Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA and PIPA Are Not The Way

Those of you who know me, or who have been reading my blog for a time, know that I don't get political very often. If you're here (reading some page on the Internet), this is something that you should care about.

The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act are great ideas in theory. As an artist, I'm very concerned about the safety of my intellectual property. These laws are supposed to stop IP theft.

They won't.

What they will do is make individual websites like this one have to police content posted by their users and block it if it appears to be violating someones copyright. This post would probably be removed, because Blogger doesn't know if I made the image above or if I have permission to use it from the person who did make it (FTR, the person who created this image did so for the sake of this protest and it is intended to be used thus, therefore I do have permission). More than half of YouTube would be gone - videos of people singing popular songs would violate the singers/songwriters copyright. Except those things are not in violation of copyrights; they are allowed through the Fair Use doctrine. SOPA and PIPA would make Fair Use null and void.

But most websites can't handle the burden of policing their users. Etsy has a standing policy on this, actually. They don't go looking for copyright violations (and there are a TON) but will take action if the copyright holder contacts them. While it's not very efficient for putting an end to the piracy that goes on in Etsy stores, it's probably the best way to go. Etsy doesn't know if you bought a license agreement to use copyrighted images. Under SOPA and PIPA, they would have to remove those items (assuming if you have a license you would just need to prove it) and that size of a company just doesn't have the resources to do that. What would happen then? Etsy would shut down. Blogger, YouTube, Facebook - all of those sites would have a problem too.

The laws are great ideas in theory, but they're not written the way they should be. The letter of the law means Internet censorship. We all need to fight this.

Today, Wikipedia is blacked out. If you go to their site, you can enter your zip code and it will give you the contact information for your representatives. Tell them you are against SOPA and PIPA. They are not going to have the desired effect. The idea, what the laws want to do, is good, but they will not succeed in the way they are written. I think Wikipedia sums it up nicely, so I'll repeat what they say here:

SOPA and PIPA would put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn't being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won't show up in major search engines. SOPA and PIPA would build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.

In a world in which politicians regulate the Internet based on the influence of big money, Wikipedia — and sites like it — cannot survive.

Congress says it's trying to protect the rights of copyright owners, but the "cure" that SOPA and PIPA represent is worse than the disease. SOPA and PIPA are not the answer: they would fatally damage the free and open Internet.

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