I had an epiphany today. The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, was not written by people who fundamentally misunderstand how the web works. They understand all too well, and want to change it forever.
Behind the almost unreadable (yet truly scary) text of SOPA (and its Senate doppelganger, PIPA, or the Protect Intellectual Property Act) is a desire, likely fueled by powerful media conglomerate backers, to take us all back to the thin-pipe, content-distribution days of 1994 — right before the World Wide Web launched. From the moment the Internet and websites arrived, a veritable Pandora’s box of opportunities have opened to every average Joe and Josephine in the world. Everyone became a content creator. Everyone had an audience.
The Internet also almost immediately became the transport mechanism for a steady flow of pirated content — first images, then music and, when the pipe got fat enough, movies. Major media companies, which once upon a time had sole control of the creation and distribution of popular entertainment, were appalled — and also powerless to stop it.
The music industry stuck its head firmly in the sand and ignored the digital age for years. Its CDs (an early digital embrace I’ll bet the music industry still regrets) made it easy for anyone with a computer to rip and share music. The practice nearly gutted the record industry. Steve Jobs and Apple saved it at the turn of the century, but that’s another story.
The movie industry has long suffered from yahoos bringing camcorders into screenings and delivering crappy copies of first-run films to DVD peddlers in Chinatown. The fat-pipe Internet and peer-to-peer file-sharing simply cut out the middleman and made it easy for anyone to share not only those same awful copies, but also DVD files grabbed, chunked up and delivered to countless pop-up movie download sites and even pristine films stolen from the Hollywood pipeline.
Meanwhile, star-making power was rapidly transferring from the hands of a few in Hollywood, the publishing houses of New York City and elsewhere to, well, everyone. YouTube is a perfect example. People create their own movies and music videos and, thanks to YouTube’s network, distribute it to, potentially, millions. They create their own following, even their own revenue stream (thank you, Google AdSense). People can now self-publish books and, sometimes, make oodles of money. Photographers post pictures on Flickr and Google+ and generate thousands of views. They no longer need a magazine or newspaper to reach an audience.
It’s not just books, music and movies. The Internet is empowering people to create all sorts of businesses and distribution systems. They leapfrog the old hurdles, ignore the gatekeepers and go straight to the public.
It is true that, sometimes, these creators rely in part on other people’s works to tell their tales, sing their songs, and post their movies. This is not a new impulse. The creative act has been, in part, derivative since the beginning of time (he Bible, he New Testament). There are always influences.
It’s also true that real content piracy remains a persistent and daunting problem for companies and creators who rely on revenues from the content they create to continue making more content and, sometimes, simply to survive.
Yet the language in SOPA is so irrational that I can only assume that the authors and backers wanted nothing more than to fundamentally change the rules of the web: To shut down the open post fields, kill reposting (goodbye, Tumblr), end shared videos (sorry, YouTube), expand the definition of what it means to infringe (sorry, Twitter, no sharing links that aren’t yours).
When you turn copyright infringement into a felony and say that anyone can accuse a website of providing ”infringing” tools (and apply severe penalties whether or not you do something about it), you are essentially making it impossible for anyone to do anything online without fear of retribution.
This is just as the authors and backers want it, though. Fear is a powerful motivator. It will grind the engine of the Internet to a halt and when everyone is wondering what do to next, trying to figure out where they get their daily fix of viral videos or post their latest Bieber cover song, there will be media companies. They’ll be standing there, smiling, with open arms. One hand will be ready to give you a warm embrace, while the other collects your money.
See also – A close look at the Stop Online Piracy Act bill : The following article gives a highly detailed breakdown of the bill and how it will affect the nature and use of the internet.
By Lance Ulanoff
January 18, 2012 “Mashable”