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)