If it may be said that each one of us, no matter how ostensibly “ordinary” or unremarkable, harbors some innate capacity for excellence, then logic would denote that this principle manifests itself in a wide variety of forms and across a considerable breadth of disciplines.

Lest you fall into despondence, said forms need not be so showy as “world-class concert pianist” or even “repair-man-man-man.”

Case in point: the advent of the digital era has transformed time wasting into a bona fide art form, and – if you’ll forgive me tooting my own horn – I’d place myself at the forefront of this new crop of literal idiot savants.

You can only begin to imagine my distress, then, when a “quick glance” at DJ Jazzy Jeff’s Wikipedia page a few days back, which would obviously have necessitated an hour-long trek through cyberspace’s sordid annals in search of potential dietary applications for KY Jelly, was promptly derailed by a black screen.

After taking a breather to overcome my Wiki-blocked frustration, I read through the reasoning behind the blackout.

Turns out it was a productive move on Wikipedia’s part, as that looming legal clusterflub otherwise known as SOPA might otherwise have escaped my attention.

For those not in the know (though I suspect many others were tipped off by the myriad online protests), the Stop Online Piracy Act – along with its dimwitted cousin, the Protect Intellectual Property Act – presents itself as an initiative against digital thievery of copyrighted works but in fact could well result in the dismantling of the Internet as we know it (that is, a venue for free exchange of information and a site of creativity/innovation unhampered by crass commercial interests).

Cutting down on media piracy is all well and good, but the garbled legalese making up this lobbyist concoction carries far more dire ramifications.

Given that sites would be held legally responsible for any copyright-infringing acts committed by members (regardless of whether the site condones or encourages such behavior), it is doubtful that staples like YouTube and Facebook could continue to function without placing themselves at risk.

In turn, the maddeningly vague language of the bill can be contorted to absurd ends; twittering a movie quote might lead to prosecution, which would land Twitter in hot water by association.

One initially wonders what competent lawmaker could fail to see the liberty-stifling implications here. The revelation that the MPAA was a key precipitator, however, sheds significant light on the subject.

Along with the RIAA and other old-guard media giants, these guys haven’t been faring too well in recent years. Advances in technology have rendered traditional formats nigh-obsolete.

Home theaters and Netflix are putting multiplexes and video stores out of business, and digital outlets like iTunes have been gleefully torturing the CD for years.

Add to this the fact that the apparent heavyweights no longer even have a hold on media creation and distribution, as the ready accessibility of recording equipment and proliferation of independently-made viral videos readily illustrates, and you can see how they might get it into their heads to try and off the Internet.

Hell, I almost don’t blame them. They’re only playing out their assigned roles, stamping out the competition like all good capitalist marauders. Whether we like it or not, the sad truth is that this kind of rapacious, borderline-sociopathic mentality is the stuff our economy’s built on (or was), though more so coming from hotshot entrepreneurs rather than entrenched old fogies.

I do place copious amounts of blame on the U.S. government for being so thoroughly compromised by moneyed special interests as to the let this civil rights doomsday device come anywhere near fruition.

That most supporters of the bill eventually buckled in the face of public outcry is small consolation when you consider the sorts of inextricable power relations that would enable such a dramatic assault on civil liberties for the protection of big money and the furtherance of mainstream media hegemony.

With broadened possibility for information-sharing also comes expanded capacity to restrict the flow of information, and so continued vigilance is a necessity.


      Justin Levesque can be contacted at jlevesque@ksc.mailcruiser.com

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