Internet Piracy – What’s so terrible about SOPA? Pt1 The Defence08 Feb 12
Well let’s dive straight in shall we?
Firstly, a brief explanation… SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is a piece of American legislation currently being batted about the House of Representatives. I won’t waste too much time explaining its primary purpose thanks to the Ronseal-esque quality of its title; suffice it to say that it’s caused a rather large hullaballoo over recent weeks, with wikipedia and other major sites staging blackouts last month in protest at the proposed bill.
Secondly, to pre-empt the question “If this is an American issue, what does it have to do with us?”, well, as with most blanket internet legal issues, SOPA has real international implications. One of the main aspects of the act is to target non-US based websites by forcing American ISPs, search engines and payment sites to block those international sites found to be hosting illegal content.
Thirdly and finally, let me just stress that this is a very complicated issue so I will be doing my best Keanu Reeves impression as I play Devil’s Advocate over the course of two articles. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which side is Al Pacino.
So, without further ado, let’s get into the case. So, keep your ears open, your mouth shut, and ready yourselves for the case for the defence…
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, today you are going to hear from my esteemed colleague for the prosecution all manner of talk about censorship, freedom of speech, freedom of information and inalienable rights and I want to clear something up right now. What he will be talking about is nothing short of the freedom to steal, the freedom to cheat and the right to defraud some of our greatest, but also most fragile and vulnerable industries without fear of punishment. It is true that these freedoms and right have come to be thought of as inalienable to a great swathe of the general public over the past 15 years or so, but the failure of legislation to keep up with the greatest and fastest technological advance of our time does not make those abuses right any more than it is right to fly tip or vandalise, or to shoplift or defraud just because the laws against such behaviours are not effectively enforced.
“The fact is that the internet is less regulated than any aspect of the offline world and many people would like to keep it that way. But public opinion is so malleable on the issue it’s difficult to know what the general consensus is. Let’s take an imaginary poll with one simple question:
“Given the threat to major film studios from online piracy, would you like to see more international regulation on the internet?”
Now let’s ask the same question again, with a different precursor:
“Given the widespread availability of child pornography on the internet, would you like to see more international regulation on the internet?”
“Now it’s fair to say that I can’t prove anything with a hypothetical survey but it is also by no means wild conjecture to assume that they would be likely to produce markedly different results. Given the fact that the essential question is the same, it’s really all down to the difference in people’s attitudes towards the context.
“Of course everyone is only too happy to condemn selfish behaviour when it is put away inside a neat little box of old-fashioned pre-digital definitions. But their reluctance to accept that these moral codes are equally important in the anonymous world of cyberspace is symptomatic of two factors prevalent in our society today.
“Firstly the fact that we are all somehow entitled to have whatever we want for free if we have easy access to it and no direct or immediate threat of consequences and secondly the misconception that because major movie stars and the most successful musicians and authors make huge amounts of money we don’t need to pay for enjoying their output. The reality is that these few individuals are responsible for bringing in the revenues that go to support whole industries.
“Taking the film industry as an example, if any of you have the patience to sit through the credits at the end of a movie, you could spare a thought for the thousands of hardworking men and women who make each one of these minor miracles happen. Legions of sound designers, set designers, gaffers, grips best boys, body doubles and stunt doubles, extras and editors, dancers, drivers, carpenters, cameramen, caterers, choreographers and composers all depend on their industry bringing in money from legitimate sales.
“I believe that there is a future for quality, professional entertainment in the digital age, but to have free and easy access to copyright protected material is unsustainable in the long-term. For the unscrupulous consumer (which is a significantly greater proportion of us when we can maintain our anonymity) the current state of affairs is akin to there being a giant illegal supermarket in every town with all the latest music, films, books, tv shows and newspaper and magazine articles in unlimited supply and completely free with a few signs posted up around town reading:
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, please be aware that shopping in Free4all is illegal and puts many thousands of jobs at risk, as well as driving down the quality of output in the entertainment industries. However, for now we see no reason to go any further than to ask you politely to consider shopping at your nearest legal and legitimate retailer instead.’
“This example may seem absurd but it translates almost exactly to what is going on online when it comes to the protection of intellectual property and shows up our already existing laws for just how hopelessly impotent they are in this quickly changing world. They need that little blue pill, and it comes in the shape of SOPA. All SOPA is proposing is that these illegal operations are not allowed to carry on, well, breaking the law. It really is as simple as that.”