Individuals who use the internet to find things that entertain them, and the companies who provide access to these things, are against them. People who create content, and companies that market copy written content, are for them. They are SOPA and PIPA, and no they are not Scandinavian twins. They are acronyms that stand for Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act. They are products of the U.S. Congress’ attempt to deal with the ever growing problem of websites, virtually all outside the U.S., which obtain copyrighted material and without payment to the copyright owner, place this material on the internet and thus make it available for free to anyone and everyone. These copyright law infringements are known as piracy
This piracy, taking material that is copyrighted without payment to its owner, is just like any other kind of unauthorized or illegal taking; it is larceny, theft, plain old garden variety stealing. And it is a crime, a crime with serious economic consequences for the parties stolen from. Yes some of the parties stolen from are very large entertainment companies. But they in turn represent and pay income to performers, composers, writers, musicians and all the people who assist in creating and producing entertainment and information in many forms, such as music, movies, books and more. And those people are not giant corporations; they are just people trying to earn a living by creating and producing art, information and entertainment. Depriving the large entertainment companies of the income they are entitled to just because they are large and the executives can afford to make less, also deprives the artists and their support teams of income they are entitled to, which most cannot afford to lose. And just because a company is big and wealthy, doesn’t necessarily mean they are evil, or they don’t deserve the money they earn. The entertainment and information business is not like energy companies that have consumers literally over a barrel by virtue of the fact that they produce something everyone depends on. Every entertainment choice a consumer makes is completely volitional; one of their own choosing. You may have to buy gas to get to work, but you don’t have to buy an album to listen to on the way. You chose to buy an album, or go to a movie, or purchase a book. And when you do so, you typically have to pay for it; the money going to the creator and distributor of the material you want to have. If you don’t want it, you don’t have to buy it. It is a completely free choice. And it is completely fair that one pays for what they want.
Both the copyright holder and the U.S. internet services that provide, either inadvertently or not, the foreign pirates who steal content to put them up on the web, agree that piracy is wrong. They also say they agree that piracy should be stopped. The disagreement is on who is responsible for doing the stopping. And how the stopping should be done. The copyright owners say the search engines and other web services are responsible for making sure the content they provide is not infringing on copyrights. The web providers say it is all but impossible to know the legitimacy or lack thereof of each and every piece of content put on the web by their subscribers and/or advertisers. And both sides are right in the practical sense. All copyrighted material should be protected; but knowing the detailed content of billions of things placed on the internet is impossible. That’s why SOPA and PIPA were crafted.
After uncountable billions of dollars of potential revenue being lost by content producers, literally years of complaining about it by the content creators, and with no way of stopping it developed by the web providers; the U.S. Congress was convinced to weigh in with laws to address the issue. SOPA from the House of Representatives, and PIPA from the Senate, are the result. Though both laws are considerably less than a perfect answer to the problem; they are the first good faith effort by Washington to do what governments at all levels have traditionally done for its citizens; attempt to protect them from being the victims of theft. Since the foreign companies that do the initial stealing are beyond the reach of U.S. laws and their enforcement; the next best thing appears to be to try to keep the stolen content from being offered to the U.S. market via U.S. owned internet services. So far so good. The big trouble is how to do it and who to do it to.
The service companies say that making them responsible for monitoring the content that people put up in their services, aside from being impossible by virtue of volume, puts them in the position of acting as “censors”; the ones excluding certain content from the web. That is just blatant smoke and mirrors nonsense. Censors make inclusion and exclusion decision based on the actual details of the content; such as the moral, ethical, artistic or education value exhibited. But in SOPA and PIPA providers are not being asked to evaluate or make judgments on content; to decide whether some is good or appropriate. There is only one criteria for exclusion under the anti-piracy laws; do those placing the content have the legal right to do so for a particular copyrighted item? If they don’t own it or the right to sell or give it away, the answer as to its acceptability is a simple but absolute; No. Actual censorship has nothing to do with it and the providers saying it does are using a cheap transparent lie to try to lure the public to their side by even mentioning the word.
As to the “who” of whom should be the target of the law; the crafters of the law say that it is designed to stop piracy by foreign, large, wholesale operations that put a massive amount of stolen content up on the web, through U.S. service companies. They say it is not designed to charge and punish individuals who might be passing along the occasional piece of copyrighted material for no economic gain. The objectors to the laws say that the way the laws are currently written; anyone, regardless of size or volume, could be charged and convicted of internet piracy. Critics point out that despite that not being the intent of the law, Susie or Jim could be prosecuted for sending a song they love to their BFF, if some law enforcement agency so chooses to do so. They also point out that even though the War on Drug laws were supposed to go after the importers and major sellers of drugs; the vast majority of people in jail for drug offences are small time users. Sometimes the idea of eliminating the supply of something illegal is changed to eliminating the demand; a policy that virtually never works.
On both the “who” and “how” aspect of the anti-piracy laws; some major changes and narrowing of the target criminals is clearly called for. The solution to the how of stopping piracy needs to be based on cooperation between the creators/owners of copyrighted material and the services putting content up on the internet. The creator/owner of the copyright should have the job of investigating and find who is offering pirated content. The providers should have the job of following the law and taking down the site of those who are offering the pirated material, once their identity is made known to them by the copyright owner. If the providers are concerned that the owners may request too broad a slice of the people placing content on the web; the ultimate arbiter, the Federal government, could be setup as an intermediary. The third party, the government, would act as a sort of a court, deciding the validity of the claim of copyright theft brought by the creator/owner. They would then either reject or certify the validity of the claim and instruct the provider to comply with the law and take down the offending entity or site.
One can see rejection of this approach on the grounds that it creates yet another Federal agency getting in the way of business. But complaining about the government setting up structures to protect property rights is again an unprincipled bunch of nonsense. That is exactly what the government is supposed to do; intervene to prevent U.S. companies and individuals from having their product stolen and resold by the thieves. It’s not any different from having police on the streets and highways to prevent muggings and carjacking. I don’t think anyone would try to make the case that we shouldn’t waste our resources protecting people from being carjacked if they can afford a Mercedes. Does a film studio or a bestselling author deserve less protection from looting than a corner grocery?
As long as the law is very clear and the enforcing authorities stick strictly to the guideline of targeting only foreign wholesale piracy operations and no “users” are caught up in a too broadly applied dragnet, just to make a point; we owe the same protection to the people who inform, entertain and provide us with the non-necessities that we want, to the same degree that we want ourselves protected. We should fix the alphabet soup laws and make sure we have liberty, with justice for all.