• Some thoughts on SOPA and PIPA.

This week saw a successful protest launched against SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) and it now seems unlikely that either will pass. I suppose this is a good thing, as I believe that no law is better than a bad law, but...

I’m always stunned at the hostility shown toward content ownership. I suppose it’s a bit like the military, in that people are often against the institution but not against the soldiers. It’s a good technique as it dehumanizes the enemy (you direct your anger toward an organization vs the foot soldiers within it). But people seem willing to go a bit deeper in the content debate and call out individuals and call them greedy and evil. Why, just because some content creators would like to have the choice to protect what they’ve created?

In my opinion, copyright and patent laws are a good idea. Right now, copyright is a bit screwed up as owners can retain ownership for overly long (basically infinite) periods of time. I’d say cap it at 20 years and be done with it. Patents are already handled this way and the system seems to work well (look at all the innovation coming out of the US).

The problem lies with enforcement. How the hell do you define and allow a reasonable amount of sharing, while preventing wide-scale theft? I honestly don’t know, but the answer is not to place all the responsibility on publishers. Also, I don’t think you want a law that is smudgy; you want crystal clear rules that allow very, very little interpretation. Honestly, it seems like a job for some elegant code, but I guess no one either has or wants to write it.

As for all this “no flies on me” blather from the likes of Google and Facebook, it does not hold a lot of water for me. These companies want it both ways: they want to totally protect what they deem to be most valuable to them while promoting the idea that everything should be shared. Yes, Google pays royalties for YouTube, but you and I both know they’re getting a very, very good deal by not having to either pay ALL royalties due or police their service. Seriously, try to explain to a cop that you didn’t know you were speeding. Chances are he’ll just get mad. And what about the file lockers like Megaupload, recently shut down, that host illegal content but are never told No by Google when they want to sell ads?

Bottom line: something needs to be done. SOPA and PIPA were not good ideas for two reasons: 1) they did not seek to update copyright law and 2) their methods of enforcement would have made a lot of money for lawyers but not content holders. It’s a tough problem: how do you allow a reasonably free flow of information without ripping off the people who create the information? I don’t have the answer. But all those so-smart-they-glow-Googlers should be able to figure it out. Sadly, they’re too busy blowing all their money on unprofitable ego exercises (quick, name one Google product besides Adwords and its relations that make money).