The last few weeks online have been fascinating.
Old media—television, movies, and music—in an attempt to cope with the changing world, used its lobbying influence to push some new laws into the legislative branch of the US government.
Old media wrote the laws, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act), for congress and the senate, respectively. As written, the laws are extreme, and allow both the government and private business to disable any website that either felt was “enabling or facilitating” copyright infringement.
Piracy is a real problem, but these laws were nowhere near the right response. The sad reality is that the movie and record industries are, to word it delicately, “innovation averse,” and prefer to change the law instead of their business model.
These laws put the bottom line above the common good.
By most accounts, the laws are awful. And the Internet agreed.
Almost right away, boycotts were planned. GoDaddy, a domain name registrar who supported the legislation was the first company to get caught in the collective’s crosshairs. They lost over 70,000 paying customers as a price for their involvement, and quickly recanted their position.
The Internet hive mind then focused on contacting senators and congressmen, explaining to them that the legislation was not something they supported. Before too long, the house majority leader said the legislation was being suspended, and the White House issued a statement that the laws would be vetoed. Success.
The bill isn’t really about piracy at all; it’s about money. Companies are rational, profit seeking entities, and despite posting record profits, even non-digital companies like Nike saw the legislation as a way to exert further control of their brand online to make more money. (Meanwhile Microsoft—whose products are among the most pirated in the world—opposes the congressional bill.)
Contrast this behavior with the innovation of the telecommunications industry over the past decade. Though we often take it for granted, we now walk around with wireless high-speed access to all the information in the world in our hands thanks to our smartphones. It was a complicated challenge with remarkable results.
At any time, from virtually any location, we now have access to the people we care about, and the information we need to make better, smarter decisions. Had SOPA and PIPA been passed 20 years ago, none of this would have had a chance to flourish, and we would all be immeasurably worse for it.
Fortunately, the laws are off the table for now… in America.
As Canadians, we need to keep a close eye on our government for the next while. While the American legislation is dead, similar legislation like ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement)—a piece of legislation written in secret, and once read, extensively criticized for its impact on individual freedoms—is still on its way towards becoming law.
The Internet has created so much wealth, so many jobs, and changed our lives and relationships to and with one another. It did this because of its freedom as a system. The virtual lack of barriers meant that ideas could get to market quickly and solve old problems new ways. We’ve all prospered as a result.
These laws put the interests of lumbering incumbents over those of their nimble disruptors. These laws put the bottom line above the common good. These laws pay for failures in innovation with the freedoms of individuals. These types of laws cannot be allowed.
Thanks to connected and concerned citizens, America will remain an innovative exporter of intellectual property. Now it’s on us, as Canadians, to do the same.