The Stop Online Piracy (SOPA), HR 3261, 112TH Cong. (2011) bill has been dominating the discussions of just about everyone in the entertainment industry recently. From the generally leftist independent musician camp, SOPA is another governmental abomination from the US to be scorned and ridiculed.
From the more successful side of the equation – musicians dependent on strong piracy laws to protect intellectual holdings - the bill is one that helps to strength leverage against illegal disbursement of their materials and also one that goes further than the private cease-and-desist system that has begun to plague the strength of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.
The real issue here for I Voice readers is what does SOPA mean for the way music fans consume music and what possible effects SOPA could have on that process? But the potential law’s enforcement and penalty language also have wider sweeping implications than just that basic issue - media websites such as I Voice, who act as conduits of grey area materials and will need to act more cautiously toward posting new content (AKA censorship) as well as big players like Google, who, according to a recent report from Muztec.com, are under scrutiny from entertainment industry lobby groups to change their ways. The supposition from the business community here is that a change in the culture away from pirated materials toward incentives that encourage playing by the rules is being undermined by how Google’s search for media works.
Muztec.com goes on to claim, “The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) made test searches on Google for the name of each of the UK’s top 20 singles and albums, followed in each case by the word mp3. On average, 16 of the first 20 Google results for charts singles and 15 of the top 20 search results for chart albums linked to known illegal sites.” This is going to be a big problem for corporate leviathans like Google as they struggle to meet the wording of the bill’s "technically feasible and reasonable measures" in confronting online piracy without radically overhauling business models. We can almost certainly expect them to be a very powerful force against SOPA in the coming months.
It’s still clear that something needs to be done about the theft of intellectual property via the Internet, folks can try to deny that away through rationalization all they’d like, but for anyone who has ever pulled a 9-5 desk job in the music industry only to find themselves working as a plumber for half the wages in less than ten years indicates a need for some sort of government standards to allow for protection against those not playing by the rules. That is one the most basic functions of government in a market economy. But a law that drastically affects the way the Internet works and allows for more unrestrained corporatism in the practice of US law is probably not the answer.
The most compelling reason for this conclusion is in the allowance of private parties acting on behalf of a property holder the ability to act as enforcers with nearly as much coercive powers as that of the US Attorney General. And if that isn’t enough to leverage the situation, said parties can still turn to the full enforcement power of the US judicial system should all else fail. This type of statute wording speaks only to large corporations with the legal funds to launch such an assault, but in most cases, these entities also stand to lose the most when their materials are pirated based on the sheer volume of demand based on record sales. More simply put, Jay Haze doesn’t stand to lose much when his new album is leaked whereas Bono does. The problem is that there isn’t much protection from the law or the private enforcement for the accused.
An excellent case of what SOPA could be like is found in UMG’s ongoing content blocking chicanery on Youtube, best exemplified in the their recent Youtube take down of underground hip-hop group After The Smoke’s track “One In A Million” via Youtube’s automated content filtering process. This was material that UMG did not own or have the rights to in any way, but whose artist Yelawolf had sampled for his own track “Far From A Bitch” and without due process was deemed a content violation by Youtube and taken down. Without a fair arbitration process in place to prevent these kinds of takedowns that clearly have a vested interested in building a monopoly of content, the content, and ultimately, the business value of the Internet is dramatically reduced. Is that what a world in the throes of a contracting economy really needs right now - a drastic plunge in productivity?
The big companies and the leftist agitpropers have all had their say about SOPA and most of it has been about nothing but purple prose. Still, SOPA should still raise some concern amongst all free market loving capitalist musicians searching for their own big break and the opportunity to become successful. Stacked against a new copyright system that favors only those too big to fail, there is little chance to succeed or even have the desire to get started. These are the foundation of a world made from anticapitalist cartels, lumbering dinosaur trusts, and other non-competitive business conglomerations – hallmarks of the “planned” economy states of the former communist bloc, a system that was doomed to failure when all the nations’ collective wealth ended up in the offshore accounts of the dictators who ruled them (the OG 1%). Sure, we’d all like a certain amount of protect for our creations and a level playing field when it comes to content ownership but that comes more from government requiring the various Internet players to adopt a standardized, easy to enforce, code of standards that don’t impede the flow of commerce unduly and is based on cooperation and transparency.
But that’s not what SOPA is about, and in its wake a real fog of war scenario plays out, where none of the merits or drawbacks are discussed openly or seriously. Real conversation has been drowned in the din of disinformation and the bad guys win again. But, let’s get real, I Voice is just an entertainment outlet, albeit one that could be hurt very badly and deliver a lesser-than product to readers because of SOPA. This is simply not the forum to discuss liberty and politics in any sort of news-y fashion. Instead, we suggest reading Jonathan Zittrain’s recent article discussing the actual language of the bill while giving it a brief legal analysis for further illumination and allow you to draw your own conclusions about SOPA.