Monday, April 23, 2012

Censorship: you link it, you bought it

In the aftermath of the unexpected and exceptional success of protests against PIPA ("Protect IP Act") and SOPA ("Stop Online Piracy Act") we can begin to rethink what world it is exactly that we live in.  For one, it is a world where legislators better think twice before fucking with the Internet.  Making linking a crime (or a de facto crime) is not a solution.  The burden of implementing filters is too heavy for those entrepreneurs trying to stretch what the Internet can do.  For example, a wiki can be implemented in just 4 lines of Perl Code!  If links posted to the wiki must be filtered to protect the wiki owner from a PIPA-like or SOPA-like law, then the implementation requires tens of thousands of lines of additional code.  In addition, a huge database of song/text/video signatures must be maintained to enable such filtering (which afaik does not generally exist, though YouTube has coordinated with content owners to get such signatures, and Apple has obviously created one for music), potentially increasing the cost of running sites like a wiki by many times.

Censorship is becoming an increasingly important issue as the amount of content continues to explode:

I was reminded of this while watching The Hunger Games for the second time (spoiler alert!).  At the end of the movie Cato is being eaten by monsters and Katniss decides to put him out of his misery by shooting him with an arrow.  In the book he is shot in the head, an ending that is very quick and humane.  In the movie the director Gary Ross had to achieve a PG-13 rating, and therefore thought in his mind what a PG-13 rating would most likely allow, or may have even  been guided by the MPAA more directly.  He must have concluded a shot to the center of the chest, because that's where the arrow lands, however this would be a MUCH GORIER death than an arrow to the head.  Why an agency is able to dictate what is and is not acceptable movie watching is beyond me.

When the choice of whether to be exposed to a piece of content is "opt-in" (whether a movie or a wiki post), then why not let artists and authors decide what to do using their best judgement?  The workarounds for consumer judgement, however well intentioned, have all sorts of ill side effects, which consumers are necessarily made blind to.

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