If on the 18th day of last month you decided to ‘wiki’ how many World Cups Brazil have won, or seek a little ‘assistance’ on an essay you were writing on the environmental affects of oil extraction in Venezuela perhaps, you would have been confronted with a blacked-out screen and a note. Simply explained, this note was a snarl at the U.S House of Representatives and the U.S Senate concerning the legislative beginnings of the recent bills Protect IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) respectively.
The proposed bill gives U.S agencies free and far reaching rein to pull the plug on sites and arrest anybody deemed to be breaking a set of ultra-strict piracy ‘guide-laws.’ For example, if I insert a YouTube link consisting of copyrighted material into this article, not only would I be shipped off to the U.S and the article removed, but also the site could be shut down and The Platform’s owner(s) would be handed a heavy fine, no questions asked.
This legislative rhetoric has been met by stern posturing from other U.S. sites such as Google, which had a black emblem on its front page with a link detailing the negatives of such an act. It has also been echoed by UK sites, like the campaign group Big Brother Watch, which joined the blackout. All of this is in recognition of the fact that internet freedom is not just at risk in the USA, but also in the UK and around the world.
Look east to the world’s second largest economy, China, home to the most elaborate censorship apparatus in the world. Yet ‘commercial’ piracy laws have struggled to be acknowledged and enforced in a country where both physical and virtual counterfeit goods are more abundant than rice fields; this paradox may give us some perspective.
Anti-SOPA sentiment has been communicable right across the blogosphere. Commentators and mainstream press have noted the issue, though some perhaps not as vocally as others, depending on where their pay cheques derive. On 18 January the LA Times reported that Google received 4.5 million petitions against the bill. The Acts are seen to impede freedom of information exchange, limiting progression and the creative process.
The pro-SOPA movement is mostly made up of large organisations such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), as well as politicians, such as U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith.
The Act’s key argument is from RIAA who argue that that without SOPA, thousands more jobs are at stake. Although I agree that the convergence of the real and ‘grey’ economy cannot be ignored, artists have the right to have their ‘art’ – I use the term loosely – protected. Figures released by the British Recorded Music Industry (BPI) show that digital record revenue is on the up with sales exceeding $5 billion for the first time, accounting for a third of the recorded music sale. This shows that the internet is not a source of evil but one of good. The way we harness and grow the music sale within this sphere must be managed gently, as any policy will go against the cultural grain that has been built over many years by the pay-nothing-for-it-internet-consumer.
One can argue that the U.S., U.K., and other developed entertainment markets are simply working to protect a key industry and the assets that lie within – such as Britney Spears, Susan Boyle, and the masses (mostly interns) – that keep the media entertainment and technology businesses rolling. The key assets of the entertainment industry transcend the balance sheet and employment figures. The asset allows countries such as the U.S. a platform to export its culture to the world, which translates into indirect sales for say, McDonald’s.
The economic and cultural strength that the U.S and other piracy exporting states wield through the media allow them to counter-oppose emerging competition, particularly cultural, allowing a continuous and elastic stream to promote its products. Do these traits sound familiar? It may do if you swapped the Secretary General of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), General Abdullah al-Badri, for Simon Cowell, and oil for music and film. Then what we’d be left with is a select group of composites and nations that have a particular interest in a core commodity. Welcome to the Organisation of the Piracy Exporting Countries.
OPEC, the oil cartel, is seen to be heavy-handed, affecting nations and its people across the world on both a local and industrial level. Now you may think that a film and music piracy cartel would not be as harsh as its elder sister. But try telling that to fellow Brit, 23-year-old student Richard O’Dwyer, who is one of many facing the brunt of the cartels’ stance and is currently fighting extradition to the U.S. for allegedly operating a pirate video site.
How does HM Government fire back and address this heavy-handedness? Keel over, that’s how, as Justice Secretary Theresa May is reported to have done by abandoning efforts to rewrite the Government’s extradition treaty with the U.S., despite claims that it is unfair to British citizens. This actually makes an ounce of sense, because you can’t go after each other when you both belong to the same cartel. Or can you?
For a more detailed look at SOPA, watch this video. Let’s hope it’s not SOPA infringing.
Image from: http://www.digitalproductionme.com/article-1236-common-censor/
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