Tuesday, 21 February 2012

SOPA, PIPA and online piracy

I appreciate that by this point the whole debate is several weeks old but since I can guarantee that this argument is one that is going to keep cropping up over the next few years I thought I'd put down my thoughts now.

Firstly, what are SOPA and PIPA?

The Stop Online Piracy Act and its sister bill the Protect Intellectual Property Act were proposed laws making their way through the United States houses of Congress although there are similar laws proposed or being debated in most developed countries. Essentially, the bills were trying to reduce the prevalence of online piracy by granting far greater powers to crack down on websites which are involved in the process.

For instance, one of the provisions was that an individual/company/entity could approach a US judge to issue an indictment against a particular website or service for infringing or aiding and abetting the infringement of their intellectual property. US based companies would then be forced to remove links to said websites, to cease providing services to said websites or helping or supporting them in any way.

First off, I would just like to say the proposals were ridiculous. The definitions were so loose that, for instance, a random user posting a link to an illegal download site in the comments section of this blog could easily be seen as my blog "aiding and abetting" online piracy. I would liken the privsions to using a nuclear bomb to try and kill a cockroach, the definitions themselves were left incredibly open to interpretation, the process of finding a judge, just one judge, who would issue such an indictment seemed ridiculously easy and the countermeasures, which would effectively shut down any website without significant resources and capital (which is most of them) seemed over the top to say the least.

Now that we've got that out of the way I'd like to move on to the issue of piracy more generally. Specifically, I want to talk about what I think the creative media industry should be doing rather than trying to get draconian and counter-productive laws enacted.

Essentially, what is going on is that the creative media industry (or the big players at least) are desperately trying to maintain the conditions they had a few years ago when they had an effective monopoly on distribution of their works. Back when they had such a monopoly they could charge very high prices for things like singles (I remember when you could end up paying £4.99 for a CD single) and DVDs. This of course meant large profits were generated. Unfortunastely for the industry, the internet has made it incredibly easy to get hold of quality copies of music, films, video games etc. They would desperately like to be able to charge high prices again but this isn't possible when people can quickly, easily and cheaply get hold of products over the internet. So, they are trying to get laws enacted which will massively reduce piracy and give them back their ability to monopolise their works.

Personally, I think this is a bad idea. Look, the way I see it is like this, like it or not, deserve it or not, the internet is here to stay. Like it or not, the internet is largely open and free so, like it or not, pirated works are going to remain relatively easy to get hold of. Unless our governments are going to start exercising the sort of control over the internet that countries like China try to exercise (and the provisions contained within SOPA and PIPA weren't far off) then piracy is here to stay.

Nature doesn't care what you think you have a right to. You adapt or you die. Whether or not the creative media industry should have monopoly rights to their works, they don't. The sooner they accept that the better. Like I said, you adapt or you die. You can either cling to the days when you  could charge high prices for your works and generate massive profits, in which case people will refuse to pay those prices and simply obtain the products illegally. Or, you can accept that the world has changed, that the monopoly on distribution is gone and is never coming back, and change with the times. Services like netflix, itunes, spotify etc. have shown that people are willing to pay for the genuine, quality product, they're just not willing to pay anywhere near as much as they had to previously.

The creative media industry should accept that times have changed, that their monopoly has been completely and irrevocably broken and that in order to survive they have to adapt. Trying to bribe governments to recreate that monopoly isn't going to work. Electorates are not going to vote for their governments to have those sorts of controls over the internet.

Look, I'm not saying I agree with piracy. Personally, I'm still undecided as to whether artists should have sole right to their works. My point is this, regardless of what rights they ought to have, they don't have this one. Times have changed, people have moved on. Living in the past is never a good way to approach the future so the creative industry should accept that this is the world we live in and find a way to co-exist. Otherwise, they are doomed to failure.

SOPA and PIPA are not the way forward and the creative industry should give up trying to recreate the past. We live in the future now and that is not comething you can change.