According to the United States Chamber of Commerce “rogue web sites that steal America’s innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs.” NY Times Letter, November 18, 2011. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to matter much to those who believe they ought to be entitled to take, use, copy and distribute things that they legally do not own. We live in the age of entitlement.
All you have to do is look around at the various “Occupy this” or “Occupy that” groups that pitch tents and live rent free for months right in the heart of a once thriving business district. For crying out loud these “Occupy” people don’t even pay for permits like government makes the rest of us law abiding citizens do. There is an alarming double standard growing in the United States and frankly it is rather disgusting if you ask me. Whether you want to believe it or not, billions of dollars every year are lost as the result of theft of intellectual property.
The recent Internet protests basically stopped the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) from being passed in the United States House of Representatives. But why? Does anyone really believe that stopping illegal activity is a bad thing? Apparently so. The unfortunate thing is that many of the attacks on the bill were wholly unfounded, as if they were made up out of whole cloth in order to achieve the end goal and not at all related to factual reality.
Take Rebecca MacKinnon for example. In the New York Times she wrote:
The bills would empower the attorney general to create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment providers and advertising networks, all without a court hearing or a trial.
Now if that were actually true I would be infuriated myself, after all due process is a cornerstone of our legal system and what ensures fairness. As you might expect, however, MacKinnon isn’t even close. All you have to do is read Section 102 of SOPA and you see that MacKinnon is not telling the truth, or if you want to be generous that she is materially misrepresenting reality.
Section 102 of SOPA requires the Attorney General to institute an action in a court. So there will be due process, and there will be a court hearing or trial. Why would MacKinnon write what she wrote? Why would the New York Times publish something so easily and provably false? All good questions. Unfortunately, we live in a world where protesters of all kinds are allowed to prevail based on who yells the loudest, or who moves in and disrupts enough commerce, or who threatens to shut down popular websites. No facts needed and you can actually make up lies that are provably contrary to actual factual truth. The media just plays along and are complicit in the perpetration of fraud after fraud. You just can’t trust the media at all any more.
MacKinnon goes on to make another absurd justification for her position against SOPA. She writes:
Compliance with the Stop Online Piracy Act would require huge overhead spending by Internet companies for staff and technologies dedicated to monitoring users and censoring any infringing material from being posted or transmitted.
Why is this relevant in the first place? I guess we are just supposed to allow Internet companies to make money on the theft of intellectual property rights. Seriously, the nonsense being spewed by opponents of SOPA basically goes like this. Giant Internet company that makes billions and billions of dollars a year in profit by in part attracting people to sites where infringement occurs can’t be burdened with respecting the rights of others. With benefit comes burden and responsibility. Does anyone really think Internet companies can’t figure this out and still make a profit?
Talk about redistribution of the wealth! Creators create, and frequently do so at great expense and with substantial commitment of time and energy. There is absolutely no time, energy or financial commitment invested by those who steal. But not only do these ne’er do wells want to continue to get things for free in violation of intellectual property laws, but they are defending the platforms that enable the stealing! The creator’s rights and financial rewards go to the Internet companies that can’t be bothered with coming up with a solution? So the government just sits back and watches Internet companies make money at least in part by freeloading, or at the very least enabling freeloading. That isn’t “the American way” that I am familiar with.
As a content creator myself I feel very strongly that something needs to be done to better protect creative works that can so easily be stolen online. Is SOPA the end all be all? Like most pieces of legislation it could be better, but Congress absolutely, positively cannot be at all pleased with the state of the industry as it currently exists. Something needs to be done and soon.
Legally there is no requirement that a copyright owner do anything affirmatively in order to preserve or enjoy copyright protection. Sure, you have to file a copyright application and obtain a federal registration if you want to sue someone in court for infringement, but aside from obtaining a copyright registration there is no requirement to police the industry and make sure that your are being observed.
Despite the fact that there is no affirmative duty to police and protect your copyrights, if you are a content creator and you are not searching for infringers on a daily basis then you might as well just give up. The content thieves out there will rip you off and feign ignorance. Really? You cut and pasted my original 3,000 word article word for word and posted it to your website to attract traffic to your website thereby diverting people from my website and you thought that was OK? Do you live under a rock? No, they don’t live under a rock. They think it is OK because they don’t think they will get caught, it is that simple.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allows notices to be sent to the web hosting company that has the infringing content posted. If an inquiry is initiated and infringing content removed then the web hosting company enjoys immunity from a copyright infringement lawsuit, so there is incentive for web hosts to cooperate and they almost universally do cooperate. There are also provisions in the DMCA, however, that allow a counter-notification to be made by someone who doesn’t believe they have done anything wrong. If that happens then the fight needs to go to court. Of course, it rarely comes to that because the infringement of text and creations of that sort are almost always cut and paste copied. But there is a process, albeit a cumbersome process, that already exists to get content removed.
Frankly, those who are repeat offenders ought to lose their websites if you ask me. Strip them of their domain names for flagrant and repeated copyright violations. Why should I or any other content creator have to treat every new infringement by the same person as a separate event? They are the ones thumbing their nose at the law and engaging in activities directly harmful to my business. The fact of the matter is people simply don’t respect copyrights in a digital age.
Those who establish businesses with the sole intent of making money stealing the creative works of others frequently set up shop outside the United States in an attempt to be outside the reach of the companies that they are ripping off. That is why something like SOPA is necessary. There should never be a place in the world that someone who steals intellectual property should be able to safely operate. If they are going to continue to infringe, cause great damage to creators and locate where they cannot be reached by ordinary judicial process then Congress absolutely must create a process to strip these people of their domain names and do whatever they can to make infringement impossible.
Infringement is never going to be impossible, but it could be made a whole lot harder if Internet companies are required to operate like web hosting companies. Why would that be a problem? Web hosting companies raised the same concerns about the money they would have to spend to institute processes to handle infringement notifications, yet web hosting continues as a business. Imagine that. They evolved and adapted. So the real complaining about SOPA isn’t because of due process concerns or fears of great expenditures. It is rooted in the belief that original creations ought to be freely available without paying a fee. As if under those conditions there would be any substantial future creations.
As for the particulars of SOPA, perhaps there are some who are against the legislation for valid, thoughtful reasons and would like to see something better. That, however, seems to be the substantial minority. Those who are against SOPA seem to want to protect online piracy as if they are entitled to access the creative works of others for free. In economic terms those who steal intellectual property are freeloaders. These freeloaders are just like the many non-productive members of society who only take and give nothing back, expecting those of us who are productive to pick up the tab for them. There are certainly people in society who need and deserve help, and we should be there to help them, but by any fair estimate the entitlement mentality is running amok. No one “needs and deserves” free access to the latest blockbuster movie the opened just yesterday in theaters.
So the next time you hear someone against stopping online piracy ask them why they hold that position. Is it as the result of some informed preference to set up a better process for handling the nefarious operators who steal, or is it based on erroneous talking points put together for the purpose of influencing the political process, or is it just because they are anarchists. My guess is that those in the first category will be the fewest, those being manipulated through lies will be a larger percentage, but the majority of people you encounter will be true intellectual property anarchists.
To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, the manufacturing jobs are gone and in all likelihood they are not coming back. That is certainly true, at least unless we adopt very business friendly tax strategies that seem politically impossible when class warfare is the political strategy du jour in certain circles. But with manufacturing jobs dwindling and unemployment unacceptably high and expected to be that way for many years to come, about all we have driving our economy is intellectual property. If Congress allows the intellectual property anarchists to prevail the face of the Internet will change forever. There won’t be many creators and what few creators who remain will need to charge ridiculously high prices. Many more jobs will be lost, and certainly none created. That doesn’t sound like a strategy for the future if you ask me.
New technologies and the exploitation of those technologies is supposed to create jobs, not kill them. What a sad state of affairs. Protesters are allowed to ruin businesses and neighborhoods in the real world by physically squatting on public grounds and making a health nuisance out of their encampments. At the same time Internet protesters who are equally anarchistic thwarted attempts to reign in digital thievery. Honestly, sometimes I don’t recognize this America any more.