Don’t sing my songs, don’t read my books, and please, don’t send me those links
The battle against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act has become one of those fights where everybody thinks they’re fighting evil. The act attempts to protect intellectual property online; very noble. But this overriding self-righteousness has threatened to trivialize the opposition to its more far-reaching and potentially sinister provisions that threaten our online freedom.
When Republican Congressman Lamar Smith put forth his incendiary bill to the US House Of Representatives, it was almost as if the American psyche had finally grown tired of all the freedom they preach. This, drawing fillip from the worsening economic conditions at home, became a classic example of reactionary change in perspectives, and how they can be excruciatingly fickle – or as fickle as the economy itself. Suddenly, with the looming loss of jobs and stunted growth, US politicians had indeed begun to demonize the spirit of commerce and capitalism that made the greenback such a valued currency.
Julian Assange could be to blame. Wikileaks might’ve been smothered – just – but it suddenly brought to light the explosive power of the internet, with its priceless gifts of instant access and indiscriminate proliferation of information.
It hadn’t seemed as threatening when netizens recorded and swapped music samples online, downloaded memes, snippets of art, or quoted Allen Ginsberg on adolescent blogs for years; or even when they used proxy servers to topple well-entrenched dictatorships across the Arabic world. But once General Machrystal’s denouncement of the war in Afghanistan on Wikileaks brought the White House’ pants down, the world shifted on its axis.
So in that sense, SOPA has many fathers. You may even point the finger at yourself (or the little Limewire shortcut on your desktop) for inciting a move such as this, but one must only count to four before one realizes how this act smothers creativity, innovations, and all those things the 21st century was going to be about, without even achieving its expected goals. The miscreants the authorities will now spend millions of dollars trying to sniff out almost cannot be exterminated. If they are skilled and smart enough, they would find themselves a new host within 15 minutes of their previous domain being blacklisted.
This act is specifically aimed at offshore vendors and networks, which are beyond the direct jurisdiction of American authorities. The definition of ‘copyright infringement’, as that which these tech service providers (and some ordinary online retailers) might be held liable for, is shrouded in ambiguity. This threatening posture, advocated by big American media corporations and licensors and copyright holders, aims to scare off anybody – American or otherwise – who might want to trade in user-generated content with an automatic copyright injunction.
They make sure by adding a provision requiring these sites to self-police and edit such discrepancies on their own, before they’re found out and all hell breaks loose.
Big guns being trained on YouTube and other free-media social networking sites, one feels; but in an apparent twist, the legislators state that such sites will be granted immunity from any liability. In an attempt to alleviate concerns, they say they want to ‘only target those sites committed to illegal or infringing activity’.
It is, however, never that simple. Most people quoted on the subject believe that in such a climate, you can either end up doing too much or too little. Anyway, those sites will definitely be targeted by similar reprisals by other, less democratic governments around the world, who are itching to push through their own controls and internet censorship agenda and would gladly follow the US’ precedent this one time.
What seemed to have worked so well so far for a famously innovative and volatile sector – having basic ‘good faith’ intellectual property protection diktats govern online content – has also guaranteed it sufficient capitalization in lieu of innovation. It happened because up until now, it was believed every technological boundary could be pushed further and there was nothing stopping new ideas. Now, on the cusp of the House debate on SOPA, a Google funded study found that if the bill were to pass, most US based venture capitalists would rather invest in big, cumbersome corporations in slower economies than start-ups; all to sidestep new SOPA derived legal hassles and costs.
Record producers and record companies might applaud the draconian task mastering, but they’re silly to believe a world where no one shares music amongst themselves is better for them. Numbers and statistics of the amounts the industry loses to piracy annually can be doled out to those hungry enough, but the phenomenal coverage of the internet cannot be replicated. It’s unfortunate that in this equation, they don’t factor the sufficiently tangible benefits of being able to reach such a wide international audience at minimal or no extra costs, which has helped create cults.
Justin Beiber and Rebecca Black may also celebrate, for they just beat the tides of time and would likely be the last of their particular kind of internet celebrity; born out of thin air and bred on broadbands across the world. It’s not the Justin Beibers that will never be that we mourn here, but the proposed death of a flourishing dream, that made being a good musician and a good fan so much easier.