These bills are all about censorship. Legislators want to censor the Internet. They claim to want to stop “foreign criminals” from pirating movies and TV shows and putting them on the Internet. The Motion Picture Association of America is all about supporting the bills. Major American entertainment corporations have funneled money into lobbying politicians to back them. They’re claiming that SOPA and PIPA won’t affect Americans.
But this isn’t true, is it? Americans post other’s “intellectual property” all the time. We put up pictures from TV shows and share songs from our favorite artists, we write quotations from novels and newspaper articles and magazines. We share information and entertainment like never before: Publicly. We didn’t have blogs or email twenty years ago, if we wanted to share something with a friend we either had to write it in a letter, or call them on the phone or physically bring the tape over to their house and put it in their tape player. If you had two VCRs and a blank tape you could copy movies or record television and no one would know.
I agree with Google when they write that piracy wouldn’t stop with the passing of these bills: “Pirate sites would just change their addresses in order to continue their criminal activities”. People would find ways around it and what is the government and The Motion Picture Association of America going to do then? Crack down even more until the Internet becomes some sort of Utilitarian Dystopia? Is it too Conspiracy Theorist-y to say that these bills are the slippery slope to America becoming a warped version of a Neal Stephenson, Ray Bradbury, or Suzanne Collins novel that will eventually push us into Soylen Green territory followed by Dune? Seems extreme, yes, but it also seems plausible.
Besides, if we learned anything from the McCarthy Era and Blacklisting, the thing or person being censored doesn’t go away. Dalton Trumbo continued to write screenplays, just under another name. The books that were banned still existed and were distributed. The Captain in Fahrenheit 451 owned a large collection of books he never read and rebel Book People lived on the fringes of society memorizing collections of works so they wouldn’t be forgotten.
Censorship has never been met well. People will always protest being censored, whether its for personal reasons or on principle. Stopping the free exchange of information is a travesty, its unjust, its dictatorship. The protests happening today, 1/18/12, by Wikipedia, Tumblr, WordPress and other major sites, is not, as it’s been said, a “gimmick”, but more like Susan Brown Miller, it’s jarring on purpose. It’s a little over the top so it will catch your attention. Yes, SOPA and PIPA are not going to completely take away “free knowledge”, the abrasive language Wikipedia is using, but it is going to put a limit on free exchange. And putting limits on free exchange is historically bad. Limiting knowledge has led to things like Nazis, Communism and the French Revolution (it might not have changed anything, but I am convinced Louis and Marie Antoinette didn’t know a damn thing outside Versailles). Limiting the public’s access to information is not generally considered a good thing.
In the BBC article by Leo Kelion about the Internet protest has many comments from Chris Dodd, the chairman of The Motion Picture Association of America, speaking against the protest and in favor of SOPA and PIPA. The entertainment industry is estimated to lose hundreds of dollars every year because of Internet piracy and yet Disney’s Net Income in 2010 “increased 20% to $3.96 billion on a 5 percent rise in revenue to $38 billion.” I don’t think Disney is really hurting all that much. Also, let’s look at what the entertainment industry is charging us these days: 10, 12 dollars for a CD; 10 to 30 dollars for a DVD? And they’re wondering why people are turning to other means in order to obtain their entertainment? Maybe if they stopped putting money into buying politicians they could lower their prices and people would stop supporting piracy? Just a thought….