Are SOPA and PIPA bad for the Internet?
The “in” topics for the day are SOPA and PIPA. They have been around awhile. Not long ago there was the famous mass exodus from GoDaddy due to their public support of the bills. But for some reason today Google and Wikipedia chose to have fake blackouts in order to rally troops against those bills, and it seemed to work for now. On facebook the majority of my peers have shared links and updates rallying against the bills. So it seems like I am one of the few individuals that finds merit in those bills. Maybe it is because I can now identify with the intellectual property owners that feel like victims of the internet. I can identify with those companies and individuals that have found their cherished works being shared without permission.
I am an iPhone game developer. I have a couple of apps on iTunes. Nothing big right now, but I still put in a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and money into creating those apps. I also have more in the works. I am trying to build a business. And when you invest a lot to create something you want to protect it. You want to be able to sell it for something, even if it is only $0.99. So when I search on Google for my iPhone game named “Tiny Grave” and I find on the first page of results a link to a website hosted in the Soviet Union with a cracked .ipa download of my game for free I feel like I have been wronged. How dare some website not only host an illegal version of software that took me months to create but how come it shows up on the first page of Google search results. Can it get any easier for iPhone users to find it? And what action can I take against that site? I can do absolutely nothing. I believe this problem is at the core of those bills. While the bills may not be perfect in their current form they are addressing a major problem facing the digital content creators of our day.
In the past most digital content was still distributed on physical media. You were purchasing an object, a cd, dvd, game cartridge, etc. To copy and share that content took a little more effort, but things have moved to online only formats quickly. A lot of new content never makes it on physical form. My iPhone games for example are digital downloads only. When the physical limitation is removed it gets very difficult to police the illegal use of your intellectual property. It is almost impossible. The day my first iPhone game got approved and listed on the app store I could find the cracked .ipa for download by searching for my game name on Google. It was basically instantly pirated and available for free. It wasn’t even hidden away in some dark corner of the internet. It was right there on the front pages of Google for anybody that happen to search for it.
Now the most common argument against these bills that I have come across sites it as destroying free speech on the internet. An individual will no longer be able to share some content he finds worthy with his friends, that funny YouTube video, some image of Spider Man that you drew, a great cat picture. People are saying the federal government will be suing everybody and taking sites down. It will be the end of free speech on the internet. Well, I don’t think so.
We have copyright laws now. It is just harder to enforce them, and new measures need to be taken. We have lived in society where vhs tapes have a copy warning at the beginning of the movie, dvd’s have copy protection on them, game manufacturers create proprietary formats to try to circumvent pirating. Somehow society didn’t collapse under those harsh conditions.
So you want to share content with your friends and you are scared that the government will stifle you in some way. What exactly do you want to share? Do you want to share something that you created? Do you want to share a thought that is your own? Nobody is stopping you from doing that. That is free speech.
Or do you want to share a movie that somebody else created? A song that somebody else wrote and some band lent their talent recording? Maybe you want to share a game that some company spent a lot of money and time creating. That is the essence of where our online society is headed, and that is the part that needs protecting. Sharing other people’s content for free not only robs the creator of money, but it devalues the industry as a whole and propagates this idea of entitlement. If I can get all of my content for free online why would I buy anything? Why buy that game when I can just click a link and download it for free. The reason is the company that created it needs those sales to stay in business. Without those sales the content goes away. Those companies want to offer the content through their official channels, their websites, and their online stores. That way they can monetize it and stay in business. If you get the content from some site in Russia or Hong Kong the content owner gets nothing.
So it seems I am the lone voice in the crowd that is saying “wait a minute. Why are we against these bills? I know Google told us they were bad, but are they really bad?” The truth is they are bad for Google, but they are not bad for me. Google would have more responsibility as a search engine. They also own YouTube and we all know that is a full of intellectual property infringement. They would also potentially lose a lot of advertisement money from sites that would be taken offline. So yeah it is bad for Google. But would my internet experience be diminished by it? What would it really do for me?
Actually, I think it would be better. When I search for a band’s video on YouTube I want to be able to find the “official” thing hosted by the band/publishing company. What I find now is a sea of garbage. Keyword spamming on the song title is rampant. I don’t know if I am loading up the official video or getting Rick Rolled. It is getting harder to find the official channles because of all the unofficial ones that are out there. The unofficial websites a lot of times rank higher in search results than the official ones. Even if you wanted to view the content in a way that benefits the orginal creator or company you may have a hard time doing it. So if a lot of the unofficial and/or pirate sites that just take other people’s content and spit it back out go away, does that infringe on free speech? Not in my book. Those people that are crying free speech that want to put out content can still do so. It just has to be original content. If you want to share a link then share a link to the official site. Don’t host a copy of it and use that to draw people to your site.
I am more concerned with giving credit where credit is due. For those people that spent time and money creating music, movies, games, and artwork I am on your side. Why should people be able to trample all over your creative works in the name of free speech? That is not free speech. It is piracy, and there is no good reason to defend it.
Ready for more? Read part two here.