I don’t know how much you’ve all been keeping track of this, but for the last little while, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has been causing a lot of buzz around more tech-savvy areas of the internet. The premise of the bill is pretty simple in that the government will be more proactive in shutting down copyright infringement on the internet. This obviously caused a huge public backlash because practically 50% of online material infringes upon copyright (not an actual statistic).
For people who actually cared about real issues and not just downloading all 10 seasons of Friends, the biggest concern was over freedom of speech. It’s hard to say exactly what is private and what isn’t sometimes. This could lead to a lot of unnecessary censorship, with a lot of comparisons being drawn to the kind of firewalls used in China and other countries with oppressive internet laws. To be honest, I don’t really know the much about the situation, and I’m not very tech-savvy, so when I read on Reddit about how they’ll have to shut down DNS servers or something, I assume it’s a bad thing.
If you’re against this, then you don’t have to worry anymore because SOPA was indefinitely shelved just yesterday, so it looks like we’ll be able to torrent movies for the rest of our lives, and all your “hub” and “tube” related websites will stay online. Invasive censorship (or so I’ve been told at least) aside though, there was really nothing wrong with the concept of the bill. I’m not going to get on some moral high horse about how downloading copyrighted material is wrong, because I do it all the time, except… well, it really is wrong.
The biggest reason to not feel guilty for illegally downloading music is because for every 50 people that download an album, it just means Kanye has one less pair of angel wings to feel smug about himself with.
The problem about this is that someone, somewhere, is paying for his angel wings. As much as you’re stealing from a millionaire, you’re also stealing from the people who actually paid good money to listen to music and watch a grown man dance around on stage with feathery wings. Like when your friend swipes his/her Metropass and you quickly sneak in through the revolving doors, you’re piggy-backing off someone else’s money, except in this case the person doesn’t even know you. And I hope that money is just being taken away from Lady Gaga’s Kermit the Frog dresses, because some bands actually need that money.
Of course the argument extends to other forms of media, like how when you download Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (although I don’t know why you ever would), you’re stealing both from George Lucas and the guy who owns every director’s cut of the six movies and all the action figures.
As someone who recently lost their iPod and relies on YouTube to listen to music at home, I am extremely frustrated by people who complain about Vevo and commercials on Youtube, and post stupid things like “Fuck you Vevo! I want to watch my videos without ads!” Do these people honestly not get how stuff works, and by “stuff” I mean the basis of trade and ownership? Why are you so busy that you cannot watch one 30-second advertisement every couple videos, if it is those ads that support the whole foundation that lets you watch those videos. This is a better deal than what you get with TV or the radio in terms of the advertisement to programming ratio. Better yet, especially with music, you can repeat the video as many times as you want.
That little YouTube rant may have seemed like a bit of a tangent, but it has to do with how music is still very easily accessible for free, both professional and user-generated content. For the most part, the bill wasn’t going to affect the kind of people who did covers of famous songs (song covers are just one example).
Here’s an article citing Justin Bieber’s opposition of SOPA. In it he states that people need to have freedom and be able to sing songs, and that he actually enjoys YouTube-ing himself and watching people’s covers. In the same article though, a spokesperson for Lamar Smith (a supporter of the bill) stated “This bill does not make it a felony for a person to post a video on YouTube of their children singing to a copyrighted song. The bill specifically targets websites dedicated to illegal or infringing activity. Sites that host user content–like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter–have nothing to be concerned about under this legislation.” The people who drafted this bill are not stupid, they are trying to create a reasonable line between creative re-imaginings and plain plagiarism, so SUCK IT JUSTIN BIEBER.
The way YouTube is run right now is a good example of what SOPA probably intended.
If you want to watch something that’s copyrighted, you have to watch an advertisement beforehand. MAKES SENSE.
If your friend wants to post a video of him fighting a racoon, he can do that. MAKES SENSE.
If your friend wants to post his jazz-polka rendition of Let It Be by the Beatles, he can do that. MAKES SENSE.
If your friend wants to post his jazz-polka rendition of Let It Be by the Beatles and get paid by YouTube for it, he probably can’t. MAKES SENSE.
Already YouTube has a fairly good grip on the legality of its videos, and I’d say it’s run in a perfectly sound way. If you want to be paid for your contributions to YouTube, it has to be 100% original content, which is like anything else in the world where you try to make money. Sometimes it sucks that a leaked song from an album is taken down, but honestly, you’ll get to hear it in a few weeks. If YouTube disables audio in your video because a copyrighted song was used, you can actually petition to have it put back in, as long as the video isn’t being used for monetary purposes. What I’m saying is that everyone is pretty cool with YouTube, and this is how things should work.
This post may have seemed a little all over the place, but the message is simple: Copyright laws should have more respect, they’re there for a reason. Pay for what you’re supposed to pay for. If you don’t think you should pay for it, it’s probably because you don’t have to.
It’s really easy to not feel guilty for illegally downloading. You don’t ever have to meet the people who created the material, and you’re not actually taking a copy, you’re duplicating it. But as in any exchange that doesn’t actually take materials away from the seller, it’s still illegal to not pay. Like sneaking into the TTC or a club, you would be reprimanded for each illegal download if it weren’t so difficult to track. More than anything though, you’re taking away from the people who did pay. To bring it back to school yard days, imagine you just bought Pokemon Red in Grade 1, and the day after that they started giving it away for free at Wal-Mart. You didn’t LOSE money, and you still got a good deal on Pokemon Red, but it’s crappy to see everyone else get for free something that you had to work for. In many ways, you funded their gifts from your own pockets.
I don’t know anything about the specific details of SOPA, so please don’t think of this as Pro-SOPA. I just think a lot of people have an undeserved sense of entitlement to free media, and this whole SOPA thing really got me thinking about it. I think a lot of things are over-priced, and in one way that supports piracy, but overall that doesn’t make it right, or that it’s even really helping with its “stick-it-to-them” attitude. Maybe if twice as many people bought DVDs, each DVD would cost half as much? That’s probably some overly idealist thinking, but it’s pretty rare that two wrongs make a right.
– Nick Hassan