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My Alternative to the SOPA Blackout (Free Advice Day)

I am not going to participate in the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) blackout day tomorrow to protest the bill, though I have a deep respect for sites such Wikipedia giving people a taste of what life might be like if SOPA passes.  Tomorrow, when you go to access many websites and blogs, you will find yourself either staring at a black screen or redirected to a landing page.  I considered doing it because the bill frightens me, but I realized that the blackout is very similar to placing your blog in a self-imposed “time out” to teach a lesson — and time outs are a parenting maneuver that Josh and I have chosen not to use with the twins.  So it didn’t make a lot of sense to use it on my blog.

The way I see the blackout is very similar to telling a child that they need to go sit in the corner for the play period to give them a taste of how they’ll miss out on fun or be removed from being with their friends if they can’t behave in a certain manner.  Some kids do learn from that time apart.  But others didn’t really care about the time apart and therefore the lesson is lost on them.  In those cases, it doesn’t elicit the desired behaviour as efficiently as positive, active approaches do.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t believe lawmakers give two shits about Stirrup Queens, and I think even if you give two shits about Stirrup Queens and the blackout goads you into writing your lawmaker opposing SOPA, I think it also has a good chance of eliciting the same response that some children give to time outs.  Which is no response at all.

As a writer, I am obviously anti-intellectual property theft, whether that is stealing a finished product, reusing someone else’s work without permission, or taking someone else’s idea — especially when you don’t give credit.  It’s a huge problem — I can’t tell you how many times my publishers have had to go after websites that offer my books as illegal downloads.  From a writer’s point-of-view, it is upsetting and frustrating and feels akin to having someone run into your kitchen and grab some food from your refrigerator.  I want people to read my books just as I want people to have food to eat; but in both cases, I’d like to be compensated.  I worked hard to create those books and when people steal them, it hurts me.

At the same time, out-and-out thievery that damages the artist is such a tiny portion of the Internet, therefore SOPA scares me because the language is like using a sledgehammer to bang a tiny nail into the wall to hold up a picture.  SOPA affects ALL sites, not just piracy sites.  As the Washington Post explains:

Rather than receiving a notification for copyright violations, sites now face immediate action — up to and including being taken down before they have a chance to respond. Intermediary sites like YouTube and Flickr could lose their “safe harbor” protections. Nonprofit or low-budget sites might not have the resources to defend themselves against costly lawsuits. And, meanwhile, larger companies like Google and Facebook could be forced to spend considerable time and money policing their millions of offerings each day for offending material.

In other words, we’re not just talking about piracy sites that offer up free copies of my book — sites that should be dealt with harshly (all other artists be damned, but my books — those things deserve enormous protection…).  But we’re talking about sites that you use every day: Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, your blog.  Sites that should have copyright violations removed immediately (or really, never used at all) but who are also humans who sometimes make mistakes and should have the ability to fix them.  Every online writer should be familiar with basic copyright laws, but not all online writers are familiar with those laws because people use their blogs for a multitude of reasons.  It’s similar to the way all professional bakers know health code laws, but not all home bakers who are selling muffins at the school bake sale do, even if they should.

Instead of a blackout, I want to draw lawmakers’ attention to the best of the Internet — the best that could get silenced if SOPA passes.  I want to direct lawmakers to the sharing of information on Wikipedia, to the leveling of the movie industry playing field with the advent of YouTube which gets short films out there to the world, to the support and information that can be found on personal blogs.  I want to highlight the good that comes from the online world instead of withdrawing our sites in order to teach a lesson.

I’m proposing an active, positive alternative to tomorrow’s blackout day as Free Advice Day — it’s what I get out of reading personal blogs.  On January 18th, post the best advice you have to give.  It can be something concrete such as how to get out a ballpoint ink stain (how does one get out ballpoint pen?) to something more ethereal such as how you know that love solves all problems, to something very specific such as how you got through the first days after a loss or how to give yourself an injection to something much larger such as how you make sure you never take your partner for granted.  Think about what words you can contribute to the Internet (and if your ideas build off of someone else’s ideas, for fuck sake, give them credit — this is SOPA we’re protesting!) and make the world a better place.  Let’s collectively show the good of the Internet while leaving the door open to brainstorm better ways to stop online piracy.  I can’t believe a blogosphere that can collectively put their heads together on a daily basis to give each other such fantastic life advice can’t solve a problem such as ensuring that people don’t outright steal.

Who is in?  There will be a linky tool on my advice post tomorrow so people can include a link to their advice for Protest SOPA/Free Advice Day.


1 Bionic Baby Mama { 01.17.12 at 9:07 am }

love it! i will think today about what to post tomorrow.

2 missohkay { 01.17.12 at 9:10 am }

I’m a copyright geek myself and I really like your sledgehammer analogy because, while wholesale stealing of people’s works is black-and-white wrong, so much of copyright law is legitimately gray area. We’ve already seen with the existing copyright laws that some companies exploit the gray area in abusive ways and prevent expression by people who in all likelihood aren’t doing anything wrong. And that is what I worry about.

3 marwil { 01.17.12 at 9:11 am }

Interesting, I’ll see what I can come up with.

4 a { 01.17.12 at 9:18 am }

Hmmm – I might be in on that. Great idea.

I’ve signed petitions and talked about it on Facebook – I”ve been hearing about this sort of thing for years. I hate to think it would become a reality. But the latest news I saw this morning actually sounds like Congress might be dialing it down quite a bit. I hope that’s true.

5 April { 01.17.12 at 9:21 am }

Brilliant! I can’t wait to read all the advice. I’m in!

6 Gail { 01.17.12 at 9:30 am }

Thanks for the information. I’d heard about this, but didn’t understand it until reading the Washington Post article that you linked to. Thanks for providing that. I posted it on Facebook so that hopefully others will read and better understand SOPA, too. And, I gave you credit for the link.

7 Her Royal Fabulousness { 01.17.12 at 10:31 am }

Love this idea. I’ll have to pick a good piece of useless advice 🙂

8 Hope { 01.17.12 at 11:55 am }

I’m in! I was planning to do a shots tutorial soon, anyway.

9 Meagan { 01.17.12 at 1:09 pm }

Wow that is a great idea! Definitely will think about it

10 KH99 { 01.17.12 at 1:09 pm }

I really like this idea! I’m in!

11 HereWeGoAJen { 01.17.12 at 1:35 pm }

You always have the best ideas.

12 Kate { 01.17.12 at 2:12 pm }

not to dismiss the more important topic of SOPA, but, what do you do instead of timeout? I view time out as a break to refocus on the situation calmly not to be missing out on the action (since most action stops when one kid is in time out)

13 Lollipopgoldstein { 01.17.12 at 2:33 pm }

Good question — we always stay with them. We usually keep them right there in the situation, squat down so we’re on their level, and then talk it out. Or if we do need to remove them from the stimuli, we sit with them to discuss why they were removed from the situation. I guess I always associate time outs with sending the child into another area where they spend time alone. And I think there are kids who respond to that, but there are also kids who don’t.

I always think about it this way: if I’m angry at Josh and we’re having an argument, I wouldn’t want him to send me away somewhere to think. I would want to work out the problem together and not have the burden of thinking be solely on me (or both of us thinking but separately). It’s not that the thinking time alone couldn’t work, but I think we’re more productive when we keep talking and reach resolution.

14 Chickenpig { 01.17.12 at 3:05 pm }

Good Idea, I’ll do it. If I get enough time to write something, that is.

To get out ink stains: Put a cloth or folded paper towels under the item and douse the area with rubbing alcohol. Blot to dry. Works on most fabrics w/o any harm. DON’T rub, only blot. Check fabric/paper underneath to see if it has ink on it, put clean cloth/paper beneath and do again until no more ink comes out.

15 Chickenpig { 01.17.12 at 3:13 pm }

I have always given our kids a brief time out on the naughty step for serious offenses. If they bite/hit/kick/steal a toy and bop their sibling over the head, talking to them in the moment doesn’t help. One minute for each year of the child’s age, and THEN a hug and a talk, and a hug and apology to the offended party. I think the amount of times I have actually had to resort to a naughty step time out I can count on both hands, and that’s for all three kids. There is no correlation between the kids fighting and my husband and I having a disagreement, because we are adults who don’t hit each other. People who hit/kick/bite other people as adults get sent to prison, so I think it’s ok to put a kid on a step for a few minutes alone.

My kids are really good kids, honestly. The boys probably haven’t resorted to violence against each other since they were non verbal. Considering one of my sons is still mostly non verbal, I’d say the time out system has worked well for us. My kids even behave in the grocery store 90% of the time.

16 Erica { 01.17.12 at 6:54 pm }

I really like this idea! I’ll try to hop in, if I can find any good advice in my brain (at the moment it’s full of dull but eye-blearing rules about Chicago-style endnotes).

17 Alissa { 01.18.12 at 12:28 am }

Great post! Melissa from Imagination Soup linked to it. I love your idea. I posted it on my blog’s facebook wall, and shall be dispensing with (yet more) free advice tomorrow 😉

18 Anonymous { 01.18.12 at 6:57 pm }

Wikipedia hasn’t really denied access to its users. If you check their FAQs they give a bunch of ways to bypass the blackout. As long as you take the time to check it out and read up on their position, they have no problem with people still using the site. Other sites may have a full black-out going with absolutely no access to their website allowed, but I like Wikipedias method.

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