The Internet and the Long Arm of U.S. Law

I've lived in Canada for over seven years now (and as a Canadian for almost a year), and I still inevitably get the question from U.S.-based friends and family: How is Canada different from America? And just as inevitably I find myself reciting a litany of all of the little things that make Canada, well, Canada. But on this day of Internet site blackouts to protest proposed U.S. anti-piracy legislation in the form of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), I am finding this whole debate has again raised the disturbing question of Canadian sovereignty in the context of monolithic U.S. policy. In short, SOPA and PIPA have the potential to erode those little things that make Canada all that it is. And the U.S. has once again overstepped its bounds in its attempts to police the world.

SOPA and PIPA are meant to protect intellectual property. But whose intellectual property and at what cost? As pointed out by Daniel Schwartz of the CBC this morning, SOPA and PIPA are designed to allow copyright holders to go after foreign websites that are seen to abet copyright infringement. Furthermore, Schwartz quotes Michael Geist, a University of Toronto law professor, who states

"In the eyes of U.S. law, websites with domain names ending in .com, .net and .org are treated as American domestic domain names, regardless of where their owners are based... SOPA ignores the fact that IP addresses are assigned by regional, not national, entities. The American Registry for Internet Numbers allocates IP addresses for Canada (both for individual customers and governments) and 20 Caribbean nations, as well as the U.S. However, under SOPA, the IP addresses it allocates would be considered "domestic," i.e., U.S., IP addresses."

I am uneasy with the notion that Canada is merely a region of the U.S., even if it is only in Internet registry parlance. Essentially we're back to the old “51st State” chestnut (if it ever really went away at all).

As a sovereign, independent nation Canada has the right and the power to make any law for the benefit of the many instead of the privileged few. Canada has long defended its cultural creativity and heritage against the constant incursion of foreign media. But what about Canada's right to defend itself from legislation created by other countries and political processes? SOPA and PIPA are detrimental to Canadian sovereignty and cultural identity, and it boils down to how Canada is strong-armed into changing or creating its legislation to mirror that of the U.S. And quite frankly, I resent being strong-armed into anything contrary to our Canadian way of life.

I fully understand that intellectual property protection is a slippery slope in the Information Age. I have friends and family on both sides of the border in the music, software, and film industries. And yes, they deserve to be paid for their creative efforts. But creating the type of legislation proposed by SOPA and PIPA is like aiming a firehose at a candle—the small infringement fires will be put out by sheer force, but it will make one hell of a mess in the interim. This is guilty-until-proven-innocent legislation, and it fails to address the lack of legitimate alternatives to media and information access. Provide reasonable, legitimate, and inexpensive alternatives to piracy (e.g., the Soundsbox approach instead of the iTunes model), and legislation like SOPA and PIPA will become unnecessary.