You may notice some of your favorite websites going dark today. Wikipedia and Reddit are two of the biggest names, but others, like Google, will be hosting information. You may wonder why SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act is bad. And you may also wonder why the only industries listed as being affected are movies and radio.
First, no one is saying that piracy is good. Piracy costs content providers a lot of money on an annual basis. Piracy hurts not just the “big” guys like bands and authors who are household names. It also hurts the little people who work for these companies because a loss of revenue means potential loss of jobs. However, no one knows how much revenue is lost, and it is wrong to equate one illegal download with one sale. I know, let me pause while the chorus of SOPA supporters gasp and sputter. But the truth is, we honestly do not know how many people would actually buy the work if they could. Some probably would. (We know, for example, that readers/listeners/viewers in foreign countries may pirate because the work isn’t available for legal electronic sale in those countries. They’d buy it if they could.) Now, even if the percentage is a small number, even like ten, five, or even one percent, the loss of revenue is big.
Secondly, most of us agree that something needs to be done. The problem is that technology has evolved faster than the law and the means to deal with piracy.
Third, we live in a global society. As much as we would love to have all countries follow the same copyright laws, we are all individual people and individual countries with our own belief about rules and law and justice. It is true that the majority of pirate sites are hosted outside the US because other countries (like Russia, the Grand Cayman Islands, and others) don’t enforce international copyright law. But a one-size fits all approach is like using a 2×2 piece of gauze. It might be too much for a pin prick and not enough for a gaping wound.
And fourth, every industry is different. You know what bugs me the most about mentions of online piracy and SOPA in main media outlets? No one ever mentions books! It’s all movies and music, RIAA, MPAA, blah, blah blah…. I don’t say that to be dismissive. Music and movies deserve the same copyright protection as books do. However, what movies and music do have are umbrella organizations which do not splinter different genres, different parts of the creative process, and different groups into separate entities, all of whom contain less numbers than a larger group might, and who must fight twice as hard to get their voices heard. Agents have the AAR. Publishers have the Small Publishers Access Network (or other publishing groups). Authors have groups based on their genre, or Novelists, Inc. (NINC) or the Writer’s Guild. But, all of these various groups have their own barriers to entry. (RWA, for example, is one of the genre-based organizations that let anyone join. The others have sales or contractual bars which must be met.)
But I’m also digressing on the bottom line here, which is the reason why we sport the banner on our homepage and why websites are going dark today…
SOPA is not good legislation. It does, as I explained to my significant other during a very interesting discussion about it (Up with Chris Hays on MSNBC, Sunday 01/15/2012 link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/46004493#46004493), SOPA is like taking a sledge hammer and trying to hit a thumb tack. Yeah, you’re going to hit the thumb tack (you hope), but you’re also going to ruin your wall and possibly bloody your finger in the process.
Because really, SOPA is designed, and can only affect, US websites. Yeah, the guy from NBC (i.e. big, corporate conglomerate who is probably enmeshed in the old ways of doing business and not understanding that everything is changing) says it won’t. But US law can only affect what happens in the US. It’s like Vegas, but with more bickering and gridlock.
And if a court order (yay for more income to attorneys?) makes Google (for example) delist a piracy site, then guess what, Google is a US company and has data centers in the US, which makes its websites…wait for it… US websites!
The truth is the the technology to get around such blocks already exists and is being used in countries to get around the censorship put in place by opressive regimes.
The truth is, SOPA won’t stop piracy. As we authors are well aware, if someone wants to pirate, they will. The good news (?) of that is studies have shown that people are less likely to read a book or document they downloaded for free than one they paid for.
The truth is, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work here.
And, the truth is, there are others who can explain this far better than I. *smiles*
For more information, please visit
And the always informational and articulate boingboing.net (link: http://boingboing.net/2012/01/14/boing-boing-will-go-dark-on-ja.html)
Please act. Please contact your elected officials (and even those officials for whom you didn’t vote, but who represent your state anyway). And please, spread the word.
To quote Schoolhouse Rock: Knowledge is Power!