Today is a blackout day for crowdsourced information site Wikipedia as well as crowdsourced time wasting site Reddit in order to inform people of and protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. These sites, and others, are doing what they can to keep the internet an ethereal place for free communication. There’s a lot to be said about SOPA, and it’s sister bill PIPA, but those sites and others will be much more informative than this blog. (EDIT: Consumerist is devoting the day to articles on SOPA.) The short of it is this: The acts would give the media companies the power to contact internet service providers and basically block any site that they see is violating their copyright in any way. An example of such would be Monster Cables’ attempt to shutdown Craigslist because someone used the site to try to sell his old Monster brand cables. If passed, SOPA would give Monster that power.

While the venom spewed at the bill is justified from my point of view, I want to take a moment to explain that some of the arguments people are expressing against SOPA don’t work. Mainly that our internet usage is a fundamental freedom. It’s not. The internet is privilege, and its remaining this free for so long has been an honest, amazing blessing. What people don’t get about the bill that makes it so frightening is that none of this was ever guaranteed to those of us on the user end, and the passage of the bill would only serve to define this chaotic world that we’ve taken for granted. And while we would see it as a horrible wrong, they would be within their rights. Unfortunately, to ensure that our usage becomes a fundamental freedom, we need to see this through. Only in the bill’s defeat can we have legislation that guarantees us anything at all.

But I don’t know how strong my faith is in things turning out well. Right now we can only hope for the best.

Author: Gospel X

Media commentator who tries not to waste time - and often fails

8 thoughts on “SOPA”

  1. I realize that the internet isn’t a fundamental freedom but most things on it are a form of “speech.” Better, though, to guarantee free access to information. And, quite honestly, when the internet wasn’t easily accessible, I learned what I could do without and what just made life easier (ability to connect with people and open source ideas, lesson plans and resources).

  2. I don’t have a problem subscribing for stuff though. NBC Learn has excellent video clips for teaching. I’ll pay to download the 10-series video on the science of football. But, it’s nice when I don’t have to, like TED Talks.

    …anyway I feel kind of like a ludite for having missed this day online completely and after the fact read about it in my newsfeed.

  3. @Melanie, its interesting how we can miss large events with our information streams. I suspect this is going to occur with more frequency as some events and (especially culturally niche) information will remain on our periphery.

    @GospelX I’ve never felt better about the ecosystem after I saw the blackout online. I understand that Twitter, Google, and Facebook aren’t going to shutdown — which is what makes Wikipedia’s statement so incredibly strong. The reach of these portal sites will only become larger with time.

    I’ve been following the SOPA/PIPA off and on and haven’t heard an argument on the Internet being a human-right before. Apparently, there was enough discussion that Vint Cerf wrote an op-ed in the NY Times.

    If health care isn’t a human-right, Internet access surely isn’t.

    Perhaps, information access should be a right. A few local governments have looked at treating the internet like a utility. Here in the US, we value education and information access. Perhaps I’m misstating this, but I believe education (until 16) is a right. Andrew Carnegie believed in America’s independent, entrepreneurial, self-education spirit and wrote free and public libraries in the fabric of American culture. Looking online, the marginal cost of an education is trivial. Wikipedia is a stunning work and there is also the example MIT set with Open Course Ware, a changing model that is being followed by leading universities in the US.

    I’m optimistic about Internet policy long-term. More businesses utilize the infinite online real-estate and will create a long-tail of unique or personalized content and goods. It’s too valuable to be poisoned. It’s interesting that media companies think this is an effective way of dealing with their problem. For a long time media companies had a cash-cow by controlling distribution. Now distribution is easy — not just for them — but for everyone, including pirates. Rather than give people an easy way to access content, content they’d pay for, they’re putting up barriers to accessing and remixing their IP. This is killing the cash-cow they could have if they embrace it.

    But this raises the question of how such a bill could get so far. What we should do to prevent such tomfoolery.

    1. Corey, the SOPA/PIPA blackout was amazing, and I’m extremely pleased that the bills have been sent back to the drawing board. I had my fears considering how quickly they were introduced. The right question was raised about how the bill could get so far, but it’s pretty clear: Big business more or less owns a piece of the government. We all know about the big business lobbyists, and then there’s the questionable nature of businesses donating campaign funds. The easiest way to pass a bill is to open a very large wallet.

  4. Media hasn’t even found a good way to sell their product through the internet. I bought Season 1 of Sports Science, but I could only download to a PC or a Kindle Fire if I wanted to view it offline. There are many times in my life when I can’t be online (on an island or often in a school building) but I want to use what I bought. I checked to see if I could buy a DVD (which I assume would have only cost more) but didn’t see it. Why would I pay for something that doesn’t provide the service I want when I can get it pirated for free/less?

    1. Big corporations have difficulty shifting to new forms of distribution. It took the music industry several years to realize they could make money from music downloads, despite the fact that we were well aware of the distribution channel since Napster. It takes time for the companies to research distribution, determine what and how many resources (people and tech) would be necessary for the distribution channel, look into upkeep, and of course determine the level of overall profitability. The limited means through which you can make use of the content is determined by market research or special deals made with other companies, not to mention the fact that it functions as a de facto DRM to lock out certain levels of free distribution. And yes, I’m playing devil’s advocate.

      1. @Melanie. Exactly:

        Providing content on a variety of platforms isn’t going to solve piracy. But it will decrease it.

        @GospelX It may be time consuming to create and securely provide content on a variety of platforms. But that doesn’t excuse not trying. Where is the fruit of their efforts to create infrastructure or platforms for this? If they were serious the media companies could throw their money and build something. It would be the de-facto platform (for a while at least). But I see nothing of the sort.

        Well, Netflix has it — they worked with Microsoft and Apple to allow streaming on computers and mobile devices. But they’re a tech company, not a media company.

        Hollywood is more interested in maintaining their current model because it maximizes their current profitability. Take a second and think about five years ago. Going to the movies. The quality and quantity of video available online. The availability of broadband internet around town. Now, try to imagine five years from now. Do you think in five years you’d sign up for a service that doesn’t play videos on your current mobile device — or perhaps if it doesn’t play on any one of your mobile devices?

        I wouldn’t. Netflix, Amazon, and even Apple understand that. Why doesn’t Hollywood?

  5. I’m only frustrated because I have explored 5 different options now so that I can show a single clip of a field goal to my students. The library, NBC Learn, DVD, ESPN, Amazon and VLC. I don’t count VLC because I was just trying to view what I downloaded on my computer. I tried both subscriptions and money. And, the only thing I can do is use my sister’s laptop and download it there. In the end, I’m just going to upload a clip of the Ravens missing their field goal at the end of the game and the Sports Science clip I wanted from the beginning. Course last time one of the students tried to enlarge the screen and then we lost the clip. I’d be better off recording from a VCR from a television program. Five minutes for educational purposes is certainly with copyrights. And, if it takes them 5+ years for market research, it’s not my fault that they’re not making as much money as they should.

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