Laws Must be Specific to Preserve Freedom
By Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
In light of the recent controversy regarding SOPA and PIPA (PROTECT IP), I think I need to say something about the necessity of the law being specific in every regard with a primary focus on protecting individual rights. A law that is specific is considered an objective law. For example, if a law was written that says one must pay royalties to the producer of a digitized work if one is going to use said product as background music for a posted video, and the remedies / fines / royalties are spelled out in the law, then this law would be an objective law. One might disagree with the specifics, but so long as the law is clearly stated, then one knows what one is in for in using someone else’s copyrighted work as part of one’s own creation. On the other hand, if the law is vague and non-specific regarding the penalties for violations, then it is open to interpretation by the government and / or bureaucrats, making the country one of men instead of laws. Such laws are called non-objective laws. I see this as the primary problem with SOPA and PIPA (PROTECT IP). Neither law spells out the specific violation of copyright usage or what the legal remedies are for making a violation. Some are of the legal opinion that the law would then revert to more specific laws already on the books – i.e. current copyright laws – but this is not a necessity of poorly written laws. If a law is open to interpretation, then the government is granted the power to do whatever they want to do – such as appointing a Congressional subcommittee or an Internet Czar that would have the sole power to regulate the internet for content and usage of copyrighted material. If we are to continue to have free speech on the internet, then this sort of power granted to the government must be avoided.
Remember when ObamaCare was being debated in Congress before it was being voted upon and Nancy Pelosi said that we won’t know what is in it until it passes? In other words, she and her cohort wanted unlimited power over the medical profession, and since the law was vague enough, they basically got it. This is evil as doctors and others in the medical profession would have no idea of what is legal and what is illegal as they practice their profession. Similarly, if SOPA and PIPA (PROTECT IP) are passed in their current form, then unlimited power would be granted to the government to regulate internet usage and content, including links to other content on the internet – because the laws do not specify that what the want to stop is internet piracy of copyrighted material and ungranted permission to use copyrighted material [02/04/2012: at least my reading of the bills do not make it that clear and what level of violations would lead to an internet delist order]. Effectively, the bureaucrats would have taken over the internet*. While this is not specified in the proposed laws, their very vagueness would necessitate someone to interpret the law, which means a bureaucracy would be formed to regulate the internet.
If law makers cannot not be specific as to what is legal and what is illegal, then anything goes – and the first thing to go would be freedom of speech on the internet. Neither law says that one would have to get governmental permission before posting something, but effectively the vagueness of the law would lead to that necessity.
For more information on non-objective law, I would recommend reading the entries under non-objective law on the Ayn Rand Lexicon:
* 02/21/2012: I don't mean to imply that SOPA or PIPA were directly like ObamaCare in the explicit legal mandate to have bureaucracy take over the internet. My concern is more the idea that since the laws were not specific for minimum violations that would trigger the law and non-specific regarding punishments for not obeying the law, and were very intricately tied to current intellectual property laws, that are tied to other laws, etc. that this would be very difficult to enforce in a consistent manner, which would probably give rise to a bureaucracy to make those decisions. After all, someone has to interpret vague laws, so it would either be a judge or a bureaucracy -- and our government makes it a point to have bureaucrats these days.