Updated: May 11, 2012
Dear readers, by now, the emotional storms over some very controversial laws have passed, so you will be able to read the following article with a calm and rational mind. Moreover, I purposefully refrained from posting this thing back then in order to reduce the noise and allow people to focus on the real efforts of stopping these laws. Now that we're in the clear, the trolling can commence.
What I want to tell you is how you can effectively boycott companies, how you can easily circumvent draconian laws without breaking any law, and finally, what protests, boycotts and revolutions are really about. If you thought liking someone on Failbook constitutes as your Fifth of November, then you are mistaken. In real life, things are a bit more stringent than that. So do follow me.
It's simple. Old media, so to speak, has a problem. One, it cannot adapt to the new reality. Two, it ignores the new reality. Three, it tries to suppress the new reality. In general though, they do not have a problem. It's not the question of being profitable, it's the question of being extra profitable and greedy. Most movies make all of their revenue in the first few weeks of cinema screening. So if you want to watch the movie, you'll go there and and pay, and if you don't, you never will. It's not like they are losing any potential customers because their content is so readily available for free download on the Internet. This seems to be a fact that most people neglect in their analysis of the situation.
In a way, old media is the exact opposite of the emerging technology trends on the Web. While everyone is trying to converge the many facets of media usage and sharing into a single dimension, which would be the smartphone factor, the old media simply refuses to embrace these new market segments. It's silly really. And the only solution they've come up with is trying to outlaw the Internet and its users, as it stands against the classic media that they represent.
It will probably take another four decades before the music and film industry realize they can make brickloads of money by making their content cheaper, maybe even free, and available worldwide, even in the rogue place like the all-too-liberal Europe, where people still smoke in public places and women will have sex with you for only a fraction of cost that it takes in America.
Anti-piracy laws are like making yourself blind in order not to see bad things. They are not really logical. And in the last round of fighting, we won, so to speak. Free content sharing is fiscally viable for everyone, which is what pretty much everyone agreed upon, except most companies that either do not produce any content of their own, or their content is so rich in DRM, it's virtually worthless. As a law-abiding and tax-paying citizen, you have every right to feel cheated and betrayed by these companies, and now it's your turn to show them what democracy is all about.
How to boycott properly
Now, this is not a simple thing, but it is definitely doable. Unfortunately, too many people take the emotional, short-term stance when boycotting rather than thinking more broadly and long-term. You must be cool about it and calculated. Here's an example:
Say a certain company sells laptops. And you don't like it. All right, don't buy their products. However, what if their laptop is truly the best item on the market, and the only one you can use for your work as well as furthering your boycotting agenda? Would it not make sense to swallow your ego and purchase that laptop, and then invest your skill in making your boycotting campaign as efficient as possible, using the best tool at your disposal?
This is a silly example. But the truth is, the boycott is more than just not buying. It's about raising awareness to the political and marketing practices of the companies you dislike, so that people will think twice before heading their way. That's what you want to do. Make sure their image is questioned, rather than the quality or immediate usefulness of their products. In the long run, it is the reputation that will seal the fate of the company. Maybe not now. But a year or five down the road, you will win. You must be patient.
To be successful, your boycott must be publicized. If you do not tell anyone about your dislike and do not rationalize in a clear and simple manifesto, your actions will be meaningless. Here, the power of the Internet has the potential of a supernova exploding just around the corner. Everyone has some sort of a blog nowadays, everyone has some social network account and everyone's active in at least nine sites and four forums. If you spend a decent amount of time carefully documenting your dislike, without undue slander and misinterpretation of facts, just pure cold facts and reasoning, you will slowly, word after word, deliver a powerful globe-aware message that people will read and accept. This will become their second conscience.
So there's no paradox in buying a "bad" company's product. You buy it, you use it, and then you have every right, as a consumer, to express your dislike with the company's image, ideology, marketing tactics, or anything else they might be doing wrong.
Back to SOPA and PIPA
First, ask yourself, do I give a ****. Yes, no? If you don't, stop reading, go elsewhere. If you do, then what you need to do is go online and consult the Wikipedia's list on companies that supported the legislation. See if there's anyone there whose products you think or know you're using or planned on using. Notice the list of companies that originally supported the laws and then removed themselves after severe image-tarnishing pressure and potential loss of income. Money talks, more about that later.
All right, did you find anyone you don't like? It's time to put your ideology where you fingers are. Your personal reasons for a particular dislike, lack of satisfaction, sense of betrayal, hidden agenda, or anything alike are completely irrelevant. So if you have them, keep them away. What you need to focus on are the facts. There's no denying there was an attempt to legislate something, neither the names, nor the affiliations. That's a done deal. Now, you need to spread those facts and create a wider public awareness. Offer people information and let them decide for themselves. Do not try to be the judge, because people will naturally resist and the success of your boycott will be reduced. People must come to the realization on their own, with only a bit of help from your side.
With time, you will be successful, as long as you persist. And there's the financial factor. which we will address shortly. Now, I'd like to focus on the technological aspects of any legislation in the digital era, which might or might not curtail your online liberties and freedoms.
Why SOPA, PIPA and all other laws are meaningless
The simple reason is - whoever conceives the laws does not understand the technology. It's like saying let's eradicate all rats. Can't be done. Not unless you send humans with flamethrowers into the sewers, and even then, you are not likely to reap much success. Likewise, here, someone imagined placing a virtual wall of chastity around America would protect the US intellectual property, and let's not argue over the national and intellectual symbols, nor the cultural impact and economical repercussions of slowing down the Internet growth. Let's just focus on the technology.
There's one simple little thing that makes all network-based laws useless - UDP. Most of the high-quality traffic is reserved to TCP, despite a higher overhead. Less time-critical stuff is handed over to UDP, like media streaming and peer-to-peer sharing. Now, you would assume that media streaming applies to websites that share content, but no, most of that is done using TCP. That's the intro.
Now, if you were to block evil sites, so to speak, you must also block all kinds of evil traffic, and this is done by introducing packet filtering, which essentially means monitoring each and every packet sent over the net and doing some fancy real-time heuristics in order to decide which ones to reject and which ones to pass through. Some ISP do this kind of thing on a limited basis, mainly using very rough and primitive algorithms, throttling users' traffic and sometimes resetting their connections. But all of this is done using TCP.
If you switch to UDP, the rules of the game change. Being stateless, UDP does not guarantee delivery, nor the timing thereof. Hence, any packet anywhere could belong to any which fragment of information exchange between direct and indirect peers. Hence, UDP filtering is impractical, as it would require huge resources on behalf of all these ISP companies. No one does that in practice.
In theory, all you need to do to defeat draconian laws is to create a few nonsense files containing random data, this can be easily done in Linux, rename them to something.avi and start sharing using P2P. Since this is content you created, it's perfectly legal. No one can disallow you from sharing your own media with friends and family. Likewise, they can do the same. The end result is, since you are not allowed to consume external media, which the new laws consider bad or illegal, you create and share your own content. Any ISP that dared try to filter UDP traffic would be brought to their knees, which would make them in breach of their contract. All ISP companies know this, which is why they have always opposed any kind of data enforcing and monitoring laws that require them to invest huge amounts of resources in counting packets like idiots.
If ISP cannot enforce the laws, the laws become meaningless. End of story, whoever voiced the laws suffers from the middle age crisis, meaning they are stuck in the middle ages, circa 1300 CE. It is sad that people do not really understand this. Once they figure this out, the world will be a better place.
You cannot make pirates go away. What you can do is bribe the pirates with some of your loot. That's what everyone did with the Mongols and it worked. If you give away your movies and music for free, if you try to be nice and friendly with the world, you will get their support, without significantly compromising your revenue, if at all. Unfortunately, greed seems to be the ultimate goal. Now, a more fundamental question of revolutions and money.
The real revolution
It is important to remember that all governments in normal countries rule by the grace of the people. Just to clarify, this does not include super-totalitarian regimes where the army and secret police constitutes 30-40% of the population. We're talking countries where the law enforcement is mostly symbolic and respected.
Imagine if every single citizen in some big city, like New York, suddenly took to the street, even against a federal order. What would the police force do exactly? First, they are outnumbered some 40 to 1, second do you really think they would fight to uphold the law when their family and friends were all out there? Of course not. Law is the consensus of a better good. People obey most of them, because they help introduce order and prosperity into the society. It works as long as your average Joe is willing to put up with the framework of liberties and obligations granted to him by the law.
People fail to realize that they actually have the power, the real power to change things. The one problem is, the society is too fragmented to impact anything significant within a reasonable time frame, which is why you have your electorates, who supposedly do things for you, and the only thing you're expected to do is to make the right choice every four or five years. But never forget that they govern at your mercy. Once you know that, you can do anything you want.
It comes down to quantity and impact. You can be many and affect things by the power of numbers or you can be few but noisy enough to cause significant changes on your own. Even so, people always forget that genuine, life-critical decisions are never made in chat rooms and online petitions. The real weapon of the revolution is this little toy:
Not having 100MB broadband might constitute as a crisis in your life, but is it something you would be willing to give your life for? When the French did their revolution in 1789, they didn't just fill in online forms and send them to their Senate members. No. They fought. In the end, the problem was mostly resolved using the guillotine, which was responsible for some 40,000 segfaults. In modern numbers, that's like a million today.
Look at what's happening around the world. 20% of people have all the food, medicines and other fancy commodities they want. Their problems revolve around the exaggerated fuel tax on large V10-powered SUV and the limitations on pr0n stream, what audacity, how dare they. Elsewhere on planet earth, people are risking their lives on a minute-to-minute basis, fighting. The struggle is not always justified, but it's easier to do that when you do not have a 100-inch TV and Internet streaming using fiber-optic IV injections. Go figure. Boredom?
All in all, our consumers woes and subsequent boycotts are just meaningless games. It comes down to ego, who beat who. As the end user, you will feel victory if you beat the big brother, no matter what. Some people might not even care about the bottom line in their bank account, as long as they are happy. But whatever is rocking the online world is hardly anything most people would bother picketing, let alone staging a proper rally before their national assembly, let alone participating in a bloody revolution. It's all one big joke, really.
No one really cares about any SOPA, PIPA or other disease-sounding laws, because they do not really affect people's lives on any fundamental level. If they did, governments proposing and voting such laws would not exist. Just think of those things and people precious to you. You'd not even hesitate one instant to protect the integrity of your family and beliefs. But the Internet? Bah.
If you really want to make sure that your inherent freedom is never endangered, then you must do more than just sulk and subscribe to mailing lists. You must become a Borg trooper, one with the mind in the collective. You must organize yourselves. Luckily, all that is required is your money. It will do all the magic.
Do you feel that powerful lobbies are threatening your fun? Neutralize them. All is takes is some discipline and perseverance and financial support. Find your champion and help them defend your honor. For example, in the latest round of wrestling against SOPA and PIPA, Wikipedia did a stellar job of raising awareness to the problem. Now, it's only logical for you to give something in return. It doesn't have to be millions, because there are so many people out there. Even one dollar will go a long way of strengthening their status and cause, so they can defend you even more mightily the next time around.
Here's the Utopia scenario. Every single citizen in the United States donates one dollar to their champion non-profit organization. Instantly, we're talking 300 million dollars of pure cash that can be invested in buying hardware and software, TV and newspaper ad space, booking conferences, printing leaflets and books for schools, and whatnot. Instantly, you become a strategic factor that must be reckoned with.
And you don't really have to do anything. It's the unrealized potential of your collective organizational power that will do all the hard work for you. Just knowing that you can quickly and efficiently rally around any which cause you choose will make everyone, including the politicians think long and hard on whether they should ever cross you. There's no need for a bloody uprising. Money works just fine.
To sum it up, your boycott is not just about boycotting - it's also about strengthening the other side. Not buying a product is not good enough. You must also buy the RIVAL product. That way, you will truly make an impact. So think about whoever is not impinging on your ego and help them. Balance, it's all about balance. If you can make the media industry fear you, they will ultimately be nicer, more polite, more conforming, offer better and cheaper products to a wider audience. Everyone wins. Think of the browser war and see how it has benefited everyone. Microsoft would have never released Internet Explorer 9 with great CSS supported if not for Firefox and Chrome.
If you can do the same in other segments of the market, you will always enjoy the best prices, best products, and the most polite customer service. You will always be at the top of the priority list, and companies will make sure to consult you before going on their useless crusades.
Actually, this is one thing that social networks might really be good for, if nothing else. Informal politics. This is your Borg collective. Use it properly once, for a change.
There we go. You now know everything there is about how the real world works, and you are probably a tad sadder because of that, since you naivete has just been filed off with some rather rough sandpaper. But if you really thought it's about online protests, then you had it coming.
Boycotting is about being calm and calculated and driven by monetary considerations. It should never be about emotions. If you're into emotions, you might as well watch some Argentinian telenovela or whatever. You must remember that you hold the real power, it's only about how you concentrate it and use it effectively. Lastly, real revolutions tend to be more runny, i.e. bloody than what you imagine, so choose carefully those topics dear to your heart and examine them through a fundamental lens of do-I-really-care lens. That would be all. A harsh lesson in growing up. But then, you might be happier tomorrow, as you will know how to handle future threats to the sanctity of your pr0n. Boom.
P.S. Images of the hear no speak no see no evil monkeys, the pirate, Uncle Sam wants YOU, and network cables are in public domain.