There’s no question that the current situation surrounding the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) currently foundering in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the similarlystalled Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate, is a mess. While both bills seem to have little chance of passage in the current Congress, especially now that theWhite House has announced its opposition, the fact is that they will probably come back to life later.
This likelihood of a return isn’t lost on the Internet community. The highly popularWikipedia free online encyclopedia plans to go dark on Jan. 18, along with Reddit.com and some other sites. The idea is to make their lack of availability obvious to Congress and to voters. Sadly, these protest outages, while sort of dramatic, aren’t likely to affect the course of the legislation. What needs to be done is to find another way to solve the apparent problem of online piracy.
Unfortunately, this is one of those situations in which there are at least two sides, and neither is apparently willing to give an inch. Many Internet activists don’t want to change the way business is done now, while most of the recording industry would rather kill the Internet than take any chance that someone might steal a song. Both sides are wrong.
The entertainment media industry, which includes groups such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), has opposed virtually every technical innovation that has the potential of affecting its vested interests.
These are the same people who tried to stop compact discs; they tried to kill video cassette recorders, DVDs, MP3s, Internet music sales and iPods. This is an industry governed by fear, the total failure to understand any technology more advanced than Edison’s wax cylinders and a refusal to acknowledge that their industry can profit from the technology.
The motion picture and recording industries have made vast fortunes when these technologies appeared despite their opposition. CD sales far exceeded the sales of vinyl records. Digital music sales through iTunes and Amazon have made selling music more profitable (there’s no manufacturing cost, after all). And there’s nothing about sharing music through the Internet that’s likely to cost the recording industry millions of dollars, assuming it’s handled properly and the industry approaches it as a way to make money by attracting more customers.
On the other hand, the status quo isn’t working either. The recording industry has a point that the Internet is being used as a vehicle to steal music, movies and other intellectual property. Too many Internet sites turn a blind eye to overtly illegal activities either because they don’t care or perhaps because no reliable, technological mechanism exists to do anything about it. I know this from personal experience.
Recording Industry, Internet Leaders Must Find Common Ground
I’m a writer, and the work that appears in eWEEK and other places is my intellectual property. Every so often I find that someone has taken something I’ve written, repackaged it without permission and is selling it without paying me.
This is piracy just as much as downloading a movie or some music without permission or payment. When I find this, I pass the word along to the lawyers at eWEEK and let them handle it. But for things I write that don’t appear in eWEEK, such as scanned copies of my last book, there are no clear solutions.
What I don’t have and what the recording companies don’t have is some reasonably straightforward means to take action against people who steal intellectual property. This could mean a law enforcement agency that is charged with fighting piracy (don’t believe those FBI warnings you see on movies-that agency is far too busy fighting terrorists to take much time with stolen intellectual property unless you happen to be stealing IP on a grand scale). So there really does need to be a solution, but dismantling the Internet isn’t the way to do it.
But maybe by working together, the Internet community and the companies interested in fighting piracy can develop a way to fight piracy effectively without the draconian measures in the proposed SOPA and PIPA laws. For example, tampering with DNS is not only stupid, but the proposed means of doing it would prevent DNSSEC from working, and we need DNSSEC a lot worse than we need to have the recording industry become even richer. It could also open a lot of doors to other fraudulent activity as users search for ways to avoid crippled DNS servers or bogus search results.
The U.S. and global economies depend on a fully functioning Internet. Letting the recording industry tear down a key part of the economy because of its fear of technology should be a non-starter. But perhaps the search engine providers, ISPs and other critical Internet providers can find a way to keep tabs on illegal activities without interfering with legitimate use. Perhaps an intellectual property treaty that really takes the Internet into account needs to be proposed as a way to get a handle on international piracy.
What we really need is the active participation of the leaders of the Internet community to propose workable solutions that recognize the legitimate rights of intellectual property owners, while also ensuring that the Internet itself doesn’t get compromised. SOPA and PIPA aren’t the answer, but neither is going dark for a day. The answer is in finding common ground and building a solution there.