PIPA and SOPA: What’s The Problem?

Intellectual Dishonesty?

I know a fair number of people are upset with the proposed Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Propery Act(PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act(SOPA) that have been under consideration in Congress, and I recognize there are reasons to stop this legislation, but I also know that there is good reason to believe that steps must be taken to arrest piracy of intellectual property.  It’s easy to get caught up in the public outcry, but it’s a different matter to admit the scope of the problem.  This has been an issue going back to the file-sharing sites that became popular in the late 1990s.  There can be no right to the intellectual property of others, and we have a generation composed of many young people who think they ought to be able to have whatever they want without paying for it.  It’s a mistake to indulge thieves, and to the degree people of this description are part of the outcry, I reject the idea that nothing should be done.  PIPA and SOPA  are probably not the correct legislative answers, but it remains essential that we enforce the law with respect to intellectual property rights.

Let me state from the outset that as a professional in the field of networks and network management, I am opposed to the idea of any authority being given to government to disrupt domain name resolution.  I don’t think that’s anything more than a band-aid, and I don’t suspect it will be effective once file-sharing services begin to change how they link material.  I don’t think the only effective way to deal with this is to find those whose sites are effectively clearing houses for what are stolen intellectual properties, issue cease and desist orders, and prosecute them under existing law.  We know this can be done already, as has been demonstrated by the case of MegaUpload.  The FBI went after this outfit because they were effectively trafficking in copyrighted materials, to the tune of a one-half billion dollars or more, and making a tidy haul of nearly two-hundred million.

There are those who have come to believe that this is fine, and that because they’ve now been deprived of a source for illegally copied materials, they have every right to whine, but I think the federal government should do something else in such cases: In addition to going after the file-sharing site, they should back-track via the ISPs every person who downloaded materials and prosecute them too.  This entire thing grew out of hand in the late 1990s when kids (and no small number of adults) began downloading illegal copies of music in the popular MP3 format from file-sharing sites all over the Internet, ignoring the entire concept of the property rights of the artists and publishers and all the others who would ordinarily gain their rightful profits from selling their property.  As available bandwidth has soared in many areas(but sadly, not in mine,) the same thing has happened with movies and videos and even operating systems.

I would like to talk about this aspect, because I want to remove any ambiguity from the discussion: What we’re discussing here is theft. We’re talking about aiding and abetting theft. We’re talking about scofflaws involved in the wholesale theft of the ideas, musical works, published and copyrighted material, and all manner of things by people who prefer not to pay for their own entertainment.  The fact that PIPA and SOPA may well go too far in the pursuit of this, or give the government an inappropriately excessive level of control and authority beyond what many think is already too much control is a good reason to write better laws, but this is not an excuse to simply ignore the issue to the extensive detriment of every creator of original materials on the planet, whether individual or corporate.

I realize that we have now a generation that has expectations of instant(and free) gratification of their entertainment desires, but the truth is that they too need to grow up.  There is every reason to believe that an unrestrained traffic in pirated materials will ultimately harm the creation of more, because after all, nobody can be expected to produce for free those things that in former generations you would otherwise have had to purchase.  Property rights is a concept that is the cornerstone of our free market, and while PIPA and SOPA may be the wrong vehicles for addressing this issue, it is nevertheless true that it must be addressed.  Pouting like spoiled brats because we could not get our free downloads of some pirated movies or music merely suggests that the problem lies with us.

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5 Responses to PIPA and SOPA: What’s The Problem?

  1. gggtexas says:

    Stop ACTA – This new treaty will supersede the U.S. Constitution
    http://www.stopacta.info/
    ACTA does everything that the internet takeover bills do, and more, much, much, more! It is international, and it covers most of the developed world. It disregards American sovereignty, and it forces American companies and internet users to abide by this new set of global regulations.

    Congress will have NO ROLE in protecting your internet freedom under this treaty. This new treaty will SUPERCEDE the U.S. Constitution!
    Website companies will be forced to police the internet all over the world, and to censor internet content.
    It will even give government authorities the power to search your personal computer or IPOD when you cross international borders!

    ACTA is an international trade agreement currently negociated by the European Union, the United States, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Australia as well as a few other countries, whose aim is to enforce copyright and tackle counterfeited goods (hence its acronym: Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement).

    The main problem with this treaty is that all the negociations are done secretely. Leaked documents show that one of the major goal of the treaty is to force signatory countries into implementing anti file-sharing policies under the form of three-strikes schemes and net filtering practices.

  2. gggtexas says:

    According to an email I just received from U.S. Justice Foundation, this treaty is worse than SOPA and PIPA!!! Article is from U.S. Justice Foundation

    ACTA does everything that the internet takeover bills do, and more, much, much, more! It is international, and it covers most of the developed world. It disregards American sovereignty, and it forces American companies and internet users to abide by this new set of global regulations.

    Congress will have NO ROLE in protecting your internet freedom under this treaty. This new treaty will SUPERCEDE the U.S. Constitution!
    Website companies will be forced to police the internet all over the world, and to censor internet content.
    It will even give government authorities the power to search your personal computer or IPOD when you cross international borders!

  3. Dave says:

    Mark,

    I couldn't disagree with you more. These two bills, while masquerading as anti-piracy bills are merely a means by which the government can get its sticky little mits on your files and intrude into your business.

    I too remember the big flap over Napster in the 90's. Napster solved its legal problems by charging customers for downloads and passing the revenues on to the artists. I also remember that the RIAA and other Hollywood entities at the time were upset because the internet provided an easy way for talented artists to market their works without the involvement of a record company. They saw this as a threat to their empire and, instead of adapting and leveraging this new technological marvel, they moved to squash it.

    Piracy has been going on since before the digital age. There has always been a small element that tries to sell bootleg copies of whatever is out there, and they should be prosecuted. The law used to be that you could make copies of material you bought as long as it was for personal use only. That allowed us to make compilations of our favorite music. That changed with DVD sales. It is illegal for you to make a copy of a DVD now even for personal use. I have five kids and their x-box and Wii games cost $30-$50 each. A scratch on one of these disks that would not affect a Video DVD renders these disks useless. I don't know if this is intentional or not, but, in order to get around this, we have to purchase insurance for an additional $4 when we purchase a game so that if it becomes unusable we can exchange it for a new copy (if available).

    My point is that the market came up with the solutions to the problems not the government. The solutions to internet piracy should be market driven not government driven. Government involvement always ends badly.

    • MarkAmerica says:

      Dave, that still doesn't contend with the theft problem. Are you endorsing theft? I doubt that, so what's the answer? I'm all for market-based solutions, but the thing is that theft is theft, and we still have a significant cultural problem in which theft is tolerated. That's my point, and if you re-read my last paragraph, that was the conclusion. We've gone too far in "normalizing" stealing because it's easily copied. I'm open to any solution that doesn't involve making government larger and more intrusive, but at the same time, if a website is effectively a hub for the exchange of stolen intellectual property, whether it's games, movies, music, or operating systems, it is theft, and it needs to be confronted, and I am afraid that a bunch of pouting, spoiled brats have hijacked the issue by talking about government intrusion while intentionally ignoring the elephant in the room represented by their complicity in theft.

      Thanks!

      Mark

  4. Very well stated. As most Americans, when the government starts trying to make laws controlling our activities, we must be concerned. But something has to be done to protect those who make movies, music and write books. My daughter is a writer and I surely hope she makes every dollar she deserves. I just hope we can pass a law the stops the thieves from their piracy. You did a tremendous job of explaining the problem.