The Weddification of a Steph and a Paul

This past weekend, Jean-Marc and I, along with our dear friend, Christine MacIsaac (note the two “a”s), attended the wedding of Stephanie Ernwein and Paul Aikten in Bergen, Alberta. Stephanie is another one of our dear friends from Acadia. She came to Acadia as a frosh student in my second year and Jean-Marc’s fifth year. She quickly became involved in Acadia Christian Fellowship, and she and I served together on the student leadership team for two years. We became great friends, and she was one of the MCs for our wedding. She met Paul when she went out to work for the Pioneer Ranch Camps out in Alberta. Unfortunately, Jean-Marc and I did not get the opportunity to meet Paul until the big day, but from what we heard and saw (on Facebook, of course), it seemed like they were made for each other. :)

We really wanted to make the effort to be at her wedding, since we knew that probably not many of our friends from Acadia would be able to make it. So, we rented a car and drove to Alberta (with stops in Camrose and Edmonton for a couple of days to visit family), picked up Christine in Edmonton, and headed down to cowboy country.

Well, for any of you who know Stephanie, she is a true Albertan girl at heart. She loved Acadia, Wolfville and Nova Scotia, but her heart truly lies out West. Christine, Jean-Marc and I were very curious to see the Alberta side of her. Despite Christine and I both being from Alberta, we really only knew of her Acadia life. We kept trying to imagine what her Albertan wedding would be like. Well, we can tell you, we weren’t disappointed!  It was as Albertan as Albertan can be– in fact, it was the most Albertan Christine and I’ve ever felt!

The wedding took place in the heart of the Albertan foothills, in a small town (I’m apt to think that the town only consists of the church, dance hall, and store) called Bergen, close to Sundre. Steph and Paul had their ceremony at the Bergen Missionary Church; if I recall correctly, this is where Steph attended church during her summers out a Pioneer. I do remember her telling some of the church members would ride their horses to service on Sunday mornings, and tie them up on the hitching post outside the church!

Thunderstorms were forecasted for the afternoon, but we were pleased to see the sun breaking up the clouds when we drove to the church.  Surprisingly, Christine, Jean-Marc and I were the first ones to arrive.  This usually never happens. We took our seats, and sat, excitedly awaiting the arrival of the wedding party and the bride.

The groomsmen, of course, lined up at the front, and we broke into smiles when we saw them.  They were dressed in black collared shirts and black jeans, with cowboy boots and cowboy hats, and bright yellow silk scarves tied around their necks.


First came the bridesmaids, dressed in white collared shirts, black pencil skirts, with a forest green silk sash tied around their waists, carrying bouquets of green prairie grass, daffodils and baby’s breath.  While the yellow and green were quite fitting colours for the Albertan wedding, Steph later pointed out (which I had not caught on to) are the John Deere colours.

Next came Sierra, Steph’s five-year-old niece, who was the flower girl.  She was very sweet, but wasn’t quite sure to make of the crowd.  She held her basket of petals resolutely, and walked down the aisle purposefully, with her lips tightly shut, and her eyes darting from one side to the other.

Then, came Stephanie.  Paul’s reaction was priceless.  His eyes popped open wide and his lips rounded into an big “OH!”, clutched his cowboy hat tightly, and then he fell mesmerized, unable to take his eyes off of her.  Stephanie did indeed look stunning.  She was wearing a mermaid-styled dress, with the bodice wrapped around her pretty figure.  The dress had a strapless sweetheart neckline, and a brocade of beadwork wrapped around her chest.  Her hair was done up, intricately weaved in the back, with white flowers nestled in her locks.  She and her father walked down the aisle to “Be Thou My Vision” being played on the violin and the piano.

Going down the aisle

It was a beautiful ceremony, with Paul’s father officiating.  His theme of the message was “walking in love”, and how important it is in marriage to walk daily with the Lord, and with your spouse– not to run and rush up ahead, not to sit idly by, and not to go off onto your own path.  And, at the end of the day, marriage is about washing each other’s dirty feet; serving each other.

I do
Kissy kissy

This tied into one of the passages that Stephanie and Paul picked out:  the passage in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet.  The message and their exchange of vows/signing the registry was then followed by Stephanie and Paul washing each other’s feet, as “Brother, Sister, Let Me Serve You” was played on the violin and piano.  It was the first time that we had seen a foot-washing done in a wedding, and we thought it was beautiful.

Washing feet

The service finished with a congregational singing of “How Great Thou Art”, and then Stephanie and Paul danced down the isle to a little fiddle hoe-down!


Jean-Marc and I finally got to meet Paul in the receiving line (Christine had met him once before), but it felt like we already knew him!  As Christine had said earlier, and as was mentioned later in the speeches, Paul’s personality shines through immediately when you meet him.  He was so friendly, and gave us both a big hug!  He shares the same kind of goofiness that Steph has.

We finally get to meet Mr. & Mrs. Aitken!

We also got to see Amy Buckland-Nicks, one of Stephanie’s closest friends from Acadia, who was a fellow biology student with Steph and one of her comrades in outdoor excursions. Amy was one of Steph’s bridesmaids, and had flown all the way from Nova Scotia to attend. Christine, Jean-Marc and I got to know Amy through Stephanie, and so it was great to see her again and catch up with her a bit.

The wedding party departed on a horse-drawn wagon, with ‘Just Hitched’ written on a sign at the back!  A clump of very grey clouds hovered right over the church, and just as they left, the rain came pouring down.  The wedding attendees followed behind very slowly as we made our way down the road to the Bergen community hall, and as soon as we arrived, the rain let up (of course).

Just Hitched

The hall was small, but it made for a very nice and intimate affair.  A lovely mural of a foothills country scene, with the mountains in the distance, was painted on one of the walls.  There were rows of tables draped in dark green tableclothes, with yellow gerber daisies, pinecones and green apples adorning the tables.  A sawhorse was draped with a western saddle by the gift table.  The guests were arranged into tables by country song names, though we found ourselves at the “Mull River Shuffle” table, the one East Coast Song exception.  As the MC began the evening, he said that in order to make the couple kiss, a table had to get up and sing a rendition of the song of the table they were seated at; a song that was very meaningful to the marrying couple.

We had a delicious meal of Alberta roast beef, Alberta roasted potatoes, Alberta corn, Alberta spinach salad and Alberta greek salad (??), with Alberta carrot cake for desert.  Of course, we had to make Paul and Stephanie kiss, and while in line for our food, we realized that we even had a personalized verse of the “Mull River Shuffle” for Steph, from Jean-Marc’s re-writing of the Rankin Song to the “Catherine Court Shuffle”, which was played both at an ACF Maritime Party, and at our wedding reception.  We wondered if we could quickly come up with a verse for Paul, too, and so brainstormed ideas as we ate our meal.  This is what we sang for them:

Here comes young Miss Stephernie, telling her love of biology;
Stomping her foot and slapping her knee, she’ll tell you the earth’s chronology.

She met a man at Pioneer, maintaining the camp on a John Deere;
You would think that he’s from here, we’ll make them kiss and then we’ll cheer!

Raisin’ the jar and raisin’ hell, there’s plenty of stories that they will tell;
Some are born of true detail, but enough of that, start kissin’!

One of the little themes that came up during the speeches was the fact that Paul was a native-Ontarian-turned-cowboy.  He is about as Albertan as they come!  But one of the other things that also came clear was how much love there was for Stephanie and Paul, and how thrilled their family and friends were for their union.

After the speeches, the guests cleared away the tables– cake was cut, Paul and Stephanie had their first dance, then the father-daughter/groom-mother dance, then… came the square dance!  Our first ever real square dance!  There was a live guitar, fiddle and piano, and they told us to dosie-do, and turn your partner round and round.  It was such a fun time!   We had 3 square dance numbers, then the bouquet and the garter were tossed; one guy caught the guarder belt, and then his girlfriend caught the bouquet! Afterwards, the rest of the dance began.  Stephanie’s sister’s partner is a DJ, so he spun the vinyl for us.  We had some very Western numbers, including “Cadillac Ranch”, which is the one token line dance I know, and always reminds me of elementary gym and family dances.  Jean-Marc didn’t know most of the country music, which made me laugh, because I am no country girl, but there are some songs that everyone out west knows and are wedding dance standards!


Checkout my boots


Around 10:00, Stephanie and Paul bade farewell; we conjured up a farewell arch and off they went.  The Happy Newlyweds, off to discover life’s adventures together!

It was a wonderful celebration.  Everything about it was very Stephanie and Paul.  It was God-centered.  It was full of joy, hope, faith, promise, humility, and of course, fun!  For Christine, Jean-Marc and I, it was very interesting to see Stephanie’s Alberta life.  It is a whole different world for her, and very much a part of her and her of it, yet we really had no idea of it.  We realized we only really knew the Acadia-version of Stephanie.  I mean, Stephanie is Stephanie, but there certainly was a part of her we saw fully expressed that we hadn’t before, and that was nice.  It was an honour to be invited to share in their celebration, and I am so glad we had the opportunity to do so!  And for those who weren’t able to make it, we hope this gives you a glimpse into their special day.

Paul & Steph

Blessings Stephanie and Paul, as you begin life together!


Tweeting in the Rain

This past Sunday was a very cold, rainy, windy day here in Regina. For those of you not familiar with the place, that’s very unusual weather; my supervisor Martin says that he sees more sunshine here than he did where he lived in California! Anyway, Solveig and I, not owning a car, dressed up in rain equipment, brought our umbrellas, and fought our way to church. It was pretty cold, and the wind was trying to take our umbrellas away, but given that our first date was a walk in the freezing rain in February, we didn’t think it was too much to deal with.

Along the way, something caught my eye: it was a baby bird, alone and shivering on the sidewalk. It was right below a very large tree, and basic logic suggests that it likely fell out of said tree. Normally, it would probably have been best to leave the bird alone– after all, we’ve all heard that mama birds won’t accept their young if they carry the scent of a human (or some such variation of that). However, this little guy was clearly not going to survive: it was shivering, it was getting drenched in cold rain, and it could barely move. I bent near it, and it opened up its beak at me, as if expecting something. Solveig and I went around to try and find a worm. We found one, but the wind and the rain made it hard to grasp on to the thing. We tried to feed it a few times, with no luck. After a few attempts, the baby bird stopped opening his mouth. We thought that he must be becoming numb. I picked him up, and we decided to make our way to the church (even though we were very late by this point) because it was much closer, and someone might know what to do. Along the way, I blew hot air on it, cupped in my hands, to try and warm it up. The bird showed no protest and seemed quite comfortable in my hands.

Upon arriving, we went into the gym/kitchen area to see if we could get a towel for it. We wrapped it up, and allowed it to dry and warm up a bit. Those who were not attending the third church service and were in the area helped us with him. One girl in particular was very interested in him, and took him into her hold. She explained how she had found some abandoned just-hatched birds when she was younger, and her and her mother helped to raise them by feeding them and giving them water. To her credit, she was as comfortable as she said she was, because our little baby bird then pooped in her hand, and she didn’t even flinch.

After a good poop, the baby bird seemed to be coming back to his sense; he stretched out his neck, looked around at everyone, and started to chirp. It was really cute, and a sign that it was finally coming out of its numb state. We wanted to try feeding it gain, but thought that a whole worm might be too much for the little guy, and that he might need to have the worm all grounded up before he could eat it. Gross. But, it needed to be done. Luckily, there as a guy walking by who didn’t seem too bothered by the idea, and he grinded up a worm and put its contents in a cup.

Try as we might, however, the bird would not take it. He would not open his mouth for anyone. This saddened me, because he most certainly opened it when we first approached him, but now he wouldn’t and he needed to eat!

So then the question had to be asked: now what?

We couldn’t just take it back to where we found it and leave it there again; it was still cold and rainy out and it would end up in the same situation as before. But could we take care of it? A quick check for help on the issue online showed that this would be a very difficult task:

First of all, baby birds are fed every 20 minutes, from dawn to dusk. This would be very difficult for us to keep up with, even if we wanted to, because of days when both Solveig and I worked. Even if Solveig were home all the time, it would be hard to be here every 20 minutes just to give the little guy a worm. Secondly, the guy wasn’t even accepting food from us, so even if we could take care of it every 20 minutes, it wouldn’t accept our hospitality! And finally, even if we could raise it up normally, we couldn’t teach it how to fly or how to look for food, as its mother would do. So ultimately, there’s not much we could do for the little guy.

So here was the plan: we took it home for a little bit so that I could build it a little shelter. I built it from cutting up a 4L tug of ice cream (that was empty) so that there was an open face, but also a closed side and a little shelter above it. We attached it to a rag, which went under it, to give it some weight, and to provide a flooring for our make-shift “nest”, which was just an Easter basket with the handle removed, cut to half the height, and with the confetti stuff still in it.

Despite becoming somewhat attached to the little guy in a short amount of time, we knew that the safest thing to do, and the best way to take care of him, would be to put him in the shelter near where he was found. Our friend Jason took us to the place that he fell (since it was still raining out) and we put him in the same tree as the nest that he must have fallen from, though on a branch further down. Our “nest” actually fit quite well into the convergence of branches, which I was pleased with! Solveig used some stones to help stabilize it as well. When we first put him in, he immediately flew right at me in protest! (Well, “fell” right at me is a better way of putting it… Good thing I caught him!) I was worried he would keep trying to escape, so I tried to get him as “snug” as I could into the “nest” so that his instinct to stay put might set in. It seemed to work the second time, as he sat there, chirping. We said our goodbyes and headed off.

Our hope is that the mother would hear his chirping, and come down to check out the weird contraption he was held under, and then take care of him (her?). For a while we were worried if the mother bird would still care for her young, having been “contaminated” by humans, but it turns out that everything we read said that birds do NOT abandon their young for such a trivial matter, and in fact will continue to take care of them as long as they are young and alive. Birds, it turns out, don’t even have a great sense of smell.

It may not seem like a big deal overall, but it meant a lot to me personally, because I really felt the weight of responsibility that this bird’s very life was in our hands. We had to weigh the options of trying to take care of it, or trying to return it. And if we returned it, we had to figure out how to protect it, which we hopefully did. And even if we did return and protect it, we still had to be concerned about other issues: if it fell out again, would it just be in the same situation we found it? We put the nest above ground to protect it from cats, but if it fell down, it would be all for nothing. And what if the mother never found the little guy? Then would it have been better to try and keep it after all?

In the end, we had only a few options, only a limited amount of time to decide, and not much of a choice, given some circumstances. We made the decision to do what we considered to be “the best option”… But even when you do that, there are always doubts about whether you did “the right thing” or not.

If God spoke to us directly and clearly every time, decisions like this would be much easier.

As is, we’re often left with the “best of the options”… even if you don’t always feel so good about it.


Creativity & Prince Charles

We’ve decided it’s time for a little experiment. Lately, I (Jean-Marc) feel like I’ve been slowly losing some of the creativity I used to have. Especially when I was a kid, I would spend hours at the computer creating random games, videos, or other projects that kept my mind engaged every single day. Somewhere along the lines, that fell off, and I became less in the habit of creating than I used to be. I think this is common as we become adults, but I don’t like it, and don’t believe that being an adult means that you stop doing anything experimental or creative. It would come back in spurts, only to die off again once the particular project was over.

Anyway, I’d been reading up a bit on how to continue in creativity, and the answer is (shockingly):

To create. Everyday. No matter how small and insignificant. No exceptions.

After the absurdity of creating things to be creative passes you, it actually makes some sense when you really think about it. Actually, a lot of sense. Actually, too much sense. Therefore, the logical conclusion is to give it a shot!

This means that every day, we have to either:

  • Write a blog post OR
  • Write some music OR
  • Program something useful OR
  • Create a component for a game OR
  • Cook something new OR

That final “…” is the interactive portion of this post: you can actually be creative and fill it in with your own ideas! (And by fill it in, I mean leave a comment).

I think when I think of creating, especially as I get older, I have this irrational feeling as if whatever I create must be deep, thought-out and significant, otherwise it’s not worth creating. But the problem with that is that the task seems so big that I don’t even start. So I figure it’s better to start to create something that is insignificant, rather than not creating something that IS significant.

We can’t always write blog posts about earthquakes… thankfully.

You can check back whenever you feel like it, if you are interested at all. I’ll try and keep you up-to-date on what we’re working on at the moment, or what’s coming next. For today, this blog post is the creative thing.

Is this post significant? No. Is that OK? Yes.

However, Solveig did do something significant today, so I’ll let her finish this off.

Well, as many of you probably know, the Royals made their way across the big pond to engage with Canadians as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.  Now, I do not have many celebrity obsessions, however, I do have a certain weakness when it comes to the members of the British monarchy.  I have been following them since I was 11 years old, with the death and funeral of Princess Diana.  Her death holds a little bit of sentimental value for me, only for the fact that it is one of the first “news events” I remember of my lifetime (memories I recall of earlier events are the never-ending O.J. Simpson murder-case, the Oklahoma City bombing, the murder of Jon-Benet Ramsey, Donovan Bailey setting the world records for 100m sprint at the 1996 Summer Olympics.  Okay, I guess there were a few more than I realized).  But Diana’s death was one of those “flash memories”- I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the news.  As her life flashed across magazines and television screens and newspapers, my 11-year-old mind couldn’t help but be captivated by this glamorous, yet kind and gentle woman.  I have to admit, that I may have been slightly captivated by that 15 year-old son of her’s also. :P    To add to that list of events, I also must say that I remember Mother Teresa’s death, which came only about a week after Diana’s.  This also stands out in my mind, because my mother was deliberate to point out the virtuous and humble life that Mother Teresa lived, which was also receiving notable attention, but certainly overshadowed by Diana’s.  At any rate, thus began my intrigue and interest into this reigning family of our’s.

This is all to say, that Prince Charles and Camilla were in town, and I got to see them today!  They were taking a tour of the Legislature- one of the many pit-stops on their rigorous 4-day Canadian tour.  After waiting for 40 minutes in rain and wind and cold, they arrived and conducted a quick about.   Alas, I was not able to get a very good photo or shake their hands, but I did get to see their faces, which was enough for me!  And, this was actually my third Royal sighting, so I cannot complain.

So, this may be news of little interest to some of you, especially since Charles and Camilla don’t have the same fame status as the Queen or his and daughter-in-law, but it made me excited!  I know many people are indifferent or against the monarchy, but I like having one.  As I’ve matured out of the girlish obsession of glittering dresses and a good-looking prince (though I still like to see what Kate’s wearing- she’s so classy, but modest, and her grace, poise and humility always shines through), the monarchy has come to help define Canadian identity for me, and I believe provides some stability and consistency.  How many prime ministers have come and gone in the past 60 years, but the Queen, she’s still there.  And, she keeps on going. She inherited an entire dominion when she was only 25 years old, and her loyalty to her country and duty never waivered, which I think is admirable.  She is 86 and still conducts hundreds of diplomatic and public engagements during the year.   And did you know, even the Queen pays taxes?

As for Charles– well, he’s certainly had plenty of bad press, between his divorce from Diana, his long-standing affair with Camilla, and his seemingly cold and distant relationship with his sons.  But, I think there is a lot of Charles that the public doesn’t see; I think he actually has quite a good and close relationship with his sons, and he is involved with a lot of humanitarian work and entrepreneurial promotion, especially those pertaining to sustainable practices and environmental and technological innovation.  He also is a great patron of the arts.  And Will and Kate?  Well, to sum it all up: I think they’re both fantastic!  Even though I’m past the point of being excited to see Will’s face every time I open up my wallet, I do look forward to seeing what they will do with their lives, their country, the Commonwealth and their service.

Have any of you had the opportunity to see any of the Royal members in person before? Comment on it below!


SOPA/PIPA in plain English

Disclaimer: This post is a long one, but a very important one. If you become bored or are short on time, please read my summary instead.

Today, 7,000+ websites, including GoogleWikipedia, Reddit, Mozilla and Tucows are protesting as part of a raging debate that has been taking place across America over two new bills that are being considered by Congress and the Senate that would dramatically affect the inner-workings of the Internet. Whether or not the future of the Internet concerns you, its impact on the world over the past 2 decades cannot be denied. Therefore, this is bill is of a global consideration, and deserves more attention than it is currently getting in the main-stream. Though Internet-savvy users and the entire tech industry have become well-aware of the SOPA/PIPA debate, the average person is blissfully unaware of the bill or its potential implications on the future.

It is therefore my intent to try and explain the SOPA/PIPA bills both in technical terms, and in plain English, so that any reader of this blog post can consider themselves aware of the bill, it’s implications, and its potential dangers. I have tried my best to represent the facts as accurately as possible, however if you read something that is inaccurate, please contact me or leave a comment with supporting facts.

What are SOPA and PIPA?

SOPA, known also as H.R. 3261, is a bill that was introduced by Texas Representative Lamar Smith on October 26, 2011 to the United States House of Representatives. SOPA stands for the “Stop Online Piracy Act”, and is intended to give U.S. law enforcements and copyright holders much greater abilities to fight online piracy and copyright infringement. There have already been 3 hearings pertaining to this bill, on November 16, and December 15 & 16, 2011, and was planned to continue on January 24, 2012. However, due to serious concerns about the bill coming directly from the White House on January 15, 2012, the bill has been set for another mark-up session in February. (UPDATE: This bill has since been shelved indefinitely, due to protests against it.)

PIPA, known also as the PROTECT IP bill, was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy even earlier on May 12, 2011, is considered the “sister bill” of SOPA. Its contents are in almost every way the same as the SOPA bill, except that it is being considered by the Senate instead of Congress. It remains scheduled for a vote on January 24, 2012. (UPDATE: This bill has also been shelved indefinitely, due to protests against it.)

Is piracy really that big of a problem?

Absolutely. Piracy is the theft of intellectual property, for example the redistributing of copied material that you do not own and are not giving due payments to its creators. Copyright laws of America, such as the DMCA law passed into law on October 28, 1998, do a reasonably good job at curtailing piracy in America. However,  there are currently no laws to protect filmmakers and artists against Americans from downloading stolen intellectual property from oversea websites. Attempts at issuing Cease & Desist orders to websites in foreign countries have proved to be generally ineffective, as American laws can’t be imposed on those countries with loose copyright laws.

The worst offenders against content creators are those that make profit off of the stolen content. Pirating has been proving to be a very profitable business in foreign countries, by creating websites that attract users with the ability to watch free movies, and by gaining high income from the advertising on these sites. In many cases, the pirates even charge a nominal fee to their users for an “increased experience”, thereby gaining even more money from property that they have no ownership rights.

In real-world terms:  Making profit by offering downloads or streams of intellectual property online is akin to robbing the house all the works of every artist, filmmaker and musician and re-selling them to people all over the world, making an indefinite amount of copies to continue doing so.

Piracy is theft, plain and simple, and any money created from the “business” of piracy is nothing more than illegal, dirty money. Bills are needed to curtail these thieves and to protect content creators.

If piracy is a bad thing, why oppose these bills?

The problem with the SOPA/PIPA bills are not the ends; it’s the means. The bills are so loosely-written that its language is too broad, its legal procedures too lenient, its scope too all-encompassing, its implementation too insecure, and its punishment for false accusations too gentle.

The conflict between the goals and means of these bills is the source of its controversy:

Those focusing exclusively on the goals, ie. the zero-tolerance method of eliminating piracy websites, make up the majority of the parties supporting it. This most notably includes the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which includes most major movie companies (Disney, Sony, Paramount, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros, etc), major news networks (CNN, CBS, etc), and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Trademark companies, such as Nike, L’Oreal and the NBA also support the bill.

Meanwhile those focusing on the means, ie. the bill’s technical application and its affect on the structure and openness of the Internet, make up the major industries that oppose the bill. The biggest names include Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, AOL, Mozilla, Reddit, Wikipedia, and almost every other technology-related company based online. Also, there is virtually no controversy about the matter within the global Internet community and Human Rights groups, with a recent Approve/Oppose poll taken showing that 98% of Internet users in America oppose the bills.

On January 14, some of the While House’s technical experts, cyber-security experts, and even intelligent property enforcement experts have also agreed that while the goal of the SOPA/PIPA bills are necessary, their means are not supported or condoned by the White House.

Companies that are caught in the middle, most notably operating system and video gaming companies, who are strong in their beliefs against piracy yet disagree with the means, mostly remain neutral. This includes Apple, Nintendo, and Electronic Arts.

What are the goals and means of this bill that are so controversial?

Goals:  The goals of these bills are to allow the government and private parties to request the Attorney General to file court orders against any foreign website that they feel is stealing, copying, distributing or profiting from their intellectual property. Currently, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the law only allows these parties to order a particular element on a website to be removed. The SOPA/PIPA bills demand that the entire foreign site be removed from public access.

Means: The sites that are accused have their domain name listing removed from Internet service providers, funding and advertising companies no longer direct payment to these parties, and search engines must also remove them from their results.

What do those mean, in simpler terms?

In Internet terms: These bills provide the government and private parties (ie the entertainment industry) the right to block websites from US visitors, cut off all funding to them, and remove them from all search engines. This is essentially the equivalent of completely removing the offending company from existence.

In real-life terms: This would be like if the government and entertainment interest groups had the ability to shut down an entire chain of stores across America, cut off all revenue that they receive, and remove them from all phone books and other registries.

What’s the problem with removing infringing websites from the Internet?

The bill works on the “good faith” and “evidence” of the prosecutors; ie, there are no fair trials, investigations or other due processes into the matter of the offending site. If an Attorney General wants any given site taken down, he/she has the private right to do so simply by obtaining a court order from a judge, and sending a notice to the owner of the offending site, then to service providers, payment providers and search engines to blacklist it. After 5 days the site will almost cease to exist from the public eye.

Do the bills target American websites as well?

No, they do not target American website; it has been amended to only target foreign websites. Supporters of the bill have been very vocal about the fact that this bill is only intended to target foreign websites. Within the SOPA bill, a foreign website is defined as a website that does not have an American domain name (ie, a website that does not end in .com, .net, .org, etc). An example of a foreign website is a website in the UK which ends with “”. There have been countless exaggerations online that this bill will somehow make it illegal for you to sing karaoke songs on YouTube, or that your website will be taken down because you have a t-shirt with a copyrighted character on it. Although this bill does have plenty of issues, this is not one of them, and it most certainly won’t target such videos, pictures or music on American websites.

So the bills won’t affect American website then?

Unfortunately, as currently written, they certainly would, and in dangerous ways. One of the requirements of the bills is that all domestic websites comply to all the restrictions of disabling the blacklisted sites from their own websites. For example, they must ensure that all their links do not connect to any infringing websites, nor contain any way to circumvent to the infringing websites. The definition of “circumvention” is so broadly defined that legal action could be taken against American websites on “circumvention” charges. These requirements mean that websites are completely responsible for the content that their users post.

In Internet terms: The technical and financial requirements to actually achieve this are both complex and extremely expensive. Big websites, such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, would be bombarded with extra costs. New, start-up companies may be completely unable to even start the business at all, due to the financial overhead and liability.

As an example, YouTube has 48 hours of video uploaded every minute. If every video were 5 minutes long, that would equate to 576 videos per minute. As they all contain descriptions, all of these would have to be checked for infringing content. Also, users can comment on videos, which may range from 5 to 200 comments per video. Those then have to be checked for infringing content. Let’s average the quantity at 50 comments per video. That would equate to  28,800 paragraphs to check every minute. Then, times 60 minutes per hour and 24 hours per day, there would be 41,472,000 posts to check per day. It would be simply impossible for YouTube to keep up with, much less any smaller website, which although it would have less content to filter, would still be relatively proportional to the website’s size.

In real-life terms: If you were taking a road-trip, this requirement would be akin to having police officers all along the highway every kilometer who are required by law to stop your car and check within it to make sure that you are not carrying any stolen goods. Not only would this be an awful experience for the driver, but the extra cots of having policemen every kilometer would be have definite financial burdens on the government. Now imagine that if you own a house or any other building, you are even required to hire policemen to check people coming into your drive-way or parking lot. That is what this part of the bill requires of all Americans.

So we can’t just apply real-life measures given to businesses to the Internet?

The Internet works on a very different model than real-life: while the “traditional” business is divided into suppliers and customers, the Internet is much greater than that: it is all about users. Websites may set up the technical capability to achieve something, such as posting videos (YouTube), knowledge (Wikipedia), or opinions (Twitter), however it is the users who are completely responsible for its content. Users are both the customers and suppliers in this model, and the website owners are the facilitators. This is why you can’t just impose a real-world model on the Internet and expect it to work. Website owners cannot always be held responsible for what their users with their websites any more than Kodak can be held accountable for illegal pictures taken with their cameras.

But the website must be considered “infringing” or “dedicated to theft” to be prosecuted, right?

Certainly. Of course, it is then important to have a look at the bill to find out what the definitions of an “infringing site” are, and in turn, what makes the website illegal. Section 103 of the SOPA bill defines them as sites “the operator of the site operates the site with the object of promoting, or has promoted, its use to carry out acts that constitute a violation of section 105.” (Section 105 refers to the copyright infringement laws). Most of us would be able to agree that this certainly sounds as if it is directed to websites whose sole purpose is providing illegal copies of copyrighted material. The problem is, that nothing of this wording is specific enough. Why?

In Internet terms: Basically, any website that promotes user-generated content could easily be considered a website which promotes illegal activity. Imagine a foreign version of YouTube, for example: it allows its users to post videos. Most users use it to upload their own, personally-created videos. Many of these videos include copyrighted material in them, in the forms of background music, clips from a video to make a commentary about it, or an up-and-coming musician singing a karaoke song. Our entertainent-saturated culture makes personal recordings to almost unavoidably contain copyrighted material, and therefore, an Attorney General could easily make an argument that these sites or any such similar site is “promoting violations” and have the site killed.

The fact is, almost every website allows user-generated content to some degree. Even personal websites, such as this one, allows users to comment on the post. This means that almost every foreign website on the Internet could be construed to look like an illegal site, and subject to removal with only small traces of unavoidable copyright infringement. It may not seem fair, but the bill doesn’t have enough safety clauses in it to ensure “fair”.

In real-life terms: Let’s say that you ran a chain of 100 pubs all across a non-American country. At these pubs, you invite local musical artists to come and perform for the customers. They are welcome to come in and perform at any time, 24 hours a day, up to 1 hour. This means that on any given day, you have 2,400 musicians, each performing about 10 songs, or 24,000 songs per day. However, if any of these songs is copyrighted (which many probably would be), an Attorney General and a Judge could make a case that the website is “promoting” copyright infringement, and that one Attorney General could file a complaint that would shut down your entire chain of 100 pubs from Americans, completely strip them of all funding & advertising, and remove them from any index for reference, effectively killing the entire enterprise.

I wish this were an exaggeration, but in the online world, this is EXACTLY the implications of this bill. These kinds of usages are not the bill’s intent, but currently, there is nothing within the bill to protect it from being used this way. No wonder so many Internet users are upset.

Aren’t prosecuted sites given a fair trial and hearing? Don’t they have the chance to defend themselves?

No. They are not given a fair trial, or even any trial at all. It should have those things, but it has very little provisions for the defense of the accused. Section 102 states that the Attorney General sends a notice to the owner of the site, and makes a court order on “good faith” to have its resources cut off. If a judge agrees, the site is black-listed. That’s it. There is no trial or due process. It’s completely a “private right of action”. If the accused party takes the initiative, they can attempt to prove their innocence. However, there are 2 major problems with this: First, they must have the financial means of defending themselves, which a lot of small Internet businesses do not have. Second, even if they do manage to prove their innocence, the devastating effects of having been blocked publicly and financially for even one day could drive them into a bankrupt state.

This is a guilty-until-proven-innocent situation, which is completely anti-constitutional to the way law works in America.

Aren’t the prosecuting parties at least held accountable for making any false accusations?

Originally, no. There were no such provisions in the original bill, which actually granted immunity to all the parties involved from being counter-sued for mistakes or false accusations. However, an amendment proposed by Jason Chaffetz passed in congress, requiring the prosecution to cover all legal fees of all parties involved in a false accusation case. This puts more pressure on the prosecution not to abuse the rule, but honestly, it’s not nearly enough considering the damage they would have caused the accused in the first place.

Can these bills even be salvaged at all?

The main problem with these bills was that it was written solely for the benefit of the entertainment industry. The technology industry and human rights activists were not even invited to give their opinions nor input, much less write the bill. Although the opposition has helped to amend the bills slightly, it is still wildly out-of-balance in favor of giving too much control and power of censorship to private parties with the label “anti-piracy” and “protecting the citizens”. These bills need to be scrapped, and a new bill that is written with the interests of everyone is the only viable solution. The OPEN bill, which you can read about in the “alternatives to SOPA/PIPA” section, are one such possibility.

Can’t those drafting the bill understand these problems?

Based on quotes from proponents of the bill, it seems that its supporters have the misunderstanding that protesters are fighting for the “right” to pirate content. However, if the only implications of these bills were that they would eliminate piracy, then I would not have argued against them in the first place. Although I’m sure there are people who want to continue pirating, the truth is, this has less to do with a desire for piracy and more to do with the fear that legitimate websites and/or start-up companies would be shut down by mistake, and that websites that contain material that is not supportive of the government, law enforcement or corporations (for example) would be shut down deliberately using “copyright infringement” as their legal excuse. The possibility of this happening is very real and well-founded, as legitimate websites have been falsely sued or taken down on DMCA infringements in the past. The fact that these websites were taken down with due process means that the fear of being taken down without due process is a very legitimate fear indeed. However, it would seem that those spear-heading these bills have been shrugging off these concerns as non-sense, with Lamar Smith claiming that “if they read the bill they will be reassured“. Well, we have read the bill. And we are not reassured.

Are there better solutions to the online piracy issue?

There certainly many options that are much better than what has been proposed. SOPA and PIPA provide too much power to private parties. Proposed alternatives that do not censor nor stifle innovation have already been proposed, however the entertainment industry seems reluctant to accept them, perhaps believing that they are not forceful enough.

Here are 3 alternatives:

1. The OPEN bill, proposed by Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Congressman Darrell Issa (California). This bill puts cases of foreign infringement on the shoulders of the International Trade Commission, who will seek to “follow the money” back to the actual source of the piracy, and try to cut off all funding to the offending parties. If piracy becomes an unstable and unprofitable business, it will decrease in prevalence. This solution is much better than SOPA because:

  • It does not allow any censorship of legitimate businesses.
  • It concentrates on disabling the offending parties from offering pirated goods rather than just blocking Americans from it
  • It involves a full organization dedicated to the task rather than allowing private parties to blacklist the websites
  • It more narrowly defines which websites are and are not “infringing sites”.

Though not without its flaws, the OPEN bill is a much much more reasonable bill, providing both aggressive action against pirates, and protecting the rights and interests of Internet users and businesses.

2. Using a licencing system:

  1. All websites that have less than a certain threshold of users (let’s say 1,000 per month) or less than a certain amount of income (let’s say $1,000 per month) cannot be considered “rogue” sites, and are immune from prosecution. This works for all sides: small, legitimate websites never need be afraid of being taken down while they remain small, and rogue sites are not getting enough traffic or users to be worth pursuing anyway. Some may be concerned that this would encourage rogue sites to spread out as a number of small sites rather than one big one. However, this is counter-productive to the pirate’s goals, and would just make users of the site more confused and less willing to visit.
  2. Once a website crosses over the threshold mentioned above, the owner of the website may apply for a “Privateer Licence”, which would be issued by the U.S. To apply, all the owner need do is submit their websites to a dedicated organization (established under law), which will add it to a queue to be investigated by said organization.
  3. If the website is deemed legitimate by this organization, they are given their “Privateer Licence”, which signifies that they are not an infringing site. From that point on, they have a much higher level of protection against any accusations against them. Some may be concerned that this would encourage sites to remain legitimate until they receive this licence, however if a legitimate website already has over a thousand users and thousands of dollars per month coming to it, they would have no incentive to turn it into a rogue site at all.
  4. Whenever a private party wishes to obtain a court order against a website, one of two things happens:
    1. If the website does not have a “Privateer Licence”, they are given 3 notifications: by e-mail, by postal mail and a phone call. The offending website then has 30 days to obtain a “Privateer Licence” by submitting their website to the committee. If they submit it and the committee finds it to be legitimate, then the website is given a licence and is not affected by accusations. However, if they do not submit the site (which they probably wouldn’t if it were an offending site), they are essentially admitting guilt, and further action will be taken against them. Committee involvement is not necessary in this case: an Attorney General and a Judge could settle the matter, as described in the original bill.
    2. If the website does have a “Privateer Licence”, then no notification is sent to the user right away. Instead, it is automatically resubmitted with priority to the committee, who will review it once again. As long as it has a licence, it cannot be shut down. If it is once again found to be legitimate, it is then given a “Double Privateer Licence”, and the prosecuting party is responsible for all fees that were involved. A website with a “Double Privateer Licence” is then protected from further accusations for one year, and the fees for any further actions against it will be doubled. However, if it is found to be an infringing site, it is stripped of its licence and again has 30 days to take down all infringing material and take the actions stated in 4-1.

 3. Provide better services. This is the method most advocated by the tech industry, and for a good reason. The primary reason that the average user pirates movies is not because it is free, but because it is convenient. The user can simply type in the name of a movie or TV show that they are looking for, find results, and have them up and running on their computer in a matter of minutes, or at most an hour. And yet, even this is not a great service for users: they have to sift through dud results, endure pop-ups and ads, wait for the downloads, and sign-up for service or pay. However, with better “instant” services coming directly from the movie, music and game companies themselves, users can and will flock to these services and piracy will decline. This has already been seen with services such as Spoify, NetFlix and Steam (the links on those services are articles on their effectiveness). This is, by all accounts, the best solution, as it works in three ways:

  1. The companies who produce the content are directly connected to their customers.
  2. The service is much better, with technical support, personal ratings and reviews of content, easy-to-browse interfaces with no redundancy, and accounts so that it is easy to retrieve again at a later time.
  3. Users of the services can feel at moral ease knowing that they are supporting the content creators, and not pirates making illegal money off of them. Believe it or not, most people would rather pay content creators for their work than download it illegally. The reason they don’t, in many cases, is because there is no better service offered to them.

Piracy is a complicated issue, and should not be dealt with lightly, nor overly forcefully, but with a delicate balance. The input of all sides, from the content creators, to the tech providers, to the average user online, is necessary to come to a workable and meaningful solution. Any attempts to encourage dialogue and discussion between all sides is not just encouraged, but necessary, to continue to see a growing and thriving economy in which people pay for what they want, and companies provide what the people want. This can be done, but let’s take our time to get it right.