So the American government is looking to pass a bill that will stop copyright infringement and many protests have started up on the web claiming that if the bill is passed many websites will not be able to function anymore. The reason why the Internet works and exists in the first place is because it’s based on sharing and for sharing you need free access to information else it won’t work. I haven’t written many opinionated blogs so far, but on this issue I just can’t help but to add my two cents.
First of all, yes I download. Who doesn’t nowadays? But where I live (The Netherlands), downloading files is not deemed illegal (at least not yet as far as I know). What is illegal over here is sharing copyrighted materials, NOT downloading them. The theory is that as long as nobody shares copyrighted information, no one will download it. And that is one reason why this US bill is never going to work. The Internet doesn’t just operate from the US. Even if the bill gets passed, companies affected by US law can just move to another country to continue its operations. What is illegal in one place simply isn’t in another, making it difficult for the legislation accompanying the bill to be regulated and executed. See, the web is a global network of computers and as long as laws only apply to whichever country the computer with the information happens to be in, any of these measurements won’t have much effect. An example of how difficult it is to make this legislation work can be found here (in Dutch). In Holland, a copyright organisation (Stichting Brein) has won a court case and now Internet providers have to block download site The Pirate Bay, only problem is that the domain names and IP addresses have already changed (a week later).
Apart from likely being ineffective, copyright protection is something that only benefits a select few: a set of powerful corporations who are losing money because they were too slow catching on to what they most certainly deemed a fad. It’s the big movie studios and record companies that are paying the price for years of ignoring the ones paying their checks: us, the consumer. People caught on to the abilities of the Internet quicker than these sluggish companies, who have been trying to catch up with faster developing technologies ever since 2000 and failed. So, instead of coming up with a better system of generating profit that will benefit the consumer at the same time, they just try to block everything they feel we shouldn’t access freely.
It’s all about control. In the old situation, these companies controlled every aspect of the buying process. There were clearly defined markets and target groups and the companies controlled when, where and how we would consume their products. Now, we choose when, where and how we consume those products and that’s something they find hard to deal with. Yes, they are losing money, yes, they have tried to come up with solutions, but ALWAYS at the expense of the consumer, which led to new ways being developed to go around the copyright protection these big companies so vehemently worked on. As a result, consumers were shunned away from using the companies solutions and the whole circle started over again.
A good example of this is DRM (digital rights management). This technology involves a code imbedded in legally bought MP3s that allows the user to only copy the song to two computers. No, scratch that: it’s two hard drives. Which, for someone like me, with over 50,000 songs in at least 3 -5 different places is a bit hard to work with. It means I cannot back up the files I paid for unless I burn them onto a CD as an audio file and then rip the CD back unto my hard drive. If I buy a CD it’s mine to keep and do with as I please, but when I buy the same album as a digital download, I can’t? I understand that companies are frustrated and I do believe that artists, musicians, songwriters, movie studios and the like have a right to be paid for their efforts, but by blocking my fundamental rights to freely use those things I’ve rightfully purchased just doesn’t go down well with me. Needless to say, I have never paid for a single MP3 file that I downloaded online.
The main issue with the SOPA bill and any copyright protection measurements taken so far isn’t just this limitation in what you can do with products that is rightfully yours. The bill aims to black out any website that is deemed guilty of copyright infringement which makes websites such as Wikipedia and even Youtube among its targets. As the protesters point out, the Internet’s functionality is at stake. It is designed for freely sharing information. It’s this openness that makes it work and useful. Limiting the level of shareability on the Net would cause more harm than good, depending on which side of the medal you favor.
Like I said, it’s the big companies that suffer most, but it’s smaller business that have started to thrive thanks to the Internet. The Internet allows for niche markets to come into existence that couldn’t exist before because it can join the interest of person A from Brazil with person B from Japan who would never have met if it weren’t for the WWW. Indie music used to mean small bands on obscure labels that played local clubs because large record companies weren’t interested in them. Now, Indie music has a big online following (myself included) and that entire community is based on freely sharing the artists’ music.
Of course, technology advances and I think that with things such as Spotify and iCloud coming in the mix, record companies may have finally found a way for people to start buying again and I know there are similar initiatives for movies and TV series as well. However good this may sound though, the functionality of these programs is still lacking as well. When installing my new computer I downloaded Spotify first because I’d have some music to listen to. Unfortunately, the playlists I had added from my hard drive were filled with songs that aren’t listed on Spotify so it wouldn’t play them. And just the other day, I read this article (in Dutch) which tells that Apple has added a clause in the user agreement of iTunes Match (which is like Spotify but for Apple products) that any content without DRM/ is illegal will be blocked.
Do I think copyright should be protected so that people can get paid: yes! But I also think that BEFORE governments and companies even think of shutting down websites they should realize that their solutions may cause more harm than good. It’s as if one caveman has discovered fire, and the other cavemen are just too scared to use it, because it’s new and they don’t know what to do with it and so it is automatically bad. The Internet has changed the way information, text, music and movies are consumed, much like fire has changed the way we eat. Instead of shutting things down, it would be better to accept that this is the way it is. A new era needs a new view on how things should be dealt with. So let’s forget the old and come up with ideas that allow copyright protection and freedom of sharing to coexist.
What is your take on copyright?