Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Stop Piracy, But Protect Liberty

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 18, 2012

Okay, so today’s a big black-out day for Wikipedia and Google and stuff.  I’m not going to be doing anything like that. As you’ve probably heard, there are a couple of bills in the U.S. Congress that are supposedly out there to protect the rights of copyright holders, like me, against rampant piracy on the Internet.

Now, as you know if you’ve read this site for very long, I’m very much anti-piracy. I support legislation that makes it easier to enforce copyright law and protect guys like me, and every other person out there who produces media for others. It’s far too easy for people to rip off the intellectual property of others – AND MAKE BIG BUCKS DOING IT – without any serious fear of legal repercussion. This is strangling several industries, and it is the reason games are going more and more towards “online only,” or having key online components, and so forth.

That being said, I’m not in favor of these bills.

Why not? For these reasons the EFF has outlined. I see these bills as being more of a power-grab by government and big media corporations which will have a chilling effect on the entire Internet, not just the illegal activities taking place here.

Worse, when you have something like this that makes all kinds of otherwise decent, good behavior being made illegal (or punishable even without strictly being illegal), you can turn people thumbing their nose at the system into heroes – mini digital Robin Hoods. It’s happened before, and will happen again. That’s fine in the case of people performing otherwise legal activities turned criminal by what feels like a stupid and improper law. But the copyright infringers who rob from the poor or middle-class and give to everybody (because it somehow doesn’t “count” when they aren’t “really” stealing and it’s only “potential” sales)  do not deserve any kind of cultural approval.

And will they actually curb piracy? I don’t think they’ll stop it. Move it more underground, sure, which would be a good thing. But not at an acceptable cost.  I think the collateral damage from these bills is far too high. It’s otherwise law-abiding people and companies who will suffer the most, and it opens the door for a metric buttload of abuse. I can see big companies abusing it to cripple competitors, and political powers abusing it to silence opposition. We’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again.

We need a better way. We need to solve the problems of the digital age as citizens – not just of our own countries but as a digital world – and we need to do it as adults and thinking human beings who are both consumers and producers. We need to protect the rights of artists, writers, programmers, musicians, and these days pretty much everybody else to their own creations. But we should not trade our liberty to do it. We need to draw the line against government and corporate overreach somewhere. In my opinion, this is a good place to make a stand.

Filed Under: Politics - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    I’ve read that even if passed, SOPA would be ineffective against one of its main targets, The Pirate Bay. Basically the would wreck the internet and still not accomplish its goals, which makes it all the worse.

    This is just another in a long line of reactionary attacks by the big media corporations like they always do when a new form of distribution appears for their medium. Instead of adapting and moving forward, they try and dig their heels in and scream murder.

    In Shakespeare’s time people would sneak parchment and ink into the theatre and feverishly copy all they could, clean it up when they got home, then make copies and sell them. The theatre groups cracked down by frisking people coming in, or in some cases physically attacking other groups performing their play. Then they realized they could make more money than ever before by making copies of the plays themselves and selling them and letting other groups pay them for permission to put on the plays.

    Musicians made most of their money through performances and not on the original music itself before Edison invented the phonograph. Musicians screamed and cried that Edison had murdered music, and no one would ever pay for music again and no musician could ever make money again. They took him to court. They tried to get the invention destroyed. Then they came up with the concept of royalties and selling music recordings and musicians made more money than ever before. One the same musicians that originally claimed Edison a monster for his invention said decades later that Edison had done more for music than anyone else by allowing it to be recorded and shared forever.

    The movie studios used to make most of their money by doing re-releases of popular movies in the theaters every few years. They feared TV would kill their business, then they discovered they could license movies to networks for them to show with advertisements and make even more money.

    TV execs and movie moguls thought the VCR would destroy their business, trying to get the device ruled nothing but a piracy tool in the courts. When they accepted the new technology and began to exploit it themselves they started seeing record profits.

    The Internet and torrents are the newest technology everyone is screaming about. Like always we will have to block the media corporations’ knee-jerk reactions and draconian protection of itself and give them time to see how beneficial the new technology can be if they’d just adapt to it.

    Technology marches ever onward and there is no way to put it back in the bottle. I’m sure in 50-100 years time some new technology will have copyright holders screaming the sky is falling. Then, like now, it will be those that can adapt that will thrive, while those that insist on doing business like always that will fail. I’m amazed so many of these big corporations have forgotten one of the first things you are taught when getting a business degree – if you don’t innovate your business every ten years or less, it will FAIL, sooner or later, because a new business is always be started that will do what you do, but better and cheaper.

  • Stupid SOPA « Tish Tosh Tesh said,

    […] It does strike me as odd, though, these “going dark” protests.  The problem is that the U.S. government weasels want to control the internet, possibly censoring it, and the answer is to… take your ball and go home?  Effectively self-censor?  It seems like a weird message to send, but with big ol’ sites like Google and Wikipedia in on the action, at least it’s calling attention to the stupid potential policy.  (Though curiously making it a little harder to research said policy.  Again… odd.)  I do like XKCD’s take on it, found at this convenient link.  Sam and Fuzzy’s author comments briefly on it as well thisaway.  Shamus of Twenty Sided has a good article up on it, too, and I like the Rampant Coyote’s take. […]

  • Xian said,

    One of the real problems I saw with these bills is the chilling effect that Coyote mentioned. For instance under the current DCMA law if I were to post infringing content on this blog, I would be responsible for that post. The copyright owner could contact Coyote and ask him to remove it. Under the proposed bill, HE would be responsible for my action, with all the legal ramifications – the safe harbor provisions would no longer apply. Talk about a chilling effect – every comment, every picture, anything posted would have to be screened before you allow it on your blog, else you leave yourself liable.

    The other thing I don’t like is that it gives too much power to the content creators with no oversight; a system that would be ripe for abuse. We have already seen several examples of DCMA takedown notices where the claimed copyright holder didn’t in fact own the copyright. Want to eliminate the competition? Just say they violate your copyright and have them blackholed from the Internet.

    I do sympathize with the industry in wanting to combat piracy and I hate to see it affect people like Coyote who put their heart into their work, but curtailing the free and open Internet isn’t the right approach.

  • delve said,

    It could be worse than copyright squabbles, corporate attacks, and chilling effects.

    Imagine you are living in the US as a refugee of a small-ish, abusive tyranny. Your government filters the small website you run that publicizes its misdeeds from within its border but until now has been able to do nothing about the publicity it gets in the world at large because it cannot exert control over your US based website.
    But with SOPA it should be a relatively easy task to trump up some infringement charges and have you effectively disappeared. By the US government, paragons of ‘freedom.’