Congressman Altmire sits with John Dalton before the townhall meeting. | Photo by John Paul

Dozens of people packed into the Fountainhead Cafe in Monaca last night, for a townhall meeting with Congressman Jason Altmire. The unique gathering was sparked by a tweet from cafe proprietor John Dalton, who contacted the Congressman after reading an article on about a controversial piece of legislation dubbed SOPA.

The Stop Online Piracy Act was designed to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. The proposal includes provisions to bar advertising networks from doing business with websites that hosted such content, prevent search engines from linking to those sites, and require Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to them as well. Violators would face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Opponents of the legislation, including virtually all of those present at last night’s meeting, say the bill would have a chilling effect on user-generated websites like YouTube, and would enable to the US Government to censor the internet in ways similar to countries like China, Iran, and Syria. Critics also say the legislation raises privacy concerns, and may force ISPs to begin analyzing all of the content being transmitted to and from its users.

Most of those at last night’s meeting agreed something had to be done to protect content creators on the internet, even if SOPA wasn’t the answer.

“I am not for SOPA” said photographer Kevin Cooke of Graule Studios. “But the issue of copyright infringement can’t go away.” Cooke said his photographs are regularly distributed online by others without his permission, a problem that has a material impact on his small business.

“There really is a problem. Piracy and copyright infringement is an enormous issue world wide” said Congressman Altmire. “It stifles innovation just as much as making the internet less free.”

It was a sentiment shared by Jack Manning, former independent candidate for county commissioner “What makes us the innovation engine of the world, is that we respect intellectual property, unlike countries like China.”

But several suggested the real problem was large corporations failing to evolve their business models to account for rapidly evolving technologies.

“Justin Beiber made his entire career by posting videos of himself on YouTube singing copyrighted music” noted John Dalton. “What we are seeing are the death throws of the old ways of selling things” said another voice in the crowd.

Congressman Altmire stressed a balance must be reached between a free and open internet, and protecting innovation by defending intellectual property rights — It was a balance he said SOPA did not achieve.

“I think what happened the past couple of days has been amazing” said Congressman Altmire. “You here in Monaca, here in Beaver County, have all made a huge difference […] This bill is not the answer. Thank you for helping me to come to that conclusion.”

Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) has likewise stated his opposition against PIPA, the Senate’s version of the bill.

[divider /] TED presentation by Clay Shirky explaining SOPA and PIPA:

[divider /]

John Paul
John Paul is the founder of the Beaver Countian. He reports full-time for the site, specializing in investigative journalism with an emphasis on public corruption.

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Howard Hall
Howard Hall

Great news! Now what about Sen. Bob Casey?


he is pro sopa in fact he is a co sponsor…

John Dalton
John Dalton

I want to thank John Paul for all of his help in generating interest for this, as well Jack Manning for for his advice and “pep talk” before meeting the Congressman last night.

Also and especially Congressman Jason Altmire for taking the time to meet with all of us here at The Fountainhead Cafe last night. I found the Congressman to be attentive and willing to listen to his constituents as well as willing to challenge us with opposing points of view.

Ultimately, in the end I do not believe that there is ANY need to regulate the internet. The vast majority of the internet is made up solely of people, such as John Paul of The Beaver Countian. To sit down and regulate under the guise of “protection” is a slippery slope argument. How far does that “protection” go? Look at the examples of Egypt, or China. Having the ability to shut down and regulate whatever they like in order to “protect” the people.

The world at large is a scary place. You can walk down an alley way and get mugged, just as easily as you could go to a website and get a virus. All of the laws and surveillance in the world has yet to stop the common criminal. To think that adding more laws and surveillance is going to change anything is foolhardy.

Yes, people download music, yes people copy photographs off of websites and use them as their own. But one thing that I have learned in this world is that Mass Media at large, ultimately is like fresh baked bread. It has a shelf life of value and every day that value gets lower and lower until it needs to be discarded.

We don’t live in the world of the Beatles or Casablanca, when we had timeless classics that could generate royalties for years to come. The technology and simple mass of people who are producing these works has grown exponentially where a person with a Macbook Pro running Garage Band, or some clever Photographer with a Camera Phone can create works that are more innovative than that of a multimillion dollar studio.

Even a site such as this, using a minimal amount of tools is able to generate so much more than that of a well established newspaper simply by being driven and tenacious.

They say that Piracy has always been a problem. And I thoroughly disagree. Piracy in it’s modern form as produced innovation. The original Copyright laws were put in place not to sue people for making copies of their works, but instead to protect the artist from plagiarism.

A very good and well respected friend of my, who I believe to be a culinary genius said to me once “Sure, they can steal my ideas, tomorrow, I’ll create a newer and better one.”

This statement should be the crux of any business. Always growing, always evolving and always looking for ways to up your game. As a small business owner I intentionally looked at what I was dissatisfied with other business and what I felt was missing. Even now, I am looking for ways to evolve and produce a better product, a better atmosphere just so that I am still relevant tomorrow!

It’s the name of the game, evolve or die. Plain and simple. A musician has to find a way to make his name relevant and stay relevant rather than just say “I produced an album, where are my millions?”. A photographer has to realize that after a while, that the same tired poses simply are not good enough for a senior portrait when the young up and comers are producing intense Rolling Stone quality work with limited resources.

Even a web page has to find a way to tweak and update itself, or else in a few short years it will look like Geocities Site compared to a modern and clean site.

Also too, we are so short sited in thinking that the rest of the world is stealing OUR songs and images. How many of US have “stolen” works from England, France, Italy, or Japan? It would seem to me that it’s not an “American problem”, but that it’s a worldwide “problem”. But is it really a problem? How much interest has been generated simply by exposure?

I mentioned Justin Beiber as being a GOOD reason Copyright exists, for if the laws had been enforced, his videos would have been pulled because he was infringing on Usher! However, this is a prime example of the potential of exposure.

Some young kid who was nobody caught the attention of a someone who was somebody and in turn has become a HUGE name in the industry, yet some mother who’s little baby is dancing to a Prince song on the radio in the background is damned and pulled from Youtube because of “infringement”?

It would seem, that this is an awfully one sided and unbalanced argument. Picking and choosing by whatever powers that be on what they can make money however THEY want to. We will destroy you, because you are not pretty, but keep you and endorse you because you are pretty.

And these are the people who are lobbying our Government for these Draconian and Fascists laws.

These are but a few reason why these laws cannot exist because they can and will be abused.

It is a Brave New Digital World and as I said the world states Evolve or Die. If our lawmakers cannot recognize that then they are no better than the luddites of the industrial revolution.