If there’s one thing that can be said with certainty about SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (the Protect IP Act), it’s “the issues are confusing!” What does it all mean? From media reports that both are bad for business, particularly small business - to backers of the proposals, the reports are confusing to say the least.
At the most basic level it really boils down to an age-old conflict between freedom of information and the protection of intellectual property. As a journalist and a communication professional I believe in both. Yes, I want my intellectual property in the form of books and articles that I write to be protected from copyright infringement. As a member of various journalist-focused trade associations I am also firmly committed to not infringing on the rights of others. But, I am equally committed to freedom of information and certainly benefit immensely from the ability to gain access to all kinds of great information via the Internet.
As with all things Internet, it’s not as though these issues didn’t exist in pre-Internet days. Creators of content — whether written, visual or audio — have always been at risk from unauthorized use. But, also as with all things Internet, the difference now is really one of scale. In the “old days” it was simply tougher for people to gain access to – and use – other’s work. Not so difficult these days. In fact, Internet theft of intellectual property is pervasive — and it’s frustrating. I’m frequently the victim myself and, unless the theft is particularly egregious or profit-generating for the “thief,” I tend to “let it go” and consider the unauthorized use “PR.”
But the issues are extremely complex and I can readily argue for or against both adopting or overturning any talk of Internet protectionism.
- Do I relish the idea of Amazon.com being able to convert the books I’ve written to digital format with no personal gain for me? No.
- Do I relish the ability to download free books to my Kindle? Yes.
- Do I think that Internet sites known for piracy should be subject to sanctions? Yes.
- Do I worry about what the application of such sanctions might ultimately mean for the freedom of information via the Internet that I currently enjoy? Also yes…
I like the comment from Forbes that: “While the issue of stealing intellectual property is a serious one, there need to be better alternatives to solving the problem. Alternatives that would not infringe on freedom of information, start-up growth or creativity and alternatives that would not put small businesses at a disadvantage.” But, it reminds me a lot of health care reform. Just about everybody agrees that health care badly needs reform. But so far nobody has been able to come up with a reform solution that is palatable for all.
I think the same is true of issues of Internet piracy and security. It’s “mom and apple pie.” Yes, something needs to be done. But what that “something” is remains to be seen.