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LOL: Web world confounds old guys in Congress

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

01/19/2012

Update 1-19-2012, 7:02 p.m.: This from Joshua Kopstein at Motherboard: “But the chilling takeaway of this whole debacle was the irrefutable air of anti-intellectualism; that inescapable absurdity that we have members of Congress voting on a technical bill who do not posses any technical knowledge on the subject and do not find it imperative to recognize those who do. This used to be funny, but now it’s really just terrifying.”

Surfing the web is like panning for gold. You’ve got to sift through a ton of junk to get to the good stuff.

Then there’s all that “can you believe this” forwarding of amazing tales based on fluffy fabrication. I remain astonished at what seemingly smart people will believe if they find it on the web.

And, there’s the teeth-grinding, anger-provoking theft of your stuff, be the stuff your credit card, your family scrapbook or your Academy Award movie. When I was a newspaper/web editor, I regularly pulled out the copyright cudgel when folks stole our print and web work.

There’s a lot to hate about today’s infant web world. Harnessing this shadowy technology that no one understands is a bit like the proverbial herding of cats. You get one corralled and another pops over the top and six more screech at your heels.

Witness the legislative power-struggle that was the Stop Online Piracy Act, or S.O.P.A. Yesterday, its powerful Congressional backers faded away like so many Internet trolls, learning that attempts to rein in abusive web behavior at the expense of the web itself will be folly.

The old guys — read that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Congress, the movie and music industries — thought it would be simple enough to outlaw cutting-and-pasting and the  stealing of intellectual and original works. It’s a laudable goal: Crack down on pirates stealing your expensive and labor-intensive proprietary products.

The legislation has its heart in the right place, so to speak. It’s simply not right for someone else to claim the work of another and then make money from it. That breaks at least a couple of the Ten Commandments. Congress wanted to stop that.

Unfortunately, the overly broad, squishy-ly-written legislation had “slippery slope” larded all over it. Think Sarbanes-Oxley only worse.

The good news? The web world giants (and a host of traditional, mainstream media journalism folks) flexed some unusual muscle. If you didn’t know that Wikipedia was “dark” yesterday and that Twitter, Facebook and Google (among others) were the media of choice yesterday, well, I’m pretty sure you’re still calling it the “Internets.” Which is, of course, why the web world confounds the old guys in Congress.

The better news? Now, there’s an opportunity for the old guys who craft legislation and who represent the traditional media and the new guys of the web world to capture the pirates without sinking the boat.

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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