Sunday, February 5, 2012

Free Internet

Interested in the whole SOPA/ PIPA/ "free Internet" controversies in Congress recently? If these proposals had been passed, it would certainly affect my blog . . . and everyone else's.

This is an article I wrote outlining some of those issues . . .
Online piracy, a widespread problem in recent years, is estimated to cost the entertainment industry billions of dollars annually. Affected companies argue that if intellectual property does not receive better protection, creativity within the industry could be squelched; worse yet, some of these companies could go out of business. Online piracy, in the form of illegal copying, downloading, and distributing music, movies, and other content, is on the rise among young adults aged 18 to 29. Recently, a Columbia University study found that 70% of those in this age range admitted to engaging in piracy of copyrighted material.
In 2011, Congress introduced two separate anti-piracy bills to combat this problem: SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the House of Representatives and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) in the Senate. Essentially, these laws would allow the U.S. Justice Department to completely shut down websites (including search engines) that provide links to pirated content or that otherwise facilitate copyright infringement. The bills are largely targeted toward controlling links to foreign websites containing pirated material. If passed, the legislation would also permit corporations and other copyright holders to play a role in shutting down certain sites deemed to be infringing. This could have a dramatic impact on thousands of websites you use every day, ranging from Google to your personal blog.
In mid-January, SOPA and PIPA failed to pass in Congress, postponing further consideration of the proposed legislation to a later date. The bills received significant bi-partisan backlash, likely contributing to this decision. For example, a number of popular websites sponsored temporary “blackouts” while Congress voted on the measures. These sites shut down their regular content, instead directing site visitors to messages supporting an open Internet. Notable sites which either participated in the blackout or joined the protest in other ways included Wikipedia, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

Protesters argue that the effects of these bills would be too far-reaching. Many argued that SOPA and PIPA would impact both the free exchange of ideas and open access to the Internet and would still fail to effectively safeguard against piracy. Concerns sparked by the proposals are also economic—many of the sites most affected by the legislation, like Twitter, ad services, and sites for small business owners, would lose revenue and jobs if they were shut down. Opponents also maintain that the bills present an overly aggressive approach which fails to actually reach its intended targets. Further, detractors point out that those who engage in online piracy can still find a number of loopholes by which to circumvent the proposed policies. For example, although the legislation targets domain names for sites, people can still gain access to pirated material by using IP addresses instead.

Some critics of SOPA and PIPA have supported an alternative bill known as the OPEN (Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade) Act. The latter bill would allow the International Trade Commission, rather than the Justice Department, to manage links to “rogue” foreign websites trafficking in pirated material. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), who introduced the bill, indicated that the provisions of OPEN would not be as broad and potentially destructive to free Internet, while still offering enhanced protection for American intellectual property.
Many critics of SOPA and PIPA have suggested that online piracy itself may not be the real problem. Instead, they indicate that increased innovation in sales models is needed within industries most affected by piracy in order to keep up with changing consumer demands. Many young adults are proponents of this side of the debate, urging that copyrighted material should be more readily available both in terms of price and overall accessibility. One of the most frequently discussed motivators for illegally downloading material is that the content is overpriced, with recent price increases for popular entertainment services such as Netflix and iTunes contributing to this view. Another common complaint is that certain content cannot be legally copied for use on all electronic devices (including iPods, smart phones and other similar personal devices), meaning that people often have to pay for that favorite song or movie more than once in order to access the same material in different formats. One proposed solution is to create licensing agreements for online services, which would allow them to distribute content to subscribing consumers after paying fees. Whether or not new legislation combating online piracy is successfully passed, the landscape of intellectual property and copyright is changing rapidly and effective policies must reflect these changes.

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