Just watched the three-hour-long House hearing about SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). There's been a lot of buzz on Slashdot and other media that this act is the most dangerous attack on the Internet that actually has a chance of passing. Quick summary, basically the bill would allow copyright owners to quickly, without much judicial overview, to require ISPs to circumvent DNS and blacklist certain websites. That's the ultra-over-simplified version. Watching the hearing was a fascinating insight into how these types of laws are discussed and passed, couple quick observations:
1) By far the most ridiculous aspect of this whole hearing was that there were five witnesses representing strong, no-holds-barred approval of the legislation under consideration (RIAA, Pfizer, Mastercard, US Copyright, and AFL-CIO, a movie-professionals org) and one against (Google). Only one congresswoman pointed out this clear imbalance. Between everyone else's ignorance of this fact and the reliance in the hearing on witness testimony, this one aspect of the hearing completely condemns the entire thing. I would love to hear why this is okay and how, as a democratic society, passing laws like this isn't an outrage.
2) A lot of the media buzz, as well as one of Google's primary objections, seem to stem from the threat this poses to DNSSEC. Two congresspeople, out of what I believe were about 20 congresspeople, raised this as a potential bill-killer issue. One of them sternly required the witnesses to provide written testimony of whether the threats to DNSSEC from this bill are accurate. Frankly, this is really the only part of the whole bill that seems all that evil to me. Perhaps the "broad language" Google/Slashdot allude to might be a problem, but it certainly doesn't seem to be the case. I think despite Google's "best attempts" to fight this bill, it's really not the absolute monster the media would have us believe.
3) Google is a fascinating witness. Here I am finally starting to see the larger picture in the whole infringement story that the MPAA and RIAA and so on have been writing for years. It was absolute torture for any of the congresspeople to get the Google witness to digress from her prepared speaking points. Even when asked a direct, straight-forward question, she would reply with a regurgitated speaking point that had only the vaguest parallels to the question asked. In other words, a very difficult witness to sympathize with. But, remember -- combine this with bullet point #1. If the opposition had been represented by more than just Google, this wouldn't be an issue.
I could list points indefinitely here, but in the interest of getting on with my day, I think my overall interpretation of the problem, if ignoring those three bullet points above, was that at a fundamental level, the House was trying to do what it does best: use real-world, physical examples of how the law handles physical theft and precedent in legislation in order to produce a new piece of updated copyright legislation.
It all sounded very logical, the congresspeople made a lot more sense than I expected them to, Republican and Democrat alike, and logic and reason more or less dictated the proceedings. But despite all of this, the problem remains: the internet presents a problem that simply has never, ever existed before. There is no analogy, there is no precedent, there is no existing legislation that can control the omnivorous hydra that is the Internet. Time to get your thinking caps on, because this situation is going to get uglier before we see any progress.