Thursday, January 19, 2012

SOPA, PIPA, and Fiduciary Obligations

It looks like SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House) and PIPA (the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate) are on their last legs. Various Cogresspersons are withdrawing their support--like Marco Rubio and Orrin Hatch--and the President has vowed not to sign the legislation, regardless.

And throughout the 'net, there is much rejoicing.

Victory for the people, right? An example of grass-roots organizing and a thumb to the eye of powerful lobbying groups and moneyed interests--like the MPAA and RIAA--as well?

But what about actual online piracy, actual theft of copyrighted material and intellectual property? Certainly, we can all agree that these things are wrong. So what's wrong with SOPA and PIPA? Where do they cross the line? To that end, I give you Stanford's symposium on the subject from last year:



The video is very long--almost two hours--but very informative. And it brings up a very important issue, very early on: that of unintended consequences.

I seriously doubt that SOPA and PIPA were put together with the intent of having the Government take control of the internet, of it being able to arbitrarily shut down websites. So why is it that the bills being considered appear to do just that? Simple, our elected representatives suck at their jobs.

"Fiduciary obligation" is a common term in the legal and financial world. It refers to the obligation one individual has to another, when the former has been given authority to make decisions that directly impact the latter's money and/or property. Thus, if you give an accountant--for instance--the power to access your funds, the accountant has a fiduciary obligation to do "the right thing" with your funds. That obligation means that the accountant is obligated to know details, to have a full understanding of any action taken before it is taken.

The obligation means--in a practical sense--that a fiduciary has to read and understand anything he or she might sign off on in the name of another, that he or she must have a complete understanding of all rules, regulations, and laws that may have an impact on a client's holdings.

Simple question: do elected representatives have a fiduciary obligation to their constituents? After all, they make decisions that impact the property and money of their constituents. The money they spend--tax revenues--really belongs to their constituents. So the answer is, I think, very obviously a "yes." Elected representatives--and the President--are fiduciary agents of the people they represent. In that regard, they have a clear duty to fully read and understand anything they sign, write, or vote on in their role as such an agent.

And that just doesn't happen. As is clear in the case of the SOPA and PIPA bills (and even clearer in the case of the Stimulus bill), our leaders are not doing their due diligence, which they must do in our names as fiduciary agents. Every bill presented in Congress should be read, word for word, by every congressperson before it is put to vote, period. And every bill a congressperson submits should be a product of that congressperson and his or her staff, period.

And there's no excuse for these failings. None, whatsoever.

Cheers, all.

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