I want to begin this article with a simple disclaimer: I do not illegally download music or movies. I do not advocate this activity in any way, and if a bill were introduced that could stop piracy without serious negative consequences, I would be all for it.
That said, neither the SOPA or the Protect IP are such bills. My issues with them are clear: they do more harm than good, and the following is who they hurt the most:
Free Speech/Open Communication
Your freedom of speech does not include the right to use copyrighted materials (unless it's protected under “fair use”, etc.). So when organizations or individuals spread copyrighted materials they are essentially breaking the law. Copyright owners have a right to go after damages as well as get a permanent injunction against the offending publication, etc. to have the violation(s) removed as per the DMCA. So why do we need further laws? Because apparently, our current due process isn't quick enough. The solution: something called a preliminary injunction. It's essentially a court order to block/remove potentially copyrighted materials before the accused has the chance to fully and properly defend themselves. But that's not all. The proposed acts don't just reserve the right to a preliminary injunction for specific offenses. Instead, an entire website can be blocked and completely shut down from operating including blocking financial income streams if the site is deemed to be “dedicated to infringement”.
This portion of these laws essentially gives copyright owners too much power. Power to censor and block entire services for the actions of a few users without so much as a chance to defend themselves. The potential for this power to be used as a means for censorship and infringement of freedom of speech is very real. But even if you argue that such a scenario isn't too terribly likely, the very possibility of it points out the dire flaw in the laws' language that needs to be rethought completely.
What's more, such language put extra pressure on online services that are used for open communication more strictly govern their user's activity. A scenario which may include removal or editing of user activity deemed to be potential copyright infringement (even if it isn't) just for the sake of minimizing potential liability.
Internet giants such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter have come out against the SOPA and Protect IP acts because they represent a very real danger a major component of the success of their business models: that of free and open communication. They not only put this ideal in jeopardy, but place an unrealistic liability on companies who are trying to protect this right. Conversely, these bills argue that companies like Google and Facebook are making profit off of infringing activities and should therefore be held liable.
But while both sides might have a point, none of the proposed solutions actually solves the problem. Instead they simply give additional legal authority by copyright holders to place blame and seek damages for activities (such as linking to an infringing document) that have been proven to be extremely difficult to govern. Assuming that services like Google or Facebook could successfully govern all such activities, it could, as a result, cause users to find other services that can't…or won't.
Big companies aren't the only ones who are at risk here, either. These new laws could even effect smaller businesses who simply don't have the resources to fight accusations from litigious individuals or organizations that now have a broader legal definition of what constitutes copyright liability.
In essence, what's happening here is the movie and music industry have found that their previous attempts to fight online piracy have failed. So now their solution is to ask the U.S. government make it everyone else's responsibility to help with the fight or become potentially legally responsible for violations that may only remotely include their service.
If well established businesses like Google and Facebook are concerned with these potential laws, what legitimate chance do upcoming businesses have? Like the above video so eloquently sums up, these bills could literally drive innovators to move elsewhere. So even if Joe Biden necessarily didn't mean these words in relation to these bills, they still seem relevant.
Considering that web innovations are a rare bright spot in a struggling U.S. economy, a bill that threatens their continued advancements couldn't possibly come at a worse time. This could be the most realistic and potentially dangerous criticism of either bill and if our government truly cares at all about the economy, such laws wouldn't even come up for a vote.
Users of The WWW
As I mentioned earlier, the DMCA was supposed to be a solution to copyright infringement online. And while it's not a quick enough solution for proponents of these bills, the real problem is that it only solved the problem for sites hosted in participating geographical areas. Pirating domains have been driven to “safe havens” that these bills will be able to attack from a variety of angles. Anything from forcing your ISP to block the entire site to going after income streams that the service relies upon to stay alive.
What's troubling, however, is that these bills give copyright owners the same power for domestic and DMCA compliant services as well. The result could lead to censorship, invasion of privacy, reservations about the spreading of ideas, and a general distrust of all the services we rely upon for the future of communication. The greater impact of which could undermine the viability of these services to be a source of our global social evolution. Perhaps that last part seems a bit much? I'm not the only one who feels this way:
I don't usually presume to know what an industry should do, but it seems to me one of the biggest losers in this fight against
copyright infringement the world wide web, is the actual consumers of music, movies, and television. As a self-proclaimed movie buff, I've been waiting for the industry to embrace web technologies to provide me with content in a quicker and less expensive manner. You see, I'm among the first generation obsessed with the instant gratification the internet provides. We know what's possible, so as a result, my (and future) generations grow more impatient with industries who refuse to adapt.
The music industry should be a model example of what's possible. Having done the best to embrace the technology, services like Spotify not only take advantage of our demand for instant gratification, but also the advantages of the promotional power of the social web. They also provide an essential set of income streams from the very technology these industries are fighting against. AND YET the most interesting part is: services like these actually decreases pirating!
So as an avid consumer of music and movies (especially) I can't help but feel that these attempts are a clear disregard of consumer demand by industries who are too concerned with protecting outdated business models. This is my message: Adapt or disappear…future generations won't be sympathetic to your lame appeals to protect your right to price gouge us ESPECIALLY at the potential expense of our first amendment rights. Thank you.
At first I didn't include pirates on my list, but then I realized I had to if only to point out the fact that of all the damage these bills could do, copyright pirates are hurt the least. From the very first page of the Protect IP act where it began defining “domains” and “sub-domains” I knew it couldn't to much to stop piracy. You see, http isn't the only internet protocol. Technology already exists beyond the WWW to use the internet to transfer files. And because these laws single out a specific protocol, they won't succeed in stopping piracy. As a result, even if you don't agree with any of the other reasons listed in this article, the failure of these acts to actually do what they are intended for (on a larger scale) means they shouldn't be taken seriously…by anyone.