Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Internet Blackout Scheduled for January 24th

There's a big debate going on in the US around the subject of media piracy and censorship.  The big media players - the film and music industry - are supporting a change to US law that will give them the right to compel websites to sever links to sites that are believed to be hosting illegal versions of films or music.  This type of piracy, which affects eBooks as well, has been a bone of contention with the media industry for a long time.

On one hand it's got to be galling for a company to invest literally millions of dollars - in the case of blockbuster films a quarter of a billion dollars investment or more isn't unheard of (see the numbers here) - only to see crooked individuals and businesses rake up earnings without any investment or risk while creaming off the top line profits they have worked so hard to generate.

The issue with the debate is that the new legislation, SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act), is that opponents believe there's an insufficient requirement to demonstrate proof before compelling websites to sever links, and some believe that the legislation could be abused to impact on legitimate businesses.  And these opponents aren't lightweights, either.  We're talking about Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and Wikipedia, to name some of the best known opponents.

The media are lobbying hard to get the bill through Congress and are allegedly spending ten times as much as the opponents to get their message heard.  To counter the move, and to raise public awareness of the issues involved, the opposing companies are suggesting they may blackout the Internet on January 24th - if it goes ahead you may not be able to Google for this blog, poke your friends about Project: Evil progress, shop for one of my books on Amazon, Retweet the Tweet I may not be able to send, or perform a fruitless search for details about me that aren't on Wikipedia - so actually, on those terms, it may not even rate as an irritation.  But it's possible you may have other, more productive, uses for the Internet on that day, so perhaps it will create the odd issue.

While this debate is essentially about US legislation, it does potentially affect all of us.  However, the only people who can take any direct action (for or against the legislation) are US voters.  I would suggest that all the US readers of this blog should take a few minutes to read up on the legislation and take a view - and then make sure your representative in Congress is aware of your feelings; an email should suffice.

I can't comment on this legislation, but my personal view on piracy is that making laws rarely stops it, it just drives it deeper underground.  I believe that the media industries, film and music, created a large part of this problem way back in the Eighties when it began to be possible to make illegal copies of films and CDs.  The approach then, and it hasn't really changed that much until relatively recently, was to oppose all piracy through the law, full stop. Fast forward a decade or so and the on-line threat made the risks to the media much greater and International in nature.  The response: more laws, greater enforcement with large amounts of money spent defending the industry.  However there was an alternative approach that was rarely employed - cut the cost of ownership of the real deal while increasing the benefits of ownership - if the cost of owning legitimate CDs and DVDs, in interesting  and potentially collectible packaging could be made reasonable then I believe many who succumbed to pirate copies would have happily paid for the legitimate copy.  More recently the supermarkets have forced media prices to fall and individual efforts, such as the latest blues album incorporating accompanying video DVDs and artwork by British blues musician Chris Rea, have brought an element of affordable collectability to parts of media, however this is too little and way too late - closing floodgates is always difficult.

There's obviously a need to counter piracy, but when you've respectable and large organisations prepared to shut down their operations in protest at the proposed legislation, that would indicate that somethings not right.  There's time for engagement with all involved to modify the legislation to make it  more amenable to all involved, so the proposed blackout may not happen on the 24th at all.  But just in case it does, you'd better do all your Internet related work by the 23rd.  To help you with some of the more mundane activities I've provided some essential links below.

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