SOPA is the acronym for “Stop Online Piracy Act,” and PIPA stands for “Protect Intellectual Property Act.” With slightly different language, both are U.S. bills intended to curtail online piracy and copyright infringement. Unless you’ve been asleep at the wheel over the past week, this was big news that had many sites shut down for a day in protest, including the popular news site, Wikipedia.
I live in Canada. Should I even be concerned about a bill that passes in the States? The answer is a resounding “yes.” As we all know, the Internet does not have border crossings. Laws enacted south of us will eventually make their way here. I’ve not written on this subject until today, as I’ve tried to reserve my judgment until I gathered the facts. In doing so, what I found the most appalling were the lawmakers behind SOPA/PIPA. Over the past week, Congress and officials with titles behind their names as “members of the intellectual property committee” have spoken about their reasons for supporting the bills and come off as (to put it politely) out of touch and clueless as to what the Internet even is. And these are the people who are supposed to legislate my access to intellectual property—I could not write a better oxymoron if I tried.
As an author, I am, of course, in favor of not having my work pirated, however, my work is out there on the Internet. On Amazon, I have free pages to entice readers to buy my book. The reason authors do this is to market their work and attract readership. The more people ‘pirate’ a book, the more likely they will purchase it. Even in the real world, no one wants to throw down their hard-earned money on something they know nothing about.
I’m also not of the mind that my work is original intellectual property. As writers, we recycle the same themes over and over. The only thing that sets me apart is my unique spin on these themes and my deftness of wordplay. At the end of the day, the most important thing for a writer is to have their work read. Period.
I know that for me, the more often I hear a song, or watch a film clip, the more likely I am to buy the CD/DVD or pay money to see the film. I feel it works the same way with literature.
As for who these bills protect? My guess is the large movie studios, record labels, and publishing houses— not indie artists like me. Today, the legislation overseeing piracy on the Internet is the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). It allows culprit websites to take down pirated content within a specific period after receiving a notice. This act has been in place since 1998. Though it’s not perfect, it has been working. I must wonder why SOPA/PIPA have come about. I hate to use the dirty C-word, but I am always wary when government gets its hands on free enterprise. Censorship has no place on the Internet, and these acts are just that—albeit cloaked up in sheep’s clothing as something that protects your rights and mine.
I don’t buy it, and judging from the protests of the past week, neither do you.
Note: As of this writing, the bills have been set back and have lost a lot of their initial supporters, however, they are capable of resurrecting in some amended form that could still be detrimental to the open Internet. For all those who use this medium, no matter where you live, it’s worth staying informed.