SOPA and PIPA are Dead, What’s Next?
On blackout Wednesday (1/18/2012), I participated in Wikipedia’s protest by contacting one of my federal legislators–Senator Amy Klobochar (D-MN). I could have chosen Congressman John Kline or Senator Al Franken, but at that point SOPA–the House antipiracy bill–was effectively dead, and Franken is the junior senator from my state. Besides, I’m particularly fond of Senator Klobochar–allow me to call her Amy–for reasons I will make clear.
Amy is one of the most beloved and competent politicians in recent memory. She writes thoughtful legislation protecting families from lead in toys and unsafe imported foods. She’s taken on big lobby interests for the sake of middle class families, such as her recent battle with drug makers over the availability of low-cost generics. She’s very responsive to her constituents. As an example, when former Senator Coleman challenged Senator Al Franken’s 2008 recount victory, and it dragged on for months into 2009, Senator Klobochar was the lone senator from my state. Twice the normal volume did not deter her from responding to every citizen concern. I’m such a fan of her, she’s my pick for the first woman president of the United States.
Her responsiveness was evident yesterday, when she sent me the following email:
Thank you for contacting me about the Protect IP Act. I appreciate hearing from you and especially appreciate hearing the concerns you have raised.
On January 20th, 2012, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced an indefinite postponement of the scheduled Senate vote on the Protect IP Act. As Congress continues to consider this issue, please know that I will work to make sure your concerns are addressed.
The internet has dramatically altered the manner in which we communicate, conduct business, seek entertainment and find information. It is vital to ensure that online innovation and openness are preserved so the American people can continue to freely to express themselves and pursue personal and economic endeavors over the internet.
It is also important that foreign criminals not be allowed to steal the property of others without consequence. The pirating of intellectual property is not a victimless crime. Rather, it threatens the jobs and livelihoods of millions of middle class American workers and businesses. However, we must seek ways to protect people from online piracy, particularly foreign piracy, without limiting web-based innovation or a free exchange of ideas.
Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. One of the most important parts of my job is listening to what the people of Minnesota have to say to me. I am here in our nation’s capital to do the public’s business and to serve the people of our state. I hope you will contact me again about matters of concern to you.
United States Senator
So how do we secure the Internet from piracy without affecting the free flow of information? Surely not with unenforceable laws that restrict free speech. There are dozens of applications on the Internet that protect IP without legislating it. How does iTunes manage data? How does Getty Images do this? Every major company that relies on IP knows how to protect IP while enabling the free and open sharing of enough data to enable sales. Amazon’s Look Inside feature is another example. If the current state of technology is not strong enough to protect the IP of every media type, we’ll make more technology.
Every day, I find bootleg copies of our book. I’m sure those exist for every piece of IP on the Internet. That’s a cost of doing business on the Internet. On the other hand, 99 percent of our sales have come through Internet channels. If we create laws to ban the 1 percent of Internet users who post and share bootleg and gray-market IP, we restrict commerce and free speech for the 99 percent of Internet users who pay for the content and use it fairly. It seems to me that isn’t the intent of these laws. Rather, the major holders of media IP (Hollywood, the recording industry, and major book publishers) want to restrict fair use beyond the common usage on the Internet so that they can reduce piracy and increase margins.
If restricting fair use is the intent of the bills, it is self defeating. Like it or not, the Internet is a try-before-you-buy culture. It also relies heavily on the Internet’s version of word of mouth–social sharing and rating. You can’t put that genie back in the bottle. With all due respect to Amy, I highly doubt piracy prevents many people from finding work. I’m sure it limits sales to some degree, but the proposed laws would limit sales far more than the current state of piracy on the Internet. In short, I think the proposed laws would cost many more jobs than they would save.
By way of example, consider my Facebook page. Every Friday, I try to post a You Tube video of music that I’m particularly fond of. As a Bob Dylan fan, I have often tried to post a You Tube video of one of his songs. When I tried this for one of the tracks on his brilliant album Blood on the Tracks (which I own), it plays the Pachelbel Canon in D.
Sony, the owner of that IP, is restricting the use of the music online, as is its right. But it is missing an opportunity in the process. If they allowed me to post a song to Facebook, it would be good word of mouth to my friends, which would lead to sales of the disks. If they restrict this kind of sharing, they actually lose free advertising in the form of social sharing. What SOPA and PIPA are proposing is much more draconian. They would make it illegal for me to post a sample of an album that I own on my Facebook page. Multiply the hundreds of Facebook friends who did not see the video by the millions of Facebook users, and you get a sense of the lost free advertising PIPA and SOPA would entail.
If you make it illegal for Internet users to share samples of their favorite IP, you will severely limit sales of that IP. Internet commerce depends on healthy fair use. The world economy would suffer greatly by the self-inflicted wound of restricted use. With crises in Europe and struggling economy in the US, the last thing we need is a self-inflicted wound to such a large and growing sector of the economy. On the other hand, if we focus on creating technology to prevent piracy, we can help to create a market for IP protection software, while enabling Internet commerce to take it’s natural course.
This post is solely the responsibility of James Mathewson. It does not reflect the views or opinions of the IBM Corporation.