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Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative

If Congress is so clueless about Internet dynamics, it's up to SOPA opponents to create a workable alternative for stopping online content piracy.

The actors in the soap opera that is SOPA and PIPA are getting a bit full of themselves. If you haven't been following this saga, these two bills, ham-handed attempts to stop online content piracy, prompted Google, Wikipedia, and a bunch of other sites to black out their logos or temporarily shut down in protest. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act, the House version) and PIPA (Protect IP Act, the Senate version) are said to threaten free speech, the future of innovation, the technical infrastructure of the Internet, and the economic foundation of the global economy. Wrote one wag: "Big content is quite literally trying to foist its own version of the Great Firewall of China on to the American public." Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

For another example of the overwrought reactions, consider the public statement from blog site Boing Boing, which shut itself down on Jan. 18 to protest the two Congressional bills: "We could not ever link to another website unless we were sure that no links to anything that infringes copyright appeared on that site. So in order to link to a URL on LiveJournal or WordPress or Twitter or Blogspot, we'd have to first confirm that no one had ever made an infringing link, anywhere on that site. Making one link would require checking millions (even tens of millions) of pages, just to be sure that we weren't in some way impinging on the ability of five Hollywood studios, four multinational record labels, and six global publishers to maximize their profits."

[ For more background on the SOPA anti-piracy legislation, see SOPA: 10 Key Facts. ]

I'm not here to defend SOPA or PIPA. If, as their critics maintain, the bills effectively give ISPs, search engines, and payment services carte blanche to cut off foreign websites that U.S. movie, music, and other content creators merely claim are profiting from their stolen goods, then the legislation is an abomination.

But due process still exists in this country, so I have trouble believing that the courts will sit on their hands while a fundamental constitutional principle is violated. "Fair use" of copyrighted and trademarked material also still exists, so I have trouble believing that YouTube execs who let a 14-year-old post a video of herself singing "Sexy And I Know It" will get taken away in shackles. Still, if the SOPA and PIPA language is so broad as to invite such flagrant abuses, then the bills' authors need to go back to square one.

Question is, are they up to the task? An argument making the rounds among the digerati is that SOPA and PIPA are 20th century answers to a 21st century challenge, that the movie, music, and media industry lobbyists and their Congressional puppets just don't understand the dynamics of the Internet. If that's so (and no doubt it is), then it's up to the Internet industry stalwarts opposing SOPA/PIPA to rally support for a meaningful, 21st century alternative to stopping online content piracy. Most of them pay lip service to the notion that such piracy is a serious problem. It's time for them to stop grandstanding--stop stomping their feet and holding their breath--and start showing the 20th century studios and record labels and media companies and their clueless lobbyists and Congressional supporters a much more effective way to address this issue.

To its credit Google, whose YouTube is a dumping ground for pirated material, is behind an alternative bill--The Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade, or OPEN, Act--and is seeking industry comment and collaboration. That collaboration must include movie, music, and media companies.

This isn't a case of inviting Big Government/Big Brother to step in where it has no business. It's government’s job to stop crimes and prosecute criminals. If you steal the goods that studios, artists, musicians, novelists, developers, and others produce (often at considerable expense) with the intent of profiting from that theft, then you must be held accountable. Another notion making the rounds is that Hollywood studios and music labels are to blame for the theft of their copyrighted material because their business models aren’t palatable to many consumers. That's right: Blame the victim. So if some rogue site got its hands on Google’s intellectual property and started posting it illegally, claiming Google wasn’t producing and distributing products based on that IP fast enough or at a good enough price point for most consumers’ tastes, would Google come to that site’s defense in the name of a "free Internet?"

I’m not saying there’s not a much better way to crack down on site operators who steal and distribute copyrighted and trademarked content, as long as we understand that the Internet is subject to the laws of the land like any distribution vehicle. If you don’t want to pay 15 bucks to go see the latest Tom Cruise action movie, get a Netflix account and download older movies for a fraction of the price. Or go watch Die Hard reruns on TV or Smosh on YouTube. I may not like the fact that a new Porsche Spyder costs about $70K and that Porsche makes the fattest profit margins in the car business, but that doesn’t give me the right to break into a showroom at night, drive one home, and sell it from my driveway.

The Internet industry backlash against SOPA and PIPA has even Congressional supporters rethinking their position. The bills look to be all but dead. So Google and friends, the ball's now in your court. Where do you propose we go from here?

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User Rank: Apprentice
1/23/2012 | 3:03:02 PM
re: SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative
I didn't "admit to be so clueless." That's your charge, not an admission on my part. And I clearly state in the column that SOPA/PIPA is bad legislation--that a better way is need to crack down on online content piracy. Google, among others, seems to think there's a better way, and so I exhorted Google and the others to propose that better way. If you don't think anything different needs to be done, fine, that's your prerogative.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/23/2012 | 3:45:39 AM
re: SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative
Check out this commercial we made to combat SOPA and PIPA!

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...
Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/35405496
User Rank: Apprentice
1/21/2012 | 7:04:20 PM
re: SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative
Companies should adapt to the internet. The interwebz should not be destroyed. It would displease.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/21/2012 | 4:51:49 PM
re: SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative
I'll make it easy on Rob since he probably is unaware of this case lacks time to look this information up for himself:

User Rank: Apprentice
1/21/2012 | 4:46:44 PM
re: SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative
I am amazed that a supposed VP and editor-in-chief of InformationWeek would admit to be so clueless on the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation, yet feel the need to opine with basically no real substance on what is proposed. You apparently had the time to draft up this opinion piece, but did not have time to read ANY of the legislation?

You harp that opponents of the bills need to craft up an alternative, then in your own article mention Google's efforts to do just that - so really what was the point of this article?

User Rank: Apprentice
1/21/2012 | 1:46:03 AM
re: SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative
"But due process still exists in this country, so I have trouble believing that the courts will sit on their hands while a fundamental constitutional principle is violated."

I stopped reading here. Anyone who wishes to know why should Google dajaz1

Tell me about your wonderful expectation of due process when it comes to these seizures then.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/21/2012 | 12:10:24 AM
re: SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative
People copy stuff because they want free stuff. Free software, free movies, free music. That shows that there is a strong interest in these products. People also like the convenience to pull content off the web within a minute and go watch the movie or listen to music. Since there is no money back guarantee on a DVD or CD it is not that odd that many rather circumvent the rules than pay up dearly for something they don't end up liking or in case of a movie or a book will not watch or read more than once. People also love flat rates. They love them for their cell phones, internet access, and Chinese buffets.
So why doesn't the almighty media industry come together, make one web portal for books, music, software, and movies and charge a flat rate per month or a per item charge. Make that per item charge be like a quarter for a movie and dime for a CD. Put an expiration date on it. Feel free to make that expiration clock in after a few days.
For example, I want to watch a movie right now. My cable provider charges 3.99 for a halfway decent movie. Netflix subscription was canceled long ago, mainly because their online catalog is pathetic. The Fire is not an option as I am chronically short on cash and don't want to spend 200 bucks for a digital shopping window. So, do I search through the endless amount of sleazy sites that often pass on more than just a movie (meaning virus, trojan, etc)?
What I would do without hesitation is pay a quarter, watch the movie, then throw it away. I wouldn't even cry if I disliked it. And if I really love it, why not offer to pay a bit more and keep it forever with the right to stream it to any device I like?
Will that eliminate all pirating? No, it will not, but the convenience of safe and cheap entertainment will easily win over people. And making pennies per piece means that selling a lot of units will make a lot of money. And a quarter per item is more than the media companies get now with pirated stuff, which is nothing.
Just think back when Napster was the place to get all kinds of music. Rather than to embrace the technology the media bullies killed it off. Only later Apple picked up that same idea, called it iTunes, and made bulkloads of cash with it. They understood that 99 cent songs are good business (although I still think that is expensive) if you sell a lot of them. And once the distribution rights are bought it all comes down to volume.
The RIAAs should have taken the money that they shoved into the behinds of flip-flopping politicians and team up with Apple or Amazon and throw the content for cheap at as many people as possible. Or roll your own to cut out the middlemen, but embrace the technology rather than fight it.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/20/2012 | 11:46:49 PM
re: SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative
Why do you think anything like SOPA is needed? Would you give the right to the Post Office to stop all deliveries to my address because a movie studio tells them that I am mailing illegal copies out of my house? That is not the way we currently practice law enforcement. We don't take your home address away, stop your utilities, or close your business because you are suspected of something. You take the person to court and let the legal system take care of it. Why should it be different for internet related crimes?
User Rank: Apprentice
1/20/2012 | 9:19:03 PM
re: SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative
The problem is the big companies do not play fair. Any solution needs to include the Due Process of Law and SOPA and PIPA do not. A site can be taken down with a claim or an accusation.

You Tube operates under the existing laws and look what happened last week. MegaUpload was taken down. As a sign of support the following celebrities produed a video in support of Mega Upload and it was posted on You Tube:
P Diddy
Kanye West
Chris Brown
Jamie Foxx
Kim Kardashian
Lil John
The Game
Floyd Mayweather
Serena Williams

Universal Music made an accusation which forced You Tube to take this video down. Later upon realizing that Universal had no claim to the video, they put it back up. But it shows the lengths to which these companies will go to prevent ANY content from being available that they do not agree with. Blacklisting whatever they do not like.

SOPA and PIPA is the McCarthyism of our day!

Any solution, no matter who creates it, should not and cannot walk on our basic freedom of free speech. It should not burden the citizens to do the work that should be done by the legal procedures that govern copyright law.

We sitll seem to operate under an ownership concept that was born many years ago and violates "common sense" by today's culture.

We do not need SOPA and PIPA. We already have laws in place to prosecute piracy and they require the Due Process of Law. What is wrong with that?

I believe that what is really needed is a redefinition of what copyright ownership entitles an artist or media company to have. The definition of copyright of 20 to 30 years ago is not applicable to todays world. It protects "copies". In a digital world, everything we do creates a "copy".

New creations built upon existing ones (even those that are copyrighted) should not be considered a copy of the original. Otherwise, there would never be any innovation in the world. Most innovations are improvements or alternative uses built upon someone else's work.

Big Media may want to have things the way it was 20 years ago, but it cannot happen. We live in a different world. Deal with it !!!!

User Rank: Apprentice
1/20/2012 | 8:32:41 PM
re: SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative
The government can do it's job in policing piracy with current laws.

The solution is simple. The concerned business (Music Labels etc) should improve the mechanism in which they store and distribute their media. This means the CORPORATION pays for the expense of solving the problem, not me the taxpayer.

The fact that the internet makes things easier is a good thing. I don't even understand how this is getting support from Republicans. SOPA/PIPA are additional regulations which will unnecessarily burden the advancement of business.
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