Why I Went Dark and Why It Matters

As those readers who visited this blog earlier today on Jan 18 know, I took this site “dark” in solidarity with the anti-SOPA/anti-PIPA protests. Yes, I’m back now. But I’m angry. And you should be angry too.

I’m angry because the SOPA/PIPA bills in Congress are nothing more attempts by a privileged few large corporations who want to reap even greater profits at everybody else’s expense.  Rather than engage in the difficult and creative work of creating products and services that people want at prices that people want to pay, these corporations want to sit back and earn monopoly profits using monopolies granted by Congress. They make a big deal of the supposed “losses” to “piracy”.  But their numbers are totally bogus. Their numbers for losses are based on an assumption that demand curves for music, entertainment, movies, etc don’t slope downward.   I’ll comment on that and explain it more in a future post.  These publishers don’t even want to be bothered to engage in protecting their interests themselves.  A major portion of the SOPA/PIPA bills involve clauses that would require other people, y0u and me, to do the enforcement that has historically always been the responsibility of the copyright owner.  If these corporations/publishers don’t think you or I or Google or whoever is adequately protecting their profits, then they want the power to shut us down summarily without having to even prove anything in court.

I’m angry because if SOPA/PIPA succeed, even if in an altered form, I will at a minimum have to stop accepting comments on this blog.  I’ll have to live the likelihood that should I write anything to which one of these corporations takes offense, then they can and very likely will be able to shut down this site permanently.  No recourse in court. They won’t even have to prove they own any copyright they allege is infringed. Most likely I will have change my teaching also. My online teaching may become untenable.  It’s not because I infringe on anybody’s copyrights.  It’s because these powers in SOPA/PIPA will be abused.

I’m angry because the major publishers of textbooks (McGraw-Hill, Cengage, Pearson, Macmillan, some others) have all publicly supported these bills. They’ve funded the lobbying that created these anti-free speech bills.  Why? Because they want a monopoly on the distribution of knowledge in higher education.  These two bills would grant the power to these publishers to shut down open education resources, shut down professors that want to share material the professors have written, and shut down any collaborative learning site if they take offense to it.  The result will be higher costs for students, less knowledge shared, and less learning. But it will mean these same publishers will be able to continue to make profits without having to adapt to new technology or having to actually improve their products or re-invent their business models.

I’m angry because in the subject I teach, I regularly get sales reps from these big publishers pushing “solutions” (read textbooks w/ software that mean the book can’t be resold) that cost easily $200 or more.  That’s almost as much as the tuition for the course itself.  A couple of these big publishers have even adopted a page from the pharmaceutical industry.  I’ve been offered (and refused) all-expense paid trips to 5-star resort hotels in Texas, South Carolina, and California for “conferences” on teaching – just like doctors who get bribed into prescribing expensive medicines the patient doesn’t need (happened to me 10 years ago).  these SOPA/PIPA bills are just an attempt to perpetuate the same corrupt ways of doing business.  In economics, we have a term for it. It’s called rent-seeking.  It’s the opposite of doing productive activity.  I have now instituted a policy of refusing to talk with these reps.  From henceforth, reps from any firm who publicly supports SOPA/PIPA is not welcome in my office.  I will not spec any book for any class from them. I call on all other professors in higher education to do so also.  We either stand on the side of learning, sharing knowledge, and or students, or we stand with monopolists interested only in profits and closing minds.

I’m angry because the politicians, mostly Republicans, who claim to be all about stopping “job-killing regulations” are supporting and co-sponsoring these bills in large numbers.  Yet these two bills, SOPA/PIPA are draconian measures to regulate the Internet, the World Wide Web, and public communications and these two bills will kill jobs.  By the tens of thousands in the technology industry.  Jobs that the entertainment industry won’t replace.

I’m angry because freedom of speech, the freedom to converse, share ideas, to learn, to innovate, will end under these two bills.  If these bills become law, then make mistake, you and I will only be free to speak so long as some unnamed, unseen corporation decides to tolerate what we say.  The firms than enable us to talk without being face-to-face, the Googles, the Wikipedias, the Facebooks, the WordPresses, etc, will have inspect and limit what we say lest they find themselves banned and their funds cut off.  That’s not what the U.S. was supposed to be about.

I affirm they stand with the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, whose words are inscribed on the dome of his memorial in Washington, D.C.:

“…I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” – Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800