Stop SOPA, PIPA Madness: Ways to Sensibly Protect Copyrights

NEWS ANALYSIS: Much has been written about SOPA and PIPA, the dual piece of controversial legislation that could change how copy rights are enforced. As both bills have been shelved, now is the chance to look at some common-sense ways to protect intellectual property.

I have written three books, and I still get royalty checks from my publishers. I open the envelope typically every six months to find money that rewards me for my original work. It's like someone is printing money and sending it to me. Although my royalty checks are printed from a rather small printing press, there is great satisfaction in creating intellectual property and through that skill receiving compensation for it.

But what if one of my books suddenly appeared on some rogue Website? "Hey, wait a minute, you can't do that! You've stolen my property!" Or, what if some group in, say, China republished my book and made it available for much less than my book?

These are some of the issues behind the House of Representative's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the U.S. Senate's version of the same issues called Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

Those opposing these bills in Congress are not suggesting that we support piracy or steal intellectual property. Rather, they believe that, as written, these bills-while protecting intellectual property and preventing piracy-could end up becoming one big censorship engine with far-reaching negative implications for society.

Remember the discussion about "Death Panels" during the debate about Obama Care? These bills would set up processes whereby review panels (government agencies or even private review boards) would judge which Websites are "illegal" and shut them down or which factories to close because they are generating pirated CDs, DVDs or books.

The problem with this solution is that it's not far from censorship: Some with power can wage war on those they don't like and use "invasion of intellectual property or privacy" as a means to control others. How about if only "certain allowable results" were allowed in Google's or Microsoft's search engine? Who's to decide?

So, what's the solution to the problem? How do you establish laws or systems that protect intellectual property while at the same time not allowing censorship to wage war on some but not others? How do you protect artists who create great songs, producers and directors who create great movies, programmers and developers who create great Websites, and authors (and their publishers) who create great books?

The problem is more difficult to solve. Here's an example. Let's say I go to Barnes & Noble and buy "Killing Lincoln" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. (It's a fascinating read, by the way.) But I know a Civil War history buff, so I give it to him to read. Innocent enough. We've all done that.

Or, let's say I buy a CD of a popular artist like Adele. I then rip it into iTunes and sync it with my iPhone and iPad. No problem. Then, my friend says he loves Adele, so I give him the CD. I don't need it any longer, so what's the harm in giving it to a friend? In each of these cases, the fact is that the actions have actually pirated someone's intellectual property. But society doesn't generally get upset when someone does this on a small scale and doesn't do it for financial reward.

We generally allow everyone who buys a book, CD or DVD to have some personal distribution rights to share it with a few friends. That's because there isn't intent to mass produce and distribute the work or make money through the process. For example, Apple gives everyone the right to share a purchased song or album on five computers.