This really isn't the forum where I like to get political. Hell, even in my personal life, I try to stay out of the two things that get people in trouble the most: politics and religion.
Yet, here I am. For the first time in the more than 13 years I've run Airlock Alpha, I am bringing forth my opinion on a piece of legislation that shouldn't even exist. So I hope the fact that I choose here and now to break that long silence in politics is enough to at least get you to stop and read what I have to say, all the way through, whether you agree with it or not.
And that's not just a message to you, our friendly and favorite reader sitting at home or at your work computer reading the latest on Airlock Alpha. It's to those great creative minds we respect highly, who bring us endless entertainment in the form of television shows and movies. I will be the first to stand on this soapbox and speak out against piracy, and explain in detail how piracy hurts the chances of more good things being made.
But that is not the issue I'm addressing here. Those who have come to this site already know that. We respect the fact that getting a television show or movie through unofficial means is theft, and that theft -- even if it comes from the so-called "free" network television that comes in through an antenna -- costs money, jobs, and the chance to get more of the shows and movies we love.
All of this remains an issue, and despite efforts to follow Apple Inc.'s iTunes model of offering such material online for reasonable costs (and even free), it still feels like little is being done to help curb the issue of piracy.
It almost seems like media companies are in a state of desperation. And maybe they are. But the Stop Online Piracy Act from Rep. Lamar Smith is not the solution. It's not even close.
This act is rather complicated. But in a nutshell, it will make it far easier for copyright holders to cry infringement, and take almost immediate action against those committing the infringement. In the past, that would start with a cease and desist letter to remove content and stop the practice, and build from there.
But SOPA would force online advertising networks and companies that process online payments from doing business with any site accused of infringement. It would force sites like Google to stop linking to these sites. And it rewards Internet companies like Comcast and Verizon for taking their own initiative to stop infringement -- meaning, strike first and ask questions later, so that they can get that pat on the head from the federal government.
Sure, Congress is working to make sure that it doesn't create an online witch hunt, where say someone gets pissed about what a news or opinion site might say about them, and find a way to get back at them by claiming they are infringing copyrights. Congress has set up penalties to try and prevent that. But how can you say that it won't happen?
And what would constitute copyright infringement? The general discussion is focused on full television episodes and movies, but what about clips?
For instance, Airlock Alpha and other GenreNexus sites pulled back significantly on sharing television show clips from places like NBC Universal because after the network provides those clips, allowing sites like us to use YouTube, they then file copyright claims against the accountholder to remove that content.
We are talking about 2 minutes of "Warehouse 13," for example, which was provided for distribution by Syfy. Sometimes, those clips are placed on YouTube and embedded in sites to make it easier to distribute. And instead of Syfy, for example, coming back and saying, "Hey, that clip is old, could you take it down?" it chooses instead to file a copyright claim as if these news outlets videotaped their television and uploaded an entire episode on the air.
Although the license is not expressly provided every time a clip is sent, companies that provide those clips will likely say that the implied license is that a clip can be used by a news outlet only long enough to promote a particular show or movie. Once that promotion is no longer needed, the license is lifted. And that's fair enough -- the clips are meant purely for promotional purposes.
But under the same token, say a news site wrote something about a network that a media company didn't like. And some of the video content they have is content originally provided by that media company for promotional purposes, but the implied license had expired?
Think about it. A typical series has 22 episodes. If a site posted 22 clips, and never took them down after a few weeks -- that's 22 counts of copyright infringement, and oops, there goes the site. Cut off from advertising. Cut off from payment services like PayPal. Cutting off the ability to be found in search engines. Your defense is "They sent me that clip! They told me to post it!" And they will respond, "That site should have known better. We only want them to use it until it no longer serves our purpose. Then they should have gone back and took it down."
Talk about control.
Sure, some people are talking about First Amendment issues. And I'm all for the First Amendment. But really, the infringement of the First Amendment is not what I am worried about here. It's infringement of the very free market that the Constitution set out to create in this country.
Since when can the government tell business and citizens to whom they can advertise? If you want to buy an ad in the NRA magazine, shouldn't you have the right to do it? If you want to buy an ad in your favorite Catholic newsletter, shouldn't you have the right to do it? Since when has the government been able to dictate to Americans with which Americans they can buy ads with and which they cannot?
Since when can the government tell credit card companies to stop making customer payments to sites that are not convicted of some type of fraud or securities violation? Sorry, Visa, stop allowing payments to go to Amazon. Groupon? Forget it, MasterCard. McDonald's? Nice try, Diner's Club.
Since when can the government tell Internet search companies what they can list and what they cannot? Is Google run by a public corporation answerable to its shareholders, or members of Congress?
This bill creates a slippery slope that the entire country can slide right off of, and in a hurry. This is using a machine gun to take care of a small ant problem, and the damage will be thousands of times greater than the good it will create protecting copyright claimants.
Whether they are effective or not, copyright holders already have strong weapons against piracy. They are weapons that allow infringing outlets time to correct the problem, and provide remedies in court if it's not corrected. Let a trial decide if an outlet really is infringing, and what its penalty will be for infringing -- like it does already.
And then allow the free market to try and figure out how to curb piracy. On its own. Just like the market did with the music industry. Does music piracy still exist? Absolutely. No matter what law you pass, piracy will never be eradicated. But a lot of it can be removed by finding innovative ways to connect to those people who want content, and want it easily and simply.
It took Steve Jobs to help the music industry figure out how to fulfill the demands of its consumers while not losing its shirt. It required music to completely change its business model, moving to individual song sales through the Internet and not depending so much on a store shelf.
Television and movie companies have tried a similar approach, but what they want is totally different. iTunes works because nearly everyone is involved. Hulu, Netflix, even direct online outlets from the networks and cable companies have just a smattering of participants, everyone demanding their own thing, leaving a lot of content off legitimate services, and promoting it directly into piracy.
The biggest complaint is that ads placed in online distribution isn't anything near the advertising they can sell for a live broadcast. But that shouldn't be the issue. The fact is, for every viewer you bring to a legitimate site offering content, that is one less person who is out downloading bit torrents. Sometimes large companies just can't seem to see the big picture.
The music industry figured it out. And we don't need a visionary like Jobs to help us figure it out now. The recipe is there already. Come to consensus. All of you. Make your process uniform, and keep an eye on the big picture, not short-term profits.
Do that, and you won't need bills like this that might have some people confuse the United States with countries where you can't even access this website because of government acts. Yeah, that thought really scares me.
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