One can debate Internet piracy and illegal downloading from multiple angles, pointing out how some medias gouge us and have through past greed and arrogance brought about their own demise. I would argue that around the availability of media, the crappy radio stations, lousy TV and price gouging in the new e-book market have contributed to people’s frustration and blatant rationalization that they’re getting back at the distributors by helping themselves to fee downloads. But outside of all that, it’s hard to argue with the fact that owners of intellectual property deserve to be reimbursed for their product and that downloading it is a form of theft.
All of that is secondary to the issues related to the current SOPA and PIPA laws currently being proposed in the US today. In Canada, the Copyright Modernization Act (Bill C-11) is very similar to the proposed American laws. All try to impose control on the Internet, forcing some on-line agencies to block connections or payments to certain sites when ordered to do so by the government.
There are several problems with this. The two most important are the interference with free speech and the potential damage to the Internet infrastructure.
Personally, I am very suspicious of any law that gives the government the right to track and control communication within the population. They may say that it is to prevent piracy and illegal activities, but the track record of governments is highly suspicious. Our Canadian government, for example, has already demonstrated unreasonable bias towards certain women’s rights groups and have blocked them with unfair funding policies. The American government, as has been seen in things like Watergate, are far from immune to abuse of certain powers. A free Internet is regarded by many, including myself, as an essential last bastion of free speech.
Most technical experts have pointed to the possibility that interference with the Internet such as blocking sites would damage its overall structure and result in disruptions. On a technical level, they say, fidgeting with Internet structure is not a good idea.
And the bottom line is that it just won’t work. Blocked sites will find ways to circumvent the process. Already people are saying that typing in the IP address rather than the domain name will easily get around any blockage. Hackers and pirates will just find new ways of doing things. In a interview with Corynne McSherry makes some good points:
For McSherry, copyright is “an issue you cannot legislate your way out of.” And with SOPA, she says, “the cost so far outweighs any conceivable benefit.”
There is a simple solution, she told Misener: “Give people access to authorized, legitimate alternatives, and they will go there.”
The last point is the key. Provide the customer with fair value and many people will oblige with fair purchase. Not all, mind you, but the pirating problem has been around since the discovery of cassette tapes and photocopiers.
And I love John Scalzi’s post on Whatever:
SOPA/PIPA aren’t the way to do this. These proposed laws are poorly constructed, overly broad and frankly thoughtless, the equivalent of dealing with burglars in someone’s home by carpetbombing every house on the street. You might stop the burglar, but the collateral damage makes it a hollow victory. The collateral damage here would be the hamstringing of the Internet, and trampling rights of speech and expression. That these proposed laws have been debated by a number of US Representatives and Senators who seemed proud of their ignorance of how the Internet works (and at least initially didn’t want to hear from technical experts) made it that much worse.
In the end, it may be a moot point as President Obama has made it totally clear that he would veto the current bill in its present form. -A far cry from the policy of our own Prime Minister who seems bent on compromising personal freedoms and giving the media industries their profits at any cost. I loved Ricky Gervais’ closing comment as he faced the wealthy artists in their expensive attire and said, “hopefully the evening has offered some small distraction for the depression and unemployment going on in the world.”