Truth and Fantasy, and the SOPA bill

I have good news and potentially very bad news. First, the good news.

I am happy to announce the opening of Truth and Fantasy, a blog that I have just started with several others who wish to start blogging. The style will likely be similar to Skeptikai, in that we (or I?) will continue on the pursuit of educating people on matters of public interest. But of course, it will not be so focused on Japan. There seems to be a lot of interest in law and politics, which is not something I have focused on too extensively, though it has informed some of my articles. I presume that the beginning will be relatively slow, as the new bloggers on the site get used to their role (I am already accustomed to blogging) but I’m sure it will pick up rapidly. As for the bad news…

[November 6 Update: Truth and Fantasy was a miserable failure, and it’s clear that I was the only person serious about blogging among all of the other contributors I expected to write. On the other hand, it sure puts the effort I make on Skeptikai into perspective. The rest of this post is about the controversy with internet laws.]

Making a new blog means that I must decide on a number of things, such as what registrars and hosts to use. I use GoDaddy for all of Skeptikai, but I decided to opt for NameCheap and Blogger for Truth and Fantasy. Why? Because I’m not entirely convinced that GoDaddy has done enough to oppose a controversial new law which might have massive ramifications for anyone who uses the internet.

It’s called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), and it sounds all right in theory (after all, pirates are bad!), but absolutely horrible in practice. This is something that everyone should know about, so I’m going to spell it out here. Watch this well-made video:

What does this have to do with GoDaddy? Fox News reports:

It’s a boycott of viral proportions.

GoDaddy.com, one of the largest domain registrars on the Internet, stands to potentially lose thousands of customers on Thursday, Dec. 29, after the company gave and then repealed its support for a controversial bill before Congress that many fear could heavily restrict the web.

[…] GoDaddy.com originally supported the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) — which opponents say will hinder free speech and infringe on first amendment rights — but quickly recanted its position when the call of a boycott circulated.

Let’s take a step back and look at the role of the website reddit. From Ars Technica:

Major Internet companies have formed a united front in their opposition to the Protect IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act. Well, almost. One exception has been the domain registrar GoDaddy. In a op-ed published in Politico shortly after SOPA was introduced in the House, GoDaddy applauded the bill and called opponents “myopic.”

Now furious Internet users at reddit (owned by Advance Publications, which also owns Condé Nast) have organized a boycott of the registrar.

“I just finished writing GoDaddy a letter stating why I’m moving my small businesses 51 domains away from them, as well as my personal domains,” wrote redditor selfprodigy on Thursday morning. He proposed that December 29 be declared “move your domain day,” with GoDaddy customers switching to competing registrars. The post has accumulated more than 1,500 comments, most of them supporting the idea.

Soon after reddit started the host wars,  Wikipedia soon joined, and now GoDaddy’s CEO is being reaffirmed as the “Scummiest CEO of 2011.”

If you still need to know how bad this law is, consider this scenario under SOPA: Using Skeptikai, I link to an innocuous science video from a website like YouTube or Google Videos. Despite the fact that it is a science video, it is on the same website as one that contains a video of a girl singing one of her favorite songs (not an original). So not only would that site eventually be shut down, but my site could be shut down as well, even though that single link did not link to that actual video. Anyone can see that this is wrong, but when you have money and power, you tend to want more money and power, and less competition. The Young Turks explain:

As I mentioned, GoDaddy no longer supports the bill, but as The Young Turks mention, it was probably only because of a cost-benefit-analysis. This is in contrast Wikipedia, who did it as a matter of principle. In fact, Wikipedia has a heck of a lot to lose, considering how linking is such a fundamental part of how it works. The damage done to GoDaddy was aptly reported by Kiwi Commons:

GoDaddy lost 37,000 domains during the first two days of the boycott, but this doesn’t spell the end for GoDaddy just yet. It still hosts about 50 million websites around the world, judging by recent figures.

Nevertheless, things have gotten so bad for GoDaddy that on December 28 the company took out a full-page ad in The New York Times and USA Today which offered discounts on GoDaddy domains.

[…] But the damage may already have been done, despite GoDaddy’s reversal on SOPA. The perception of it as a ‘cheesy’ company that features sexist advertising is not being helped by recent statements from Internet leaders.

The popular website Gizmodo didn’t pull any punches when it weighed in: “If a sleazeball company like GoDaddy can ditch SOPA because of pressure from the Internet, you bet other companies will cave too. Let yourself be heard and let’s kill this freaking bill.”

Computerworld has reacted as well, but it seems to believe that SOPA is more of a threat than some others do, “SOPA still has strong support in Congress and among companies in several U.S. industries. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the driving forces behind the bill, has said that more than 400 organizations have voiced support.”

The ESA (Entertainment Software Association), which represent many major players in the video game industry, have so far backed SOPA. While companies within the ESA – such as Sony, Nintendo, and EA – have opposed it, the ESA really makes the final decision on their behalf. So there are now calls for people in the video game industry to talk to their superiors about opposing the bill, but there’s no good news to report yet.

I find it somewhat hard to believe that something so destructive would happen, but I guarantee that this law would be passed if everyone had sit idly by. I’m so glad GoDaddy changed their stance, because it means that even gigantic companies can buckle under the pressure, and that the mass of ordinary people really have the power to make a difference. I’m not sure if I will move Skeptikai yet; but for now, they’re not getting my business for any new websites I make.

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