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Legislation that effects Creatives

SOPA | End of the Internet?

SOPA / PIPA | Disaster Ahead?

I’m not at all sure what to think of the SOPA bill. Is it what we need to curb intellectual property theft? Is it a draconian step that will close down the Internet? Is it a tool in the hands of "greedy corporations"? Is the reaction to it the result of overblown paranoid conspiracy fantasies? Does what could happen bear any realistic relation to what would happen? The key to the worst case scenario seems to be that corporations would, for some reason, be eager to incur the wrath of the general populace to protect even the most insignificant copyright infringement.

Since all the most popular resources that are always given as examples of potential disaster already work with copyright holders and are quite conscientious about removing offending material when asked, is it truly logical to infer from the bill’s language that little Suzi using her favorite Lady Gaga song as a soundtrack to her dance recital video would lead to the shut down of YouTube? Or is it more likely that MGM would use it to shutter a Torrent site that streamed illegal copies of movies that haven’t even made it to DVD yet? The bills are clearly aimed at sites like Pirate Bay not EBay.

On the other hand, I don't know that these bills are written well and that they might not be abused by someone- perhaps an overzealous politician, religious group who imagine themselves maligned, or an overly sensitive bunch social reformers. We risk that anytime we seek to provide protections. However, the courts tend to balance these things out. I haven’t read the entire text of the SOPA bill, but I have read goodly portions, and those sections singled out by numerous sites urging a no vote, and have yet to find a provision which has changed my mind, nor an argument that was persuasive that relied on a realistic interpretation of the bills. But I may certainly be missing something and am open to cogent argument from those in opposition.

Finally, we should give some thought to why this legislation is deemed necessary. Imagine a scenario where shoplifting became so prevalent that it was considered a right… and the stores were considered bad guys for prosecuting the worst offenders that they catch. Is stealing an intellectual property like a movie, song, the image of a painting or photograph different in substance from stealing a DVD, CD, a Giclée print, or coffee table book? Ideas are what drives economic development. They have value, and if we wish to see the standards of living both here and elsewhere continue to improve, we need to protect and nurture ideas as we would something physically tangible.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we trust our lawmakers to do the right thing. The infamous Jack Abramoff recently confirmed our suspicions that lawmakers rely on their staffs to tell them how to vote on bills before them. He went on to say that this fact gives lobbyists immense power because it is much easier to influence a staffer than the elected official himself. But ask yourself, what company CEO in their right mind would call for shutting down YouTube or EBay or Google? The backlash would be so strong and fast that the company would collapse in a matter of weeks if not days. Nor I suspect, would a court allow it to happen. Theoretically, a judge could shut down the Internet right now using existing RICO statutes if one was crazy enough to do it. As is usually the case, the worst case scenario is extremely unlikely to happen. Might the laws discourage people from illegally using copyrighted material? Yes. I don’t see that as a bad thing.

I’m for well thought out legislation that both protects the creative and enhances the creative milieu. Do these bills do that? I don’t know- hence my confusion- however, I know that we must, at some stage, recognize the value of ideas, writings, photographs, artwork, and thought based property. Protecting it will promote more of it, and you can’t have too much of a good thing!