Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How PIPA AND SOPA May Impact the Internet

SOPA Composite
*Copyright Washington Post

Media content producers have been concerned for decades that their intellectual property, the content we enjoy and view, is accessed in a way that allows them the freedom to continue to produce movies, videos, music and other media while protecting their ownership rights through copyright. Typically, this means that a fee is paid to access the information and to enjoy the fruits of another’s imagination while at the same time supporting the film, television, music industries (which are all big-business) and the continued risk of their capital as they use it to create and support the visual and performing arts. 

In the time of the Internet, this is why we have iTunes and other virtual fee-based services that serve as online intermediaries to bridge the work of content creators and those who wish to access the content. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and its later changes and amendments ensured that peer-to-peer networks could not file- share copyrighted content without paying a fee to the content owners and providers.  This is how and why Napster was so ignobly shut down.  At the time, the site claimed to just be a service which let people share files, but the law saw Napster as violating copyright.

Sadly, like much legislation going through the Congress these days, the legal departments from major corporate entities are writing and then presenting bills to their legislator’s for action. The Protect IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), were both pretty much written by the film and music industries who are essentially and dramatically looking to expand their ownership rights. They want to control how and what people view on the Internet by also holding Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) liable for shut down if they violate the new legislation if it were to become law. But this is not just an "American issue" but one with international ramifications.

Enter the ISP’s like Google and major websites like Wikipedia and Facebook who have their own bank of lawyers. Their interpretation of the proposed legislation basically argues that should the bills become law, that the companies will become co-conspirators, even without their knowledge or consent in the sharing of illegal content. Thus they could be found liable for damages or even shut down.  As an example, Google may provide a link to a site or Wikipedia and Facebook may provide access to an article or page which may have a link to a site that may knowingly or not link to unprotected content. Ergo Google, Wikipedia and Facebook, et al, are now responsible to promoting illegal access to copyrighted materials. 

This is why many popular Internet sites have gone dark today. They want to raise awareness of these bills and fight back against what is essentially Draconian legislation.

The bigger issue is that as the Internet continues to become the life blood of our information lives, it provides greater access to entertainment, education, recreation and sharing communication and ideas. So the push and pull over what is protected and accessed for a fee or for free will forever be an issue for us to philosophically ponder and to legally ensure intellectual ownership is protected.

The studios say that without this legislation, jobs will be at risk – not the jobs of the artists and actors, but of those who work in production or who are part of the necessary but mundane aspects of creating art.  The ISP’s see this as a battle over fair and free access and their own corporate existence and liability. 

National Public Radio (NPR) basically boiled this down to a war between Southern California, where the content is created, and Northern California, where companies take the content and distribute it via the Internet.

All the while as these battles rage, we the common Internet users are the one’s who have the most to gain or lose; and are at the most risk of losing access to content.  A problem that won’t be going away anytime soon based on past experience.

Perhaps this is a good thing since the Internet does need regulation, however, it always seems that the protections go too far and may actually stop free speech and access for the sake of real or imagined threats to our personal or intellectual safety. We must remember in the end, that no matter how intolerable or of deep concern the issue, censorship is never the right answer.


  1. Why not boycott the people doing the lobbying? If we can have a ban on buying Nikes because of sweat shop workers, why can't we do the same to those responsible for lobbying on behalf of censorship?

  2. Hi AWOLGina,

    That is certainly your right as a citizen to Boycott any company that you feel is doing something which you view as wrong or unjust.
    But you really need huge agreement and for folks to act as a group to make any economic boycott worth while.

    In today's interconnected and global corporate reach, a boycott in one area may not sufficiently impact a company's bottom line to have them reassess and change course.

    I think that having Google, Wikipedia and other international websites make the case did a lot to raise awareness and also to stop the legislation.

    But keep acting locally and thinking globally!