Standing On My SOPA Box

My job is in the music industry, and I have been working with independent musicians for 20 years. So naturally I was very interested in the recent hoopla over The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). If I’ve learned anything from the anti-SOPA movement, it’s that most “netizen activists” are either willfully blind or out and out hypocrites.

For the most part they nod and say that piracy is “bad” and “something needs to be done,” but when there is a law that might actually have the ability to curb piracy, they call it “draconian.” I think I’ve heard that term a hundred times.  Do any of them know anything about Draco?  As far as I know, there is nothing in the SOPA bill suggesting that copyright violators be sold into slavery.

They say SOPA will cause sites to self-censor the Internet, yet the same breath demand boycotts against companies that support SOPA. So censorship is ok, as long as its censoring the things you don’t like.

They say that the government should not have the power to decide what you can or cannot see, yet Google does that every time you search, basing your query returns on past searched and demographics. “In Google We Trust,” I guess.

They say that you can’t trust a bill that is sponsored by the big bad music and film industry. It’s big business against those mom and pops worth over half a trillion dollars (Google, Yahoo, Twitter and AOL.)

But then you usually get to the heart of the matter, people like getting music and movies for free.  They like that you can use someone else’s intellectual property anyway you want, whether it’s giving away an MP3 of your favorite song, or making a “mash-up” of the most recent internet meme using someone else’s creation. The truth is almost everyone has downloaded an illegal song or movie at one time.  You might feel a little bad about it, but you will come up with all the standard rationalizations:

“Most music sucks anyway”

“They charge too much.”

“I spent all this money in the past so I’m entitled to a freebie.”

“It’s too complicated to buy.”

“It’s unavailable legally, so I had to steal it.”

“Big companies are ripping off the artists anyway.”

SOPA and PIPA are not perfect bills, and a lot of the issues could be fixed by spelling out clear definitions of theft and modify the penalties. Maybe they can be modified and address people’s concerns but the knee-jerk opposition to it shows that internet companies and people themselves really don’t want to curb piracy and copyright infringement. The real reason people are so opposed to this legislation (other than the overstated claim of censorship ginned up by Google and Wikipedia) is that they like the internet being a lawless place, where all it takes is a little cognitive dissonance and a click of a mouse and you can have all your movies and music for free.

N.B.- For me this is not a thought experiment or playing devils advocate in a debate game. This is my livelihood. It was my parent’s livelihood. Intellectual property and copyright laws puts a roof over my head and feeds my children.  So please spare me the B.S. about the industry using outmoded business models and need to find a new paradigm to generate revenue.  Doublespeak like that is cold comfort after the Visigoths have sacked the village.


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