SOPA, PIPA, Intellectual Property, and Common Sense

The tech community has been a-buzz about Congress’ legislation, “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) in the House and “PROTECT IP Act” (PIPA) in the Senate, to address online piracy and intellectual property rights.  I’m not an IP lawyer, or any sort of lawyer for that matter.  Constitutionally, one’s intellectual property is protected for a limited time so that it allows him to exploit his findings as well as encouraging people to make advances in the arts and sciences.

These two pieces of legislation are supposed to combat the problem of online piracy, but many tech and political pundits are starting to have questions about these pieces of legislation.  I’ll go ahead and establish that there really is a problem with online piracy.  Now, some out there are of the believe that online piracy isn’t as big of a deal as some make it out to be and that intellectual property (IP) owners should just come to grips with the fact that some of your property will be stolen no matter how hard you try to protect it.  That might be true, but that shouldn’t prevent an IP owner to protect his content.

The stripped down explanation of SOPA and PIPA is that it would allow IP owners/copyright holders to take legal action to shut down the avenues to get pirated content that is hosted overseas.  IP owners have legal recourse right now to get copyrighted content that is illegally hosted on servers in the United States via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  I’m not a big fan of the DMCA since it tends to lock down content to where the consumer can’t use it to the fullest extent, but SOPA would have greater ramifications.  SOPA/PIPA would affect how consumers get content (and possibly make it more costly and less accessible) and reminiscent of China’s Great Firewall.

Think back to the 2000’s…Napster (in its Peer-to-Peer file sharing form) played host to millions of users using it to share music.  One of the arguments was that the content providers a.) didn’t provide digital forms of the music like they wanted and b.) an album normally was priced around $15 to $20.  The RIAA started to crack down on illegal file sharers, but a movement began within the industry to start selling music online (enter iTunes Store).  Now, you have multiple vendors that either sell downloadable music to your mobile media device or sell a subscription that allows access to a vast music catalog.

Now that broadband is widespread, consumers are demanding to see videos online…for a reasonable price.  I believe that video content will go through the same evolution, albeit a bit more quickly, as music.  EBooks will probably suffer the same way with people sharing books purchased on the Kindle Store (of course, how is that any different than me allowing my friend to borrow the dead tree version of a book?).  People desire content that is easily accessible and affordable.  I’m not defending piracy, but it is a symptom of a problem that can be solved with free market economics…provide content that is easily accessible and affordable, and most reasonable, law-abiding citizens will pay for it.  I believe Netflix and Rhapsody are good examples of that.

So, that’s the consumer side…what about those of us that do provide content.  Believe it or not, Peach Pundit is a content provider.  Those of us here take what’s bouncing around in our minds about Georgia politics (or sometimes not), organize it into something fairly readable, and then release it to the Interwebs for your enjoyment.  Although we do synthesize a lot of the material in our punk’in heads, we do use various media outlets around the state (and sometimes country) to link to stories.  We give props to those folks by linking to and citing them as our source.  There might be a day in which we put something up here that someone doesn’t like and demands that we take it down because we don’t have their explicit permission to post it.  We might get in trouble for it…which means we would have to be *extraordinarily* careful to make sure we didn’t post something we weren’t supposed to lest we get fined or jailed for posting “illegal” content.  It could make it more difficult to be a blogger under the SOPA law.

Not to mention, how would search results on engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo be affected?  Would those search engines start to filter out search results to some blogs “just to be on the safe side” in order to avoid potential lawsuits from the RIAA and MPAA (the two largest backers of SOPA)?  The Internet is a trans-national entity.  It’s an entity that has allowed for people in oppressed regimes to have a free voice, so how can we as a country based on the idea of freedom allow for a law that would stymie both freedom of speech and the creation of new content?  Sure, there’s a problem with online piracy, but it would seem like this “remedy” would ultimately kill the patient.  Let’s not take the shotgun approach to treating the symptom of a headache.  We need to introduce a little bit of common sense into the way we handle our intellectual property.  Perhaps the OPEN Act will be a viable alternative that has a dose of that common sense.

Some further information about SOPA/PIPA:

this WEEK in TECH – Episode 332 – Bad News Bearers – TWiT.tv (good debate on SOPA)

Politico article on how SOPA could affect the blogosphere featuring Erick Erickson

A short synopsis of the OPEN Act by the Electronic Freedom Foundation

25 Things You Need To Know About SOPA – List25.com

10 comments

  1. Ken says:

    Well done, Nathan!

    I would add that the people who might be most hurt would be “the little guys” who would be forced to prove that they are the actual developers of content. Whether that person is a columnist, a photographer, an artist or a songwriter, unless he can “prove” that he is the creator and owner of material then under SOPA, search engines may refuse to list his link.

    Sure, the George F. Wills, the Lady Gagas, the David Mamets and the George Lucases of the world will be fine. But the next great columnist, pop star, playwright and producer may get lost in the shuffle, buried under SOPA’s chilling effects.

  2. Harry says:

    The greedy recording industry etc. have managed to create a skewed playing field where even Mickey Mouse is still protected 60 or 70 years on. If copyrights expired after 7 years, which would be a reasonable number, then there would be no need for these draconian and Gestapo-like legislative proposals, because the vast majority of us would feel no need to skirt the law.

    • Charlie says:

      I’m guessing Harry that you aren’t a fan of inheritance taxes because it’s not right for the government to take the product of a lifetime’s worth of work when someone dies. Yet you seem to think that people who create intellectual property should only enjoy the rewards for their efforts for 7 years?

      • Harry says:

        I’m for whatever impedes the flow of more money and power to the government and those who are being inequitably protected by special interest-driven government laws.

        • Charlie says:

          Why is your taking of something someone else created without compensation more proper than the government taking something of yours via taxation?

          • Harry says:

            Are you saying there should be no time limit on intellectual property rights? I think 7 years is reasonable time in which to reap the benefits of one’s work – then it should become public domain. 75 years is certainly far too long. Walt Disney has been deceased for years now!

            • Charlie says:

              If I understand copywrite laws, copywrites must be renewed. If a person creates IP, and that person or his heirs can continue to use that as part of an ongoing business, I don’t know why you should have any reason to expect to use their creation for free in 7 years, if ever.

              • Harry says:

                I draw a distinction between tangible, fungible property rights and intangible rights such as intellectual property. Where media dissemination such as communications frequencies are controlled by government, and in many countries the internet and newsprint as well, it means that the media is controlled by oligopolies and nomenklatura, and that creative artists and writers are often co-opted from being able to distribute their works, and the result is often that – given the grey area of intellectual property – the wealthy individuals and corporations are frequently able to feed off of and eliminate individual creativity while presenting and protecting what are in effect plagiarized products through the media channels.

                Like so many other things in this society, what were once good intentions have been bastardized to enrich the powerful insiders at the expense of the rest of us.

                Ron Paul!

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