SOPA, PIPA, and the Future of Media on the Internet
In today's world, technology changes so quickly that it is impossible for us as users to keep up sometimes. Interestingly, the next great product or technological innovation has likely existed for a few years already, but hasn't been released because we simply aren't ready for it (and the company correctly figured they could release it in several iterations and make 10X more money... but that is a different story). For as slow as we may be to adopt to the digital revolution, however, our legislation is naturally much further behind. As more and more content providers pop up all over the web, traditional media industries are faced with the challenge of protecting their intellectual property. As Lance Ulanoff reflects, "The internet almost immediately became the transport mechanism for a steady flow of pirated content - first images, then music, and when the pipe got fat enough, movies. Major media companies, which once upon a time had sole control of the creation and distribution of popular entertainment, were appalled - and also powerless to stop it." (Read Ulanoff's full reflection on Mashable).
A potentially crippling issue for the media industry, for sure, but in recent years Congress has stepped in to help (remember Napster anybody?). Today, there are laws that prohibit websites from displaying pirated content. Many of you have probably had the following experience: You are surfing YouTube and find a song from your favorite artist (who cares that the video is actually of some random family's Disney vacation), but upon clicking the link you find a disappointing message saying that the file has been taken down by the media company that owns the rights to it. That message is the result of media corporations taking back some of the power that had been stripped of them. Now Congress is contemplating giving them back ALL of the power with two new pieces of legislation, the "Stop Online Piracy Act," (SOPA) in the House and the "Protect Intellectual Property Act," (PIPA) in the Senate. Without going into the detailed specifics of the new proposals, the primary difference between them and current regulation seems to be this: The government would now be able to stop all reposting and sharing of content, would expand the definition of what it means to infringe on copyright, and would be able to accuse companies (on a felony charge) of providing 'infringing tools'. Again, I am citing the Ulanoff article, but you can find similar pieces on CBS News, CNN, Forbes, just to name a few.
Certainly, this would be a seismic shift for the good ole World Wide Web. Unanimously, it seems, every online-based company has publicly opposed the legislation, and some VERY popular sites (Wikipedia, Reddit, Wordpress) have decided to do a 'blackout' today in order to protest. Google has produced a 'censored' homepage image to draw awareness and to ask people to sign an online petition to their Congressional representatives. Facebook and Twitter, while not joining the 'blackout,' have also publically opposed the laws.
I don't want to take a side on this issue (have to keep this blog unbiased and retain my journalistic integrity!), but what I do find interesting is the enormous opportunity that both sides (Media Corporations and everyone else on the internet) have to capitalize on the wonders of the internet. Despite the overwhelming growth of online consumption, people are also consuming content at record highs on television, radio, music services (Pandora, Spotify) and even in movie theaters (it is Oscar Season after all!). What does that mean? It means that people want media more than ever before, and are literally willing to consume it in whatever fashion is possible. Regardless of the fate of SOPA and PIPA, media organizations must continue to embrace the online channel not as an opposing force, but as another highly effective vehicle to proliferate content. This isn't an indictment on media corporations, because largely, they have realized the importance and potential of the online world. Now they must work to strike the right balance between allowing users to share content while avoiding piracy.
A completely unregulated internet is not the answer, because people and companies should have the ability to control and profit from their creation of content. On the other side, SOPA and PIPA are likely also not the answer, because an open and imaginative internet has arguably done much more good than bad in terms of education, creativity, and innovation. Somewhere in the middle is where society should ultimately settle, so that the creativity of the average internet user is not stifled, and the media organizations still have a reason to generate amazingly entertaining content.
What do you think? Should SOPA and PIPA pass? If not, what does your ideal internet look like?
Follow me on Twitter: @billconnolly