All over Twitter these days, you may have noticed that lots of people have put a « Stop SOPA » banner across their profile images to urge their followers to help defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act.
Why? The internet we know and love is at risk.
Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could profoundly affect the future of the internet. It’s called the Stop Online Piracy Act. SOPA’s twin in the Senate, PIPA, represents also a big threat to the Internet as we know it today.
SOPA and PIPA represent the latest effort from the Motion Picture Association of America, the RIAA, and their allies to counter what they view as rampant piracy on the Internet. This time, they propell bills that would allow the Justice Department to obtain an order to be served on search engines, Internet providers, and other companies forcing them to make a suspected piratical Web site effectively vanish, a kind of Internet death penalty.
Albeit, richful corporations could easily sue and bankrupt any company they decide is not filtering to their subjective satisfaction, namely to Internet companies that offer a compatitive alternative to their corporate bethren.
What is SOPA?
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, H.R. 3261) is on the surface a bill that attempts to curb online piracy. Sadly, the proposed way it goes about doing this would devastate the online economy and the overall freedom of the web. It would particularly affect sites with heavy user generated content. Sites like Youtube, Reddit, Twitter, and others may cease to exist in their current form if this bill is passed.
What is PIPA?
The Protect IP Act (PIPA, S. 968) is SOPA’s twin in the Senate. Under current DMCA law, if a user uploads a copyrighted movie to sites like Youtube, the site isn’t held accountable so long as they provide a way to report user infringement. The user who uploaded the movie is held accountable for their actions, not the site. PIPA would change that – it would place the blame on the site itself, and would also provide a way for copyright holders to seize the site’s domain in extreme circumstances.
Whatsoever, this legislation as written won’t stop piracy, it would pose a serious threat to social media and user generated content sites (like YouTube) across the internet and, it could also undermine some of the core technical systems underlying the internet, creating new cybersecurity risks.
Who’s opposed to SOPA and what are they planing to do?
On November 15, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL, and LinkedIn wrote a letter to key members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, saying SOPA poses « a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity. » Yahoo has reportedly quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the organization’s enthusiastic support for SOPA.
It was Google co-founder Sergey Brin who warned that the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act « would put us on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world. » Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Twitter co-founders Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone, and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman argue that the bills give the Feds unacceptable « power to censor the Web. »
Much of the Internet industry and a large percentage of Internet users are opposed to SOPA. Click here to see a non-exhaustive list of SOPA opponents
Some of those companies are said to be discussing a coordinated blackout of services to demonstrate the potential effect SOPA would have on the Internet.
As a way of drawing attention to the topic, it’s something that will definitely work.
The question then becomes how to translate the inevitable confusion and outrage from those who don’t know what SOPA is into activism.
If the sites do go entirely dark, is the hope that the resulting outrage will be enough to fuel news stories about the reason behind the decision? And that users will not transfer their frustration to the sites themselves, as opposed to the bill they’re protesting?
However, it may take losing Facebook and Twitter to really drive home how dramatically SOPA could affect the Internet and to make people realize how reliant we are on the Internet as we know it.
As of writing this post, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has decided to join a protest of SOPA by shutting down his site on Wednesday.
Calling it a « decision of the Wikipedia community, » Wales said he plans to join other Web sites in ceasing operations to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, a controversial antipiracy bill being debated in Congress. « We have no indication that SOPA is fully off the table, » Wales said in a tweet this morning. « PIPA is still alive and kicking. We need to send Washington a BIG message. »
All-in-all, whatever happens with Web firms decisions on ways to protest, Web firms actually outspent tenfold on lobbyists (of Hollywood studios & record labels) still have one gigantic advantage over lobbyists: direct relationships with millions of users that can force the WHITE house to step back on SOPA & PIPA.
And that is exactly what we are begining to see…
The European Parliament recently adopted a resolution stressing « the need to protect the integrity of the global Internet and freedom of communication by refraining from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names. » In response to The European Parliament, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (the House Democratic leader) said last week on Twitter that “we need to find a better solution than #SOPA. »
As of writing this post, The Obama administration issued yesterday a statement on the Stop Online Piracy Act, saying the administration recognizes the need for laws that fight online piracy but is wary of legislation that could lead to censorship, cybersecurity problems, a quashing of innovation, and other issues.
« While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet, » reads the statement, written by three high-level officials.
Misleading rhetoric of Piracy
It is no secret that SOPA & PIPA bills are heavily supported by a wide group of copyright owners, including the big record companies and Hollywood film studios.
Those copyright owners argue that online piracy has damaged their businesses and costs workers their jobs.
Moreover, they say that every free piece of content scraped to be sold, or given away, online takes money out of the pockets of record companies, movie producers and other content creators and their millions of employees.
The pro-legislation Copyright Alliance cites a report from the International Chamber of Commerce saying that piracy and counterfeiting cost businesses $775 billion annually and puts 2.5 million jobs at risk worldwide.
It’s important to point out that citing content industry numbers is always problematic because MPAA refuses to release any of its data for peer-review or other types of validation.
So let’s have a look at more valid data if we are to make our own objective opinion about American jobs at stake.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, the movie industry employed 374,000 people in 2010. Amusingly, another report from an MPAA-backed group claims the movie industry loses 373,000 jobs per year, when, in fact, they’ve only lost 18,000 since 1998.
For a tech industry comparison, eBay alone was responsible for creating 724,000 full or part time jobs – and that was in 2005.
What is more surprising right now is The Congress faint ignorance (for or unknown reasons so far) that SOPA/PIPA would litterally depress the growing tech sector, all while citing the MPAA’s misleading and debunked numbers on how piracy is “decimating” their industry.
Yet, the tech sector has been a huge economic driver in a time of general economic stagnation.
According to CBS News, In 2011 California created more jobs than any other, adding 233,000 workers to the payrolls in the past year and 6,500 in just the last month. Another study shows Facebook apps and mobile apps alone are responsible for almost 200,000 jobs over the last few years.
The other truth about the movie and music companies is that they contribute the same amount to the economy that they did before file sharing was mainstream (in both 2011 and 1995 their contribution to total GDP was 0.4%). Even better news for them: the Bureau of Labor Statistics gives a wholly positive outlook on future job prospects in the movie industry.
Nevertheless, they continue to claim poverty and massive jobs loss in the face of these hard facts.
Throwing out sensational numbers and misleading rhetoric isn’t a new tactic for Big Content. It has long advocated extremist legislative and regulatory measures to protect its industry against “piracy.”
Today, Hollywood is using the same arguments about the Web and the domain name system. They claim that without the ability to censor the Web, their industry will be destroyed by piracy, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
History is recent as for famous examples of how the Music & Movie companies failed to adapt to how digital innovations have affected their industry. Instead of creating better ways to legally download music (like Apple did for them by creating iTunes) their solution was to sue music lovers.
Perhaps the real motives of the the pro-legislation Copyright Alliance reside in an attemp to throw a knock-out punch at the growing competitve threats Web companies represent to their brick-and-mortar obsolete business models. I don’t know … but the question remains a valid hypothesis in the evidence of the misleading rethoric and extremist regulatory measures they propose.
Can you just imagine the repercussions if business dinosaurs (like Music & Movie companies) dictate policies that regulate the Internet and the new technology-intensive economies of the world?
What should we do now?
Critics overwhelmingly agree that something needs to be done to combat online piracy. Many, including Google and Facebook, support a more-limited proposal by Wyden and Republican Rep. Daniel Issa, called the OPEN Act, which they say would combat digital piracy without giving license to shut down legitimate websites.
But in regards to the hard-line financial health of the economy AND the liberty of speech that has become the currency of the Web, we can probably agree that all major companies already heavily involved in the Internet economy know far better what is good for the Internet and the people that populates it.
Is it worth it to create a censored Internet that’s less innovative & stable in order to ‘possibly’ help the RIAA & the MPAA sell more music and movies ?
This blog features our thoughts and opinions on music, sports & social causes. That’s what we call the ‘freedom of speech’ we can all practice on the Internet today, as we know it. THIS DOESN’T MEAN WE CAN’T PROTECT AUTHOR’S RIGHTS OF THE ARTISTS FEATURED ON THE BLOG. YOU CAN LISTEN AND DISCOVER THEIR MUSIC BUT CAN’T DOWLOAD IT FOR FREE.
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References : Different sources have been very helpful for this writing. They are Cnet, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Market Talk, Time Techland AND Blind Influence.