(The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not necessarily that of his company, co-workers, or fellow humans.)
It is not uncommon for a group (lobbyists) to buy legislation from our Congress. It happens all the time. In fact, many would consider congress itself a big business. It must be nice to be a congressman. They get all these benefits that they often call Socialism whenever it is suggested that all Americans would benefit from having them. They get tons of vacation time. They always vote every year to give themselves raises while voting “No!” to programs that could benefit Americans in need.
But even worse than the usual hypocrisy of Congress is the fact they often introduce bills that are not beneficial to Americans, just beneficial to corporations. Then they start rallying for votes to try and get this bill passed. The scary part is that many times these bills are not read in their entirety. In fact, many times, these bills are not even written by the congressman who introduced it. Many bills are written by corporations who seek to have laws created, or changed, to benefit their bottom line. Oh, they will sell it as “protecting”, or “creating“, jobs. They will paint a sympathetic picture of how their company is suffering and that the bad people are killing them and our jobs. And because they deliver these carefully worded bills with loads of cash and favors and perks, Congressmen eat it up. Or in this case, drink the Kool-Aid. These people that we elected and put our trust in will just take the word of the lobbyists that these bills are the right thing to do without actually reading them at all. The Patriot Act comes to mind. Some corporations made a killing off of us giving up many freedoms and liberties all in the name of our protection, or so they said. Hardly a day goes by when we are not reminded about our lost liberties. But that is another story for another blog.
My point is that SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) came about in a very similar fashion. They were bills written and designed to exclusively protect the MPAA by taking away more freedom from Americans. The crazy part is that it basically punishes Americans because of the actions of foreign entities. Since American laws do not apply to entities based in other countries, the MPAA felt they would take a different approach to protecting their product, since they were unable to successfully prevent pirated movies from being distributed across the Internet.
While most have no problem with the actual prevention of online piracy, many agreed that this bill went way too far and had the potential to negatively affect the Internet for all Americans. Put it this way: the vaguely-worded bill had the potential to cause a site like YouTube to be shut down, or blacklisted, because someone uploaded a video of a kid’s birthday party that just so happened to have a Justin Beiber song playing in the background. As it is now, the copyright holder has to submit a complaint and then YouTube pulls the video if it is indeed in copyright violation. We’ve (and ironically politicians) have always considered it barbaric that some countries cut off the hand of their thieves. In this case, the very same politicians were all set to approve a bill that would effectively kill the business in which the thief chose to conduct his business. In other words social networking sites were about to be held accountable for everything that goes on under their roof. This would have been the virtual equivalent shutting down an entire market because one vendor was peddling fake purses.
That’s not a realistic approach to governing the Internet. It’s not fair to the overwhelming majority of those who use the Internet. It’s that same mentality that made Prohibition a massive failure; punishing everyone because they can’t stop the very few bad apples in the bunch.
Fortunately for us, news spreads fast on the Internet. This bill was set to sail through congress unnoticed (and unread) until word got out what it was actually all about. This never made the mainstream news. But it percolated online until it reached a boiling point. As more and more people began realizing the negative potential of this bill, more and more people stood up and took notice. Then they set out to do something about it.
January 18th was the day the Internet fought back. The Tech industry stood together and protested the far-reaching bills. Many popular sites such as Reddit and Wikipedia blacked out their services and only posted their opposition to the bill while making their point of what it would be like not having access to their free user-submitted content. I know my day was off by not having access to Reddit!
Now many of the politicians who vocally supported these bills are starting to back off. Did they finally read the wording of these bills and decide it was not in the best interest of Americans as a whole? No, it was the millions of Americans and registered voters who signed petitions, called their congressmen, and demanded that these bills be stopped.
So now it’s back to the drawing board for these bills. The vague wording will now be addressed and resubmitted at some point.
Way to go Internet! This just goes to show that the political system can work. Politicians are supposed to be accountable to their voters, not to their lobbyists. Apparently many decided that keeping their jobs were more important than the perks that come with it. Nice try, MPAA. You can’t fight the future. Ask the RIAA. They found out the hard way. It wasn’t piracy that hurt their business model. Their business model became outdated and they resisted the evolution of customer expectations and desires.
I, personally, so not feel that piracy is hurting them like they claim. It has been proven that people are more than willing to pay for something if given the choice. Apple knew this and that is why iTunes is the powerhouse that it is. Apple knew that people simply wanted their music to be accessible online and on their portable devices. Online piracy is no different than physical theft. It’s going to happen no matter what you do. The RIAA still likes to talk about how CD sales continue to plummet. Yet they rarely mention in the same statement how online purchases continue to increase. It was simply about given the people what they want and how they want it.
Here are some suggestions that will mostly decrease piracy somewhat:
1) No one like sitting through 20 minutes of ads and warnings and previews every single time you put that DVD into your player. Disabling the menu and chapter buttons makes it even worse. People bought that DVD for the movie, not the junk you are forcing us to watch.
2) Make TV shows available right after they have aired it. Not everyone has a DVR and not everyone can watch when you want them to. Not having that show available at the consumers’ convenience makes it easy to justify downloading it for free. Right or wrong, much of the entertainment “theft” is a matter not having any choices.
3) Release movies at the same time worldwide. People in other countries will download movies because that is the only way they will be able to see them at that time. Why should Europe have to wait months before that American blockbuster is finally released over there?
The bottom line is that stealing is bad and I do not condone or suggest that anyone do it. However, it is easy to why many do. Piracy can be addressed without punishing everyone. Show or act like you care for your customers. People are less likely to steal from someone they trust or like.