Supporters of the SOPA and PIPA legislation say something's got to be done to rein in piracy, to give law enforcement the ability to reach beyond national borders and shut down copyright violators who use servers stashed in the Cayman Islands to avoid prosecution. Opponents say these acts, if signed into law, will drape a layer of draconian, Big Brother-ish censorship and centralized control that will destroy the open and collaborative Internet as we know it. A number of high-profile sites, including the English-language arm of Wikipedia, will go dark tomorrow to protest the acts and encourage users to fight them. Still others, like Google, will remain operational, but till add content onto their home pages to help spread the word.
Who's right? Well, everyone is. Copyright owners - like Hollywood studios and record labels all the way down to the suburban-dwelling guy who writes on his MacBook late at night and shoots pictures by day - deserve to not have their stuff surreptitiously ripped off and made available for download by shadowy web services in a shadowy country (on a shadowy planet...) People and organizations who create content deserve fair compensation - profits, salaries, careers, whatever - in exchange for their efforts.
Likewise, content distributors - carriers, web sites like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter and distributors like Internet service providers - deserve to do business over an open, collaborative, creativity-inspiring Internet without fear of being waylaid by an endless wave of lawsuits brought forward by the same litigious doofii who turned the McDonalds drive-through into a never-ending source of cash for ambulance-chasing (and coffee-dropping) lawyers everywhere.
There's got to be a middle ground somewhere that at least keeps some of those involved happy some of the time. There's also got to be recognition that it's a problem that will likely never completely go away, that the cops-and-mouse game of stealing electronic content or otherwise using it inappropriately will never end, that technology will always be a step or two ahead of the legislation designed to control - and make fair - its use. Similarly, the planet deserves a solution that replaces today's ineffective patchwork of national legislation with something that allows law enforcement to prosecute criminals wherever they may be.
But as long as partisan bickering dominates the agenda, it's hard to see any of this improving anytime soon. Which is a pity, because the utopian promises of technology deserve a fair shot at coming true. Like reaching for the stars, we know we'll never quite get there. Indeed, we won't even get close. But just striving for fairness and balance should be enough no matter what side of this issue you may be on.
Your turn: Got any SOPA/PIPA thoughts? Hope you'll share 'em. I'll post links of my own later on.
- CTV Canada AM. I was on-air with host Marci Ien. Video here.
- CTV News Channel. I chatted with Sandie Rinaldo. Video here.
- CFRB/Newstalk 1010 Toronto. I'm on-air with John Downs tonight (9:45 ET) and again tomorrow morning just after 7:20 ET. (Live feed here.)
- Newstalk Radio, Dublin, Ireland. I'm talking transatlantic - right before tuck-in on my side of the sea is morning in Ireland - with Ivan and Chris from The Breakfast Show. Show page here. Live feed here.