Wednesday was for protesting SOPA and PIPA, both of which are bad solutions.
Bad solutions to a good idea.
Because as unpopular as it is to say so, the Internet has more than a little of the Old West taint to it. That lawlessness that seems charming to some, romantic to others…but deadly dangerous to those who live in the thick of it all.
When people argue about free speech and the Internet, that somehow seeps into the consciousness of the nation, leaving more than a few people with the idea that Everything On The Internet Is Free. By the end of the day Wednesday there were more than a few weary souls expressing their adamant belief that while SOPA/PIPA is a terrible idea, the piracy situation on the Web is even worse. And those people are right.
I write words for a living and so far there have been only a few instances of my words being used to create content for someone else, and only one instance to my knowledge where that person was profiting from it. A few years ago someone started a “Nashville Journal” website designed to look like a print newspaper. The “articles” were actually blog posts by various local bloggers taken directly off their blogs in entirety. The ads surrounding these articles generated revenue for the owner of the website…none of which was to be paid to those who actually WROTE the content. When I asked the site creator to no longer feature my work he said that I should be thankful for the publicity and go away. That’s the usual battlecry of wordthieves on the web. “Just thank me that I’ve bothered to even read your piddly little blog.” We’re too little to matter.
On the other end of the spectrum you have the large entertainment conglomerates who spend millions of dollars producing films, TV shows and music. Their product is routinely downloaded, uploaded, torrented and shared across the web in a giant bazaar of outright thievery. And here is where I think it might get a little bit more complicated, and where I think perhaps these corporations are encouraging thievery and piracy to their own detriment.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I think stealing is very very wrong. But I also think that by exploiting the various channels of electronic media, premium content owners have greatly misunderstood the marketplace and are pricing themselves into a problem. By overcharging for premium content and wrapping digital use restrictions around that content, these publishers and producers have been robbing consumers for nearly a decade. People who used to pay $15 once for a hardback book are now being told that if they want to read it on their Kindle it’ll be $15 and if their husband wants to read it on his Nook it’ll be another $15 and if they want to have a copy in iBooks2 that’ll be another $18. Same book, same household. Then you have the problem of people who missed the first episode of Alcatraz, which aired for no direct cost to the consumer on Monday, January 16th. Sure, they can still watch it. For $3.99 on Amazon UnBox.
This business of recharging consumers for something they already own has created quite a few pirates out of a great many honest people.
Now lest you think I’m saying that it’s okay to steal and that the rich guys have it coming–I most definitely am NOT saying that. But I am saying that as the web grows more popular the content producers may want to think about ways to maximize their market share that don’t bleed the consumer dry. (HuluPlus is a great model. For about $10 a month you can watch TV shows you missed the first time around, complete with commercials. This is how my husband and I caught up on ‘Grimm’ and ‘Up All Night’. Now we watch the first-run stuff. We wouldn’t have been so eager if we’d had to pay $5 an episode.)
I also think that the punishment is unequal, and if there were a better way to police the web…like ACTUAL police…the thievery problem would get better across the board. Large movie studios have big fines and punishments for content thieves, but smaller content producers like my friend who runs a knitting website have no law enforcement recourse when her copyrighted knitting patterns are reproduced.
One of the key problems with SOPA/PIPA was that it gave corporations too much authority–they could instantly shut down any site SUSPECTED of stealing from them and keep that site offline during the trial. Guilty until proven innocent. Smaller producers wouldn’t have any recourse at all. They’d still have to call a lawyer at their own expense, investigate at their own expense, etc.
Fair Internet Piracy laws should retain the “innocent until proven guilty” standard and an enforcement system that works equally well for content providers of all sizes. The web is a new frontier and it’s time to start policing it as such.