Getting Rational on SOPA


Rally the stormtroopers!

The debate on the Stop Online Piracy Act (known as SOPA) has jumped the shark.  SOPA and its companion bill Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) were both shelved recently by Congress and the Senate after a frenzied protest by dozens of websites and Internet companies including Google, Wikipedia and Facebook.

The goal of the bills was to protect IP  and copyright owners and penalize those who stole protected content.  No doubt the bills were flawed.  It’s rare to find a perfect piece of legislation.  But the aggressive way in which opponents painted supporters as advocates of censorship and tyranny took hyperbole to the extreme.

Here’s a sampling:

“SOPA legislates censorship (yes censorship – like in North Korea)…” – from David Meerman Scott, Web Ink Now

“If the government decides any part of [a site you're using] infringes on copyright and proves it in court?  Poof.  Your digital life is gone, and you can’t get in back.” – from Brian Barrett, Gizmodo

“There’s a war brewing against the Internet…” – from Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch

I think you get the picture.  Opponents of the legislation fanned fears that SOPA was going to end the web as we know it and usher in the online era of North Korean like tyranny.

Ridiculous, of course.

Yet there is an idea out there that “information wants to be free” (like information is a caged parakeet pining to escape to sunny skies) and somehow this meme has been translated into “content created by others should be mine for free.”  This is completely and utterly false.  Content is not gossip.

It is movies, TV shows, photographs, books, games, music and journalism.  And the people and companies who create this wonderful content deserve to be paid for creating it.  It has real tangible value.  Just because we have developed a digital platform (the Internet) that allows for the easy transfer of information doesn’t mean that information has a desire to be free.  Or that it should be free.

If I write a song and want to sell it then that is my right.  It is not the right of some dude to buy it once and then distribute it for free to hundreds of his friends and family.  If I’m a movie studio who puts up millions of dollars to make a motion picture then it is my right to get paid by the people who want to view it.

That isn’t a crime.  That isn’t tyranny.  And, trust me, North Korea doesn’t work that way.

We have created an upside down world where the platforms are the moneymakers and the content creators are starting to lose their shirts.  Google, Yahoo and Facebook make their money by selling advertising around other people’s content – even when that content has been illegally obtained.  The wide open web that is now in existence is great for Google, but not so great for Universal Studios.

And hiding behind pithy maxims like “information wants to be free” or painting content creators as the equivalent of jack-booted dictators isn’t helpful, but, as it turns out, is pretty darn effective.

No one can deny that there is a huge problem with intellectual property theft on the web – and it isn’t just from off-shore piracy sites.  It’s all of us who now expect everything from hard-hitting journalism to TV shows to be free on the web.  It’s the business model of many Internet companies.

As Danny Goldberg noted in The Nation:

“But before we celebrate this “populist” victory, it’s worth remembering that the defeat of SOPA and PIPA was also a victory for the enormously powerful tech industry, which almost always beats the far smaller creative businesses in legislative disputes. (Google alone generated more than $37 billion in 2011, more than double the revenue of all record companies, major and indie combined.)”

I’m all for the easy delivery and access of information and content, but I’m also a fan of keeping content creators in business.  Because I happen to like content.  And, believe it or not, piracy kills content.

Links:

Web Ink Now “Stop the SOPA Silliness”

Gizmodo “What Is SOPA?”

TechCrunch “The Parable Of The Wheel”

Danny Goldberg “Hysterical over SOPA for all the wrong reasons”

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