With SOPA and PIPA shelved at least for the moment, it is time to start thinking about alternatives. It would be a shame if we limited our collective thinking here to slightly different versions of those bills instead of exploring what a different approach to copyright could be that doesn’t try to fight the characteristics of the Internet but rather embraces them, providing value for rights creators/holders, technology companies and endusers.
One interesting entry here is Ian Rogers (from Topspin Media) proposal for a rights and media registry. It’s worth reading the entire post and also the comments, which include good questions from Andy and clarifying answers from Ian. In essence such a registry would enable tech companies to deliver innovative user experiences on top of content, as long as they respect the prices set by the rights holders. Rights holders would be entitled to enforcement only if they participate in the registry.
I believe this direction is very promising and is also something that was recommended by a report that the UK government’s copyright office had commissioned. An important addition though would be that this should not be a centralized registry (which then requires an operator and become a single point of control and failure) but rather a standard for publication that would allow for a decentralized implementation.
Yesterday an international police operation resulted in the shutdown of MegaUpload and the arrest of at least four MegaUpload employees in Auckland, New Zealand. This action resulted in a large scale DDoS attack by the group known as Anonymous on web sites including the MPAA, RIAA, DoJ and even the White House. While I don’t have time today for a full scale analysis here are some salient point:
1. The fact that this shutdown and the arrests were possible shows quite clearly that existing laws already provide a meaningful ability to deal with large scale copyright infringement even when sites operate from abroad. That’s all the more reason why we don’t need additional new legislation.
2. According to ArsTechnica, MegaUpload was brazenly flaunting the DMCA by only disabling links to infringing content instead of actually removing it or blocking access to it entirely. That is a violation of both the letter and the spirit of that law and should not be allowed to continue.
3. As with any digital locker site, there were also legitimate uses of MegaUpload. Many people who had work or personal files on MegaUpload have taken to Twitter to complain about a lack of access to their files. This operation and others before it (such as the server seizure that brought down Curbed, Pinboard and Instapaper) raise the question how to minimize “collateral damage.”
4. The retaliation by Anonymous has the potential to meaningfully escalate the push for government intervention in the Internet for cybersecurity reasons. This comes at a bad time as we are trying hard to keep the government out of controlling the Internet.
What a week this has been! Apple too dropped another interesting copyright bomb yesterday by claiming sales rights to any books created with iBooks Author. It seems like we are at the beginning of what Cory Doctorow has characterized as the “Coming War on General Purpose Computing.” We live in interesting times indeed.
I am probably not the first to come up with this analogy (and I am on a flight without wifi, so I can’t look it up either) but it just struck me that there are big parallels between SOPA and Prohibition. How? In that the unintended consequences will far outweigh the benefits, especially when it comes to crime. Prohibition didn’t stop the consumption of alcohol. It just drove it underground. In doing so it not only supported the creation of a large infrastructure for illegal activity (e.g. gambling) but also made lots of everyday citizens complicit.
An ever harder crackdown on the sharing of copyrighted materials is now similarly fueling the creation of “darknets” - networks that are using the Internet solely as a transport layer but are otherwise disconnected (much like using the roads to transport alcohol during prohibition). I don’t mean to suggest that these new networks are being designed specifically for illegal activities but they will certainly make it much easier for those to take place More importantly, darknets will break much of what makes the Internet such a powerful force for good at the moment: the open sharing of ideas. If anything what we need is a softening of copyright and other IP enforcement to allow a further blossoming of this new public space.
One way to potentially accomplish this is to have a mandatory licensing scheme. We have such as scheme in place for Internet radio but not for on demand audio or video. Post prohibition anyone was able to set up a liquor store, but they still needed to get a license to do so. The legal framework switched from prohibition to regulation and the illegal activity receded. We need a similar approach to intellectual property. A recent report on copyright and IP commissioned by the UK government made a recommendation in this direction. P.S. Sorry, no links right now as I am writing on mobile.
Starting today and for the foreseeable future the “Continuations” at the top of this blog will be covered with a call to Stop Censorship. If you read yesterday’s Tech Tuesday post on networking or are familiar with the history of the architecture of the Internet you know that a lack of global control was a core principle behind the design of TCP/IP. That has been key to the amazing innovations we have seen come from the Internet, including its amazing power for social and political change.
Everywhere we look hierarchical control systems are being replaced by decentralized networks operating on the Internet. Whether it is the funding of creative projects (Kickstarter), learning (Skillshare), publishing (Wattpad), selling (Etsy) and many more (disclosure: all the companies mentioned are in the Union Square Ventures portfolio). This change in the world clearly isn’t lost on politicians who are increasingly nervous about what the Internet will do to their power — not just in dictatorships in far away places but also in mainstream democracies, which explains Sarkozy’s desire to “civilize” the Internet as expressed during EG8.
Here at home in the US, politicians are finding convenient cover for their desire to control the Internet in pretending that draconian interventions are necessary to protect the recording, movie and publishing industries. These industries have already been collectively left in the dust both in terms of employment and market capitalization by the Internet economy and it doesn’t make economic sense to hamper Internet innovation on their behalf. But pointing to rogue foreign sites that allow for the pirating of copyrighted works is perfect, if what you are really trying to accomplish are restrictions on free speech on the Internet.
The time to take a stance and head off the legislation known as PIPA (Senate) or SOPA (House) is now. Everyone who operates a web site should add the “Stop Censorship” graphic over their site logo. You can get the code over at American Censorship. Let Congress know that the people are not going to accept censorship of the Internet.
If you don’t know what these bills are about, the following video provides the perfect summary:
There is an awful bill making its way around congress. I first wrote about this when it was called COICA and was thankfully defeated due to opposition from Senator Ron Wyden. Then it returned as the PROTECT IP act or PIPA. Now we have the house version which is in part called, I kid you not, the E-PARASITE act (scroll to page 3 and you will find the name for Title I).
I won’t make an effort here to go into detail as to why this is a terrible idea. In addition to the previous posts that I have linked to, you can read Mike Masnick’s take over at Techdirt or the EFF’s.
So what should you do? Here are three steps that everyone should take today
2. Email your 10 best friends and ask them to do the same.
3. Buy and read Larry Lessig’s excellent new book Republic, Lost to understand how we wind up with such terrible legislation and what we can do about it.
I am off now to let my representative, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, know how I feel about SOPA and then send some emails. Please do the same!