that piracy is good or right, but there are severe consequences for felonies, and I am not sure that the punishment fits the crime.

I have heard that there are far reaching implications of the two bills threatening National Security and even the structure of the internet. I really didn’t understand these arguments, but I encourage you to look into them, particularly if you are more tech savvy than I am.

I think what concerns me the most is the erosion of free speech these laws represent. If I say something on my blog that someone doesn’t like all they have to do is accuse me of stealing their IP and my entire site could be taken down. I may be being alarmist, but I see a future where if I post a negative opinion in my blog post about a company, five days later my site will go dark and maybe even Google, Facebook and Twitter as well because I share things through them.  And when I show I have no offending content, or take down the offending content, it may take months to get my site reinstated. If you don’t think that is possible check this out. Someone claiming to be the original creator of Nyan cat complained about a Youtube video. It took months of work from the actual creator of Nyan cat to get the Youtube video back up. And that was just Youtube self-policing. Imagine what will happen when the government gets involved.

All of this reminds me about what the Catholic Priest said of Nazi Germany. I know it is a logical fallacy to compare everything to Nazism, but I am really scared about where our country is going. I think it is outrageous that an American citizen has to submit to unlawful search and seizure simply to fly on an airplane. I am terrified that an American citizen can be held indefinitely on suspicion of being a terrorist. I am scared shitless that I won’t be able to protest this on a free and open internet. Please, if you disagree with me, have the discussion while we still can. And if you agree with me, do something. Call your congressmen and let them know that you want your Bill of Rights back. Get involved in politics. Don’t just be a hero in D and D, be a hero right here. No one else is going to. 

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