America's Latest Stupidity: SOPA

Before I go any further, I think it’s important to state my position on the issue of piracy in as clear a manner as possible because I don’t fully take either polarised side in the debate. Firstly, make no mistake: If you pirate content, you are no better than a thief. No, stop writing that vitriolic comment, I don’t want to hear it. If you are taking content for free that someone has asked you to pay for, I don’t care what ridiculous twisted rationalisation you’ve come up with in your head, you are no better than someone who shoplifts the same product off a store shelf. In fact as a pirate, you’re not only a thief but a coward as well since you are using the convenient anonymous shield of your computer screen to hide yourself away from those you are stealing from. I don’t care what piracy apologists like Mike Masnick and TechDirt say, they are wrong. Paying for something once and giving it out to others isn’t “sharing”, it’s mass theft. You aren’t protesting companies and their “obsolete business models”. It’s not their fault you won’t pay them. If the content is good enough for you to consume, it’s good enough for you to pay the asking price. If it’s not, then you don’t get to consume it. Period. I say this as someone who pirated a lot of games and music when I was younger. I was wrong and stupid to do it then and I don’t any longer. If I pirated all the media I consumed in a year, I’d have a lot more disposable income but I don’t believe in stealing so I don’t do it.

That said, I think many media corporations take idiotic approaches to solving a problem that is ultimately unsolvable, often at the expense of those of us good enough to pay for their stuff. Suing fans, increasingly intrusive DRM schemes, restricting what paying customers can do with their own media, it’s all stupid and pointless. When people have an easy way to steal your content, a certain group of them will always be entitled and selfish enough to do so. No matter what restrictions you try to put in place, you can’t stop it. Ever. These restrictions ultimately cause headaches for those that choose to willingly hand over their money to you. Making their experiences harder while the pirates still get what they want is how you turn paying customers into yet more pirates. It sucks that in the digital age, you have to accept piracy related losses as a cost of doing business but sadly, that’s your only choice. Reward those who give you your money and blow off those who don’t. Refusing to accept this reality only digs your grave faster.

Really, for a far more articulate version of this view, check out this awesome Extra Credits episode.

Unfortunately, we are now faced with the latest result of big media’s resistance to the inevitable: SOPA. I won’t spend any real time talking about what this is and why it’s bad because others like TotalBiscuit have done an amazing job explaining it already. It’s obvious to anyone but the media companies and the self-admitted Internet idiots in the US Congress that SOPA has very severe implications. It’s really the content industry cutting off its nose to spite its face. If SOPA passes, it has the potential to silence the industry’s most devoted fans who most want to drive awareness and passion for the brands they create. I believe this law will have the polar opposite of their desired effect. It may cause a temporary drop in piracy but it will also cause a significant drop in the number of paying customers. Between limiting viral marketing, fan communities and driving people to piracy to spite this nonsense, big media will simply further their path to irrelevance by spending money fighting their fans instead of creating better and more innovating experiences for them. Points like these is where I ultimately agree with the likes of TechDirt.

What offends me most about SOPA is that it’s a uniquely American piece of legislation, written and paid for by American corporations but it stands to negatively impact the whole world. Under this law, a site which is merely accused, not proven to be facilitating piracy can be shut down indefinitely by DNS blocking. You can look up DNS if you want more information on how this method works but the short of it is that a DNS block is not something you can get around. If your site is taken offline in this way, the Internet as a whole can’t see it anymore. The scary part is that this is the United States unilaterally deciding that if they deem a site to be facilitating piracy, they can remove it from the Internet as a whole, including from the majority of the planet that does not live there and is not subject to this law. Taken a step further, given how much of the core DNS structure is housed in and controlled by the United States, they theoretically have the power to take down sites that aren’t even hosted on American soil or operated by Americans. Think about that for a minute. If your favourite video site is simply said by some faceless media corporation to be a haven for pirates, under SOPA the United States could give itself the authority and the means to take that site offline indefinitely without trial, regardless of whether its servers, owners or customers reside in the United States. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this stands to fundamentally change the Internet as we know it and hand the keys over to people who don’t understand it and feel threatened by it. It will do nothing whatsoever to stop piracy and will increase it in all likelihood.
Most of big media is made up of American companies. But the Internet as a whole is not American. We don’t get to vote in congresspeople, we the majority of the world don’t have a say in this, yet we all stand to be subject to its consequences. What kind of arrogance does it take for these companies and the American government that puppets for them to think they have any right to censor the Internet as a whole to protect the interests of their increasing irrelevant media conglomerates? In many cases, I think it is purely ignorance. Congress is largely made up of old people who don’t understand technology and don’t care to. They only understand what their campaign contributors spoon feed them and of course, they are getting anything but the truth. In other cases, it’s just corruption. More and more Americans (and really people around the world) believe their voice is secondary to that of big business and when you see things like SOPA get anything but laughed out of the room, it’s hard to dispute that. In some cases, I do believe it is ideological as well. Many lawmakers take the viewpoint I did in my first paragraph but don’t also share that from the second paragraph. Piracy is a hot button issue but it’s also one where both sides have legitimate points and it takes a combination of both to come up with the most common sense solution. Blindly siding with the industry or the pirates is not the right approach.

The American political system is an embarrassment and it often seems that America is the only country in the world that doesn’t realise that. I come from a country where our parliamentary process can often involve name calling and fistfights in the very halls in which our laws are passed. We’re certainly not perfect either. However, never have I seen a supposed superpower have so many crucial problems with its economy, infrastructure, education, crime and many other things to deal with and yet spend their time fast tracking laws which unilaterally declare themselves the Internet’s police force. For a country that proclaims itself the “leader of the free world”, they seem to be going out of their way to suppress freedom that doesn’t coincide with the profit motivations of large companies. It saddens and angers me that those of us who don’t live in the United States not only have to worry about our own governments but now we have to worry about theirs too, even though they don’t represent us and we don’t have a say in their elections. The Internet is supposed to be about openness and freedom, the things America keeps saying it’s all about. If that’s the case, why does SOPA even exist and why do they feel it’s their right and responsibility to impose it on us all? This is your problem, solve it for yourselves. Most of the rest of us likely know better.

Needless to say, if you believe in freedom on the Internet, go here and do your part to stop this American stupidity.

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