Feb 2, 2012

Getting in the act

SOPA was on trial this week. The "Stop Online Piracy Act" , or House Resolution 3261, was introduced at the end of October last year. The aim of the bill is to stop websites from re-distributing copyrighted material. You would think that Armageddon was imminent.

The big online websites like Google, Wikipedia and others all decided to make a political statement. In fact Wikipedia, the largest online knowledge base, shut off their site. On Wednesday, the only article that could be reached was the one documenting the SOPA bill. It was horrid as countless children went to bed without access to the number one websites that helps them with their homework. It should be noted, however, that those children with access to decent set of encyclopedias slept peacefully in their beds.

Now normally, I don't get too excited about legislation. And actually, I don't really have a dog in the SOPA fight. But what I found interesting was the sheer power of internet providers in the political process. I think this must have been what it was like in a world where the only information came from newspapers – and if the editor of the newspaper didn't like the bill, there was no way it was going to pass.

But more than that, I was excited about the whole buzz. Because the argument wasn't over the bill itself but over the potential unintended consequences of the bill. In other words, most people like the merits of the bill –to stop illegal distribution of copyrighted work - but were arguing over how the bill might be used to stop first-amendment legal uses of the internet.

You see every legislation has unintended consequence. That is why they are debated – to flesh out what might happen when the bill is passed. The scary bills are the ones that are so obviously popular that no-one is brave enough to raise their hand and say, "Yes, but what if...". It was wonderful to watch people debate that no bill is perfect and the best we can hope for is that the pluses outweigh the negatives.

The only laws that are perfect are God's laws. And even then our sinful nature corrupts our application of them. When Jesus came to earth he didn't have to live just within the Ten Commandments – he had to live in a world where the application of them had gone haywire. When He healed on the Sabbath He showed us that there are times when the unintended consequences go against the heart of God.

And His grace covers us when we pass a law that has unintended consequences.


Pastor David Hook

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