SOPA, PIPA, Piracy and the Free Internet

I won’t be blacking out my sites or going dark because… well, the point is that the internet has become an indispensable communication tool for the human race as a whole. A blackout, albeit one caused by fear of litigation, is the very thing that these potential American law changes could bring about. Better, in my opinion, to use the internet in the manner it is most useful, to communicate.

There are two bills currently making their way through the American legislature that would kill the modern internet as we know it. They would essentially grant sweeping powers to private businesses, rather than the judiciary, to force takedowns of sites, removal of material and so forth on claims of IP infringement – whether true or not. Costly legal battles aren’t possible for most people and this is just the tip of the iceberg of the problems these could cause, not to mention they’d be ineffective to their alleged purpose – to reduce piracy.

There’s several issues at play here:

1. SOPA has been withdrawn, but it’s not dead. National and international, corporate and private outrage needs to be maintained and focused upon American legislators to ensure that it remains that way.

2. PIPA, another, broadly similar bill, is still a threat and needs as much opposition as SOPA does. This also needs your opposition. You can find tools to oppose both all over the net. Write to your congressmen, your senators, write to the US embassy, fill out petitions, call and leave messages, write physical letters.

3. The USA has far too much influence over the shape and nature of the internet. This is an important international tool and yet laws and actions made by the USA alone can influence how we all interact with the internet globally. This is especially dangerous, ironically, for nations with good US relations in light of a recent extradition incident. When you can be sent to the US for trial for something done in your own country which isn’t illegal, at corporate behest, something is very wrong. Other nations need to take a more active and firmer role in making the internet more plural.

4. Piracy is an issue, but not the issue many think it is. I produce IP and I would like to get cash for every pirated copy of my work out there that hasn’t been bought. It doesn’t work like that though. A pirated copy =/= a lost sale. A fact that seems to be lost on the large companies. Many people simply collect, or download in order to get an idea if they want something or not. I know that piracy has gotten me sales, acting like free advertising and has taken my work to a broader audience than it might otherwise reach. It’s swings and roundabouts, not a simple issue as some would like to make it out to be. Experience gleaned from places like Amazon’s Kindle store and iTunes shows that the key to ‘defeating’ piracy is to make legitimate purchase affordable, easy and convenient. That’s what companies should be doing. Not lobbying governments to become their bailiffs.

Ultimately, in my opinion, a little piracy is the price we pay for a free, useful, dynamic internet. A pool of ideas and thoughts we can all share whether it’s for SCIENCE! for ART! or simply for Lolcats. It’s a price worth paying, just as the existence of trolls is a price worth paying for the opportunity to have true, free expression and idea exchange with an international audience.

Thank you for listening. Normal service will now be resumed.