Let me preface this rant with the following facts;
- I am not a politician
- I am not college educated
- The potential for SOPA to be good is outweighed by the certainty of its misuse
- I see beyond the panic to the truth
- I am almost always, annoyingly so, correct
So the internet is ablaze today with roughly 20% “serious” cries for YOU to take action in standing up against “Big Brother” – or, as I like to call it; “The place where greed festers.” You can do this in a number of ways, all of which, surely, can only make you feel better about yourself, having done the only something you could, short of dumping tea into Boston Harbor for some unknown reason.
The other 80% of the SOPA related content on the web as of late has been sensationalism, panicky ill-informed cries for riots and bloodshed all in the name of protecting one’s right to, um.. what, exactly? Our rights, as citizens to vaguely and often harmlessly repurpose *things* (IP, Celebrity likenesses, parody-centric media, etc..) for our own entertainment and amusement with fear of repercussions from the originating “intellectual property” owners.
At the more “valid” end of this argument is the media companies getting fed up with piracy of their products. Every downloaded movie, game or mp3 that wasn’t paid for is money out of someone’s pocket. Is it the principle of theft in question here? No, it’s not. Is it the idea that its disrespectful to the artists? No, it’s not. It’s about MONEY. Always has been, always will be. Can’t you just have an ounce of pity for those movie studio and record label executives, living on cat food out of a refrigerator box under an overpass? What about the actors and musicians that live paycheck to paycheck, like us common folk? You steal the bread from their children’s mouths every time you open a bit torrent!
Is that hyperbole, of course it is. Does piracy impact the cost of doing business? Yes. But then so does insurance, and overhead, and actual physical theft, and poor bookkeeping and, oh yeah… taxes! Am I suggesting that despite the inherent illegality of piracy that companies should just continue to suck it up and count their blessings that people even want to steal their product? Well, not entirely.
Historically speaking, as is with all evolution, the weaker of the herd will fall prey to the predators. The current state of affairs is this; people want their media delivered electronically, and for the most part the industry is gearing up to do just that. It is also, to its own detriment wasting billions of their own R&D money trying to create a lock that cannot be picked. Let me make my point on that clear;
THERE WILL NEVER BE ENCRYPTION THAT CANNOT BE CRACKED.
Its simple folly to think programmer A can devise something that programmer B cannot undo. It’s just dumb. So what is the solution to piracy – And by that I mean the kind where the stolen item is actually SOLD to someone else, as in a bootleg video hitting the streets of Hong Kong while the movie theatres haven’t even gotten the reels on the projector yet – unfortunately the answer is the same as its always been: Take responsibility for your own belongings. If someone is stealing from you at your warehouse, YOU have to hire security to catch them. If someone is distributing bootlegs of your material online you report them, following the current laws and stop them.
Is taking something without paying for it a crime? Usually, yes. Always? No. Do I think single moms that download 5 songs of the internet should go to prison? No. Should they pay $100,000 fines? No. If that same mom stole a CD with 10 Songs on it from a retail store, what would happen to her? Likely a misdemeanor charge and asked not to shop at X store again. So why would they think its ok to slap 100’s of thousands of dollars in fines on a downloader – who has received NO tangible goods?
If I live near the airport, and its $15 for the air show this Saturday, but I watch from my porch instead, am I stealing? Gosh, I hope not. If I go to a friend’s house and watch a movie he bought, am I stealing? I doubt it. If I listen to songs on the radio, am I stealing because I never buy anything from the sponsors? Certainly not. If I record the new Lady Ga-Ga Song off the radio, or Video Tape/DVR a movie from a broadcast, am I stealing then? Well, maybe, but the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s have come and gone and no one really raised a stink about all that PIRACY. So why is it such a big deal now? Well, mostly because the so-called pirates are smarter than the media producers, and they are really pissed about that. Because the internet has made media sharing ubiquitous, and the idea of content delivery via the web was designed and perfected by normal users with limited means rather than the big businesses that now seek to increase profits exponentially by abandoning hard media (discs and such) and deliver content electronically only. So what’s wrong with that, sounds like evolution at work? Well, remember that bold-all-caps sentence you read earlier? That’s the problem.
The media companies can’t figure out how to deliver content digitally in a way that isn’t ridiculously hard for users (paying users, that is) to enjoy AND unstealable by the vicious, evil hacker-pirates. Is that OUR problem? No. Remember the DMCA? That didn’t really go over too well, and it floundered for a long time trying to get a foothold. And what does EVERYONE remember most about it? They hate it. HATE IT. Why? Because it protects content providers? No, that’s not my problem. Is it because the assumption of infringement infringes on my right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty? That might be the one.
So, then SOPA fixes all that constitutional collisioning that DMCA stirred up, right? Well, no, not really. From what I can make of it, it simply disregards due process altogether and simply grants the power ON SUSPICION (at the bare minimum) to seize control (completely) of a company or private citizen’s property and take what ever action they see fit. THEY.
The potential for abuse of this power is staggering. So staggering that I do not hesitate to make a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” reference (hopefully Spielberg won’t sue me) by likening this to the Nazis having the gall to open the Ark. If I thought congresses face would melt off, I’d say go for it. But sadly it would be our faces that melted off. There are a lot of things that cross the line that exist online and I have faith that the current laws – when used appropriately – can continue to do the job.
Why SOPA/PIPA won’t pass? Because it is not well formed, in that it raises far more questions than answers. Its potential for misuse is grand in scale – not unlike the Patriot Act (Sounds like a great idea, until it gets abused). At the very rim of the debate is whether or not THIS MUCH POWER needs to be wielded. Lest we forget the words of John Dalberg-Acton; “”Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
This bill will flounder for months if not years, trying to appease copyright holders without completely scuttling the concept of free speech. Media Giants will cry foul as the act gets neutered down to a bill akin to the current laws in place. But in the long run the copyright holders/media producers will win – Because we, the paying customer, would rather BUY from companies that respect the 99% of the internet users – The ones that are bombarded with product placement from 100’s of sources – than completely forget about them because WE DON”T USE THE INTERNET ANYMORE because the government broke it. Because you asked them to.
We are the Government. At least last time I checked we were supposed to be.