SOPA critics are ready for a showdown

The protesters’ arsenal includes a censor-yourself app for Twitter, email and status updates



For background on this potentially Internet-breaking bill, see my last post on the subject. 

How much does the Internet hate America’s proposed Stop Online Piracy Act? A LOT.

In anticipation of a congressional hearing on the bill on Thursday, online activists are mobilizing in a big way:

  • Wikipedia may shut down. The world’s biggest encyclopedia is threatening to go on “strike” to protest SOPA.  Jimmy Wales won’t pull the plug without community support, but he’s floating the idea here.
  • The androids will march. On Dec. 14, protesters decked out in android costumes will march from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Google’s D.C. headquarters, to pressure the search engine giant to step up its already vocal opposition to SOPA. The group behind the march, SumOfUs, will present Google with nearly 194,500 signatures asking the Internet behemoth to pull out of the Chamber of Commerce, which supports SOPA. They’re getting organized at googlequitthechamber.org.
  • Over a million people have signed a petition against the legislation, and thousands are now lending their faces to the fight as well. Tumblr’s Fight for the Future site has launched an engaging “visual petition” called I Work For The Internet. The site lets individuals who rely on the Internet for their jobs send a message to legislators urging them not to let the interests of a handful of well-connected legacy media companies trump those of billions of Net users.
  • The same group has built a “censorize” app that lets protesters black-out their own emails, status updates and tweets in order to make their point through social media. The jarring effect is meant as a stark premonition of what’s to come should SOPA pass.

Will all the push-back work? It already has–somewhat. Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, who introduced SOPA, has backed away from its original thuggish language. He’s watered down his own bill in hopes of avoiding a full-scale war with the Geek Lobby. His efforts, though, seem to have placated no one, as even a half-neutered SOPA would still let ad networks and payment platforms like PayPal cut off “rogue” sites without fear of legal consequence.

A good alternative to SOPA might be OPEN,  the “Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act” introduced by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and  Republican Congressman Darrell Issa. OPEN puts intellectual property disputes in the hands of the U.S. Trade Representative, instead of allowing infringement accusers to choke websites on the basis of unproven allegations.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown


SOPA critics are ready for a showdown

  1. Oh good grief, really?

    I appreciate the position of artists and studios and what not concerning pirating, but really, they have to stop believing we can turn the clock back on progress.

    This is just like the movement of musician’s unions in the 20s aimed at radio.

    You can either lead the pack or follow the pack, but either way, the pack is moving and you’re going to be moving with it.

    So find a way to adapt your income models and get it over with already.


    • Yeah, but there’s so much more to it than that, Phil.

    • I would argue that there is no way for them to adapt their income models — which is why they’re fighting so hard.  Competing with free when you offer the exact same product is simply impossible.  

      The music industry, as we know it, is simply going to collapse. To get people to pay, you’ll need to inspire such loyalty in the listeners that they want to support the artists directly.. that doesn’t leave a lot of room for middle-men and mass-market advertising.  Their only hope is to make getting the free music so inconvenient that most people don’t bother trying.

      This doesn’t, however, mean that they should be supported in this goal, any more than buggy-whip makers should have been supported with the advent of the automobile. But it does explain why they’re fighting so hard.

      • Seems like the same concern regarding the proliferation of radio at the beginning of the 20th century. If it’s “free” people will stop going to live venues or buying records!

        Seems silly in hindsight right?

        Okay, maybe the context isn’t the same. Maybe the solutions from that time period aren’t applicable to today. Still, it gives me reason to suspect that the industry is simply resisting change.

        After all, they’ve been incredibly slow in terms of even getting themselves online. It’s amazing really how much they dragged their feet. They could’ve led the wave and set a standard, but instead they’ve been caught flat footed.

        What it comes down to from my perspective is the interpretation of “value” and the willingness of consumers to pay. And free isn’t really the issue in my opinion.

        In fact I don’t honestly believe that pirating is worse today than when people simply popped in a tape and recorded off the radio. Or hell, we used to have parties where everyone brought their LPs and we made tape mixes for everyone, and believe me, it was a very popular thing to do back then.

        So again, nothing new really. Just a new way of doing it. More efficient perhaps, but then so is everything else, including music and video production.

        I worked at a recording studio when I was young, the mixing board alone cost $200K.

        Today I can get a better mixing board for $2K. In fact I could set myself up in my basement with a commercially viable studio for under $25K. Think recording has the same value it did 20 years ago?

        Printing CDs, transporting them, warehousing them, buying commercial space etc etc are examples of completely unneccesary costs in the digital age. Markets have gone from the areas you could manage to distribute to, ie reaching millions, to a global arena of billions with a fraction of a percent of the overhead compared to 20 years ago.

        So what SHOULD an album or video cost today? What IS fair value?

        Not what the industry wants you to think it is, that’s for sure.

        I used to rip music online. Then IPOD offered me a no hassle prepackaged way to access singles for a buck. It saves me time, which IS money, and therefore I can’t be bothered ripping things anymore. If I want it I can access it anywhere I go, and it simply charges to my credit card. Easy peasy.

        I agree that online technology and the predictable piracy has put pressure on cultural industries to adapt and innovate, but frankly, I have no problem with that.

        If not for online music piracy, there wouldn’t be ITUNEs or anything else for that matter. If the industry innovates, as they have, if they find ways to add value in ways that will attract interest, they will survive, and quite well for that matter.

        Beyond that, ultimately I do not believe they can even maintain the type of control they are proposing without killing their own prospects for the future.

        The more you rework the plumbing, the easier it is to stop the drain.

        • The difference is there is absolutely nothing digital that the legitimate companies can offer you that illegitimate groups can’t — other than the knowledge that you got it legitimately. Not a lot of people are willing to pay for that.

          The radio argument doesn’t really apply because radio is offering a different product: a single song at a time, with little user choice as to what is going to be played at any point.

          The ease-of-use experience that iTunes offers can be easily replicated by illegitimate groups who make money off of advertising, or simply do it because they believe information wants to be free and sharing hurts nobody and that kind of stuff.

          That’s kind of the kicker.. ANYTHING that can be provided digitally can be replicated *exactly* and at virtually zero cost/unit. That’s what makes this change qualitatively different from previously.

          To be honest, I see the internet eventually pushing us back into a patronage type system. Only instead of a sculpture being commissioned by a single person, an album might be commissioned by a fan group. Raise 150k to support the band for a year while they work on an album and then later the album gets released free. There’s little space for a dedicated “music industry” in that type of model.

          • “The difference is there is absolutely nothing digital that the legitimate companies can offer you that illegitimate groups can’t”–An excellent and important point. This is a direct result the internet has had on the music industry and is what the entertainment industry is attempting to attack in order to maintain their current business model. It is not, however, the only option they have. 

            Look at the history of the music industry for example; in the past it was focussed on live performances as the main source of income.  The invention of records as ways of recording and selling performative products caused a shift towards the dissemination of a product as opposed to performances as the main source of income. This model was carried through by the invention of new ways or modes of dissemination (8-tracks, tapes, cds, etc.) but now the internet has made such modalities obsolete and essentially irrelevant. 

            For the music industry to survive it does not have to try and protect its current business model of dissemination–that is not the only option, though this seems to be what they wish one to believe. A shift back towards performance as a main-line and not secondary income source could be a realistic response to the changes brought about by the internet. 

            There are a multitude of responses the entertainment industry could have taken in response to the internet. The industry itself is responsible for the major economic problems they are facing as a result of effectively and continually ignoring the progress represented by the internet as it pertains to them. Consumers and the population in general should not be forced to accommodate them through censorship bills as a result of their own failures. Why should certain industries and businesses because of their size or impact be immune and unfairly protected from the capitalist principle of ‘adapt or die’? 

            Also, “the radio argument doesn’t really apply because radio is offering a different product: a single song at a time.” This simply isn’t the case. The radio argument is an apt comparison; the radio isn’t offering a different product, it is the same product just a different method of delivery. Arguing against that would commit you to the view that the song played on the radio is somehow not the same song as it is when played live by the artist which is absurd. Furthermore, the only difference between the radio example and the internet is a matter of degree not of type. They are both by their own nature ways of dissemination a certain thing. The fact that the internet allows users to choose what is played and when does whereas radio generally does not is not representative of radio and internet being different types of things but is rather representative of differing degrees of the same thing.

          • From the end view of the consumer, radio and internet are very different things. Consider synchronous vs asynchronous messaging. Radio is the former — to access/tape their desired song, the consumer has to wait until the radio plays it, and be recording when it does. Considering the limited number of selections the radio plays this may take a while or it simply may not happen, and the consumer can’t say for sure which it will be. The internet, by comparison, is accessible whenever the person wants and the person can access whatever song they want. To suggest that songs are the total and sum product of the music industry simply isn’t thinking about it enough. Access and promotion are the two other major things that the music industry provides to consumers. Radio can provide the promotion, but not the access.

            This fundamental difference of access is why the argument that radio didn’t kill the industry is a red herring. Radio didn’t kill the industry because it couldn’t supply the same thing that the industry was supplying — ready access to the full selection of music. “Never” is qualitatively different from “after a search”, not just a difference in degree.

            I suggest you look back at the actual history yourself, rather than simply imagining some fantasy world. The music industry didn’t rely on performance before records because before records they essentially didn’t exist.. unless you consider selling sheet music to be “the music industry”. And hell, the internet has made it so they can’t even go back to that successfully, for the same reasons. No, the truth is that performance was always individual acts doing what they could to promote themselves and getting gigs — the music industry has only come into *after* distribution has allowed them to develop the reserves of capital to promote and host their acts, and they don’t do that to make money off the performance so much as they do to promote their distribution.

            The reason is simple, performance simply doesn’t have the profit-margins to support a large industry that is 90% failures, and it’s too cost-sensitive to develop them. (I’m not arguing here that performance can’t make money, even good money. I’m arguing that it can’t make *enough* to support the overhead required by an industry, especially one that attempts to sign new bands. The losses they’d have to take on new groups that don’t sell and what they can gain through good ones simply isn’t able to balance out without distribution-type profit margins.)

            I argue that the industry really isn’t responsible for the trouble it’s in — not over the long term. Short term they may have had themselves in a better position for a few more years had they reacted quicker, but long term? They’re dead.

            And again, this isn’t saying I believe they should be helped out or have their demise artificially delayed by oppressive legislation — like the buggy-whip makers, the time for the industry is simply coming to an end.

    • The Entertainment industry is not suffering.  They are continually posting record profits despite piracy.  

  2. As a working artist in the entertainment industry, I am fighting SOPA tooth and nail. Giving the US Government and it’s corporate lobbyists the authority to censor the internet will be disastrous for the spread of new ideas and better entertainment. 

    The Internet is an ideal platform for emerging talent to find an audience without the backing of a huge company or predatory contracts. Musicians, cartoonists (like me) and film makers can reach a Global audience with their work which would never materialize in the old days of playing clubs or entering local film festivals or trying to pitch a comic strip to a local paper. The problem of making money online requires better solutions, but it can be done, as in the case of Kate Beaton, Louis CK and Radiohead. If the audience has a direct connection with content creators they are much more likely to support them. It’s the monolithic media conglomerates which people feel are over-charging and delivering shoddy goods. It costs comparatively little for a single entertainer to make a living off their work as compared to what Paramount Pictures has to make in order to stay solvent.

    The on-demand universe is here. The old way of making money by controlling distribution is disappearing. Now the challenge is to discover a new business model or be left behind. Hamstringing the Internet is exactly the wrong approach to this problem.  

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