By now, you’ve probably heard about the legislative bills that the United States Senate and House of Representatives are currently debating. Both the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT-IP) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) aim to prevent online piracy and copyright infringement. In an offline world, protecting others from illegally obtaining, selling or sharing others’ materials had become a manageable process. Even in the early days of the Internet, one could effectively police a handful of sites or users. But as the Internet grew, it became increasingly harder to track the transfer of copyrighted materials across the information highway.
The Art of the Steal
In a black-and-white world, the act of stealing someone else’s work is wrong. When we think of piracy, we tend to think of bootlegged copies of movies, filmed with a handheld camera in a movie theater that is later sold on the streets of New York City or Hong Kong. But we’ve come a long way since then. It became Napster or the Pirate Bay or YouTube.
But the way we think about piracy has evolved too. While relatively new, social networking sites and the social behaviors that they have inspired have made sharing content a popular social norm. By sharing your blog post, or video or photo, we’re essentially promoting your work or ideas. That’s the way we’d like to think of it, but that’s not how Congress or the Motion Picture Association of America sees it.
They don’t much care about your blog as a source of inspiration or creative collaboration. All they see is that their multi-million dollar productions are being compromised and undermined by online users who share their content without permission or compensation. And if the only entertainment in the world were found in movie theaters or on cable television, they’d probably have a valid argument. But as we know, more people watch television online now and we watch our movies, not in a theater, but through a variety of online streaming channels. (Additionally, most of us actually pay for online content.) The DVDs we once owned we offer for free on Craigslist or FreeCycle, without thought to whether we’ve committed an act of piracy -- the same way when we download an episode of Breaking Bad off the web.
SOPA = Censorship
The problems with SOPA and PROTECT-IP aren’t that they’re trying to protect people from stealing other people’s work, it’s that they don’t understand how the Internet works and that these legislative acts set a dangerous precedent. On January 24, Congress will vote on these two bills. Hanging in the balance are the lives of millions of people who make a living on the Internet, as journalists, as bloggers, videographers, photographers, podcasters, web designers and developers, among others. The threat is that should either of these bills pass both chambers, sites could be pulled down, fines will be imposed and many of us and our favorite sites could be prosecuted to the extent of the law.
LifeHacker recently published a video that excellently explains what SOPA and PROTECT-IP will do and the implications they will have on the future of the Internet.
In reality, we know that the federal government doesn’t have the staff or technology to actually comb through the Internet to find each one of us who has shared another post or video or photo, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the implication that they could or have the right to.
We at CMSWire are against SOPA and PROTECT- IP not because we think stealing others’ content is okay (and we vigorously protect our own), but because the legislation doesn’t effectively outline what copyright infringement is and because it blatantly impedes freedom of expression through federally-sanctioned censorship.
How to Voice Your Concerns
A recent post by Stacey Higginbotham for GigaOm outlined 6 great ways to fight back against SOPA. Among the resources provided is AmericanCensorship.org (clicking on our black banner over our logo will take you there). We encourage you to visit this site for vital information about how to contact your congressperson and to attend town halls in your area.
Perhaps the best thing to do, short of writing your congressperson, is to educate yourself and others about it. There’s a Chrome extension that will alert you when you visit a company that is pro-SOPA. There’s also a growing list of companies who are against it. If you’re among the many people who make a living off of the Internet, please add your name to I Work for The Internet.
Should SOPA and PROTECT-IP come to pass, you may want to start assembling a list of the IP addresses of the sites you frequent on a regular basis. Here’s one to get you started.
In the meantime, we'll continue to keep you updated on the progress of these two bills.