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SOPA: right problem, wrong solution

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Spencer Shulem | Guest Opinion | January 31, 2012

Emma Steinkellner / Illustration

Picture, for a moment, a 12 year old kid stealing a candy bar – something worth just 99 cents.

This, of course, is considered a petty crime, not a large scale felony. Now, imagine that, upon being caught, this kid is apprehended, hauled away in an armored police car, taken to trial, and jailed for years.

There is a law proposed, the Stop Online Piracy Act, doing just this; while the law may be good in spirit, the harshness of the punishments do not fit this so-called crime.

Take Brianna LaHara, a 12-year-old New York City girl caught downloading songs. Though she claims she “thought it was OK to download music”, she and hundreds like her have been individually sued by music companies for up to $150,000 per song. Suing kids, for stealing even less than a candy bar… stealing no thing at all.

Now, they want to make it a felony. The “item” in question does not even exist in the physical world. It could be a song, a movie, a game… but it cannot be held. But these crimes will be tried harshly. Corporations will have people arrested, charged with a crime, and jailed.

Downloading Justin Bieber’s latest groovy song, uploading a video with a song in it, or in ome cases just stumbling upon a website with some embedded media will soon be a criminal offense; kids will be committing felonies on a daily basis.

These newly invented felonies can cause people to serve up to “five years in prison for a first offense.” Going to jail–for clicking. This is not the America you want to live in.

The FBI estimates “U.S. businesses lose $200-$250 billion to counterfeiting on an annual basis.” This sounds like a high number, but as the comedian Stephen Colbert pointed out, the FBI also admits in the same report “it has no record of source data … for generating the estimate.” That is, the law is being made with little supporting research.

Huge media companies, like Sony Entertainment, that dominate the market might lose a lot of potential profits. But who deserves the money in the first place? The greedy producers, or the exploited artists who create the content? Artists make a fraction of that 99 cents you pay for a song. Apple, like many music distributors, takes a cut from each song, then the producers, and the managers, and so on.

Award-winning singer Joss Stone, for example, encourages piracy on the basis that music should be free in the first place, and should be enjoyed, not restrained.

Consider Louis C.K. a well known comedian. He decided not to have HBO or Comedy Central produce his movie, and instead chose to put his latest comedy show up on his website for five bucks. This movie had no digital restrictions, so it could be easily copied and no more than one person would have to buy it for everyone to have it.

This uncharted venture into self-produced internet movies has not only exceeded his expectations, but everyone else’s. In less than a week the movie grossed over a million dollars. With no corporations taking that money away from him, or high production costs, most of the money is going directly to the artist–like it should be. None of this was spurred by a reduction in piracy.

Congress doesn’t even truly understand this bill.

Steve King, a member of Congress, tweeted, “we are debating the Stop Online Piracy Act and [Congresswoman] Shiela Jackson has so bored me that I’m killing time by surfing the internet.” We are putting our internet security, our American infrastructure, in hands of people who care so little about this bill, that they did not even pay attention to the “nerds”  they hired to come in and explain the internet to them.

In a hypocritical twist, there is evidence that members of congress themselves have downloaded pirated software such as Windows 7, the TV show Sons of Anarchy, and movies of an adult nature. Our America as we know it is threatened by these people, who while claiming to be against piracy do it themselves.

Jonathan Zittrain, a US professor of Internet law at Harvard, claims that “this law takes a page out of the playbooks of China and Iran for internet regulation.”

Even if you trust our government to censor the internet, what about the countries that follow in our footsteps? This will leave unscrupulous governments more powerful tools to hinder free expression globally.

This act won’t even stop downloaders, but what it will do is cripple new start ups, because it also lets companies sue any sites they feel aren’t doing their filtering well enough. This will bankrupt search engines and social websites, who can’t police every single one of the billions of links in their databases.

So that this doesn’t occur, websites such as Reddit, Tumblr, and plenty of others encourage you to contact your local representative and ask them to stop this. Remember, music isn’t the only thing at stake. Social websites, search engines, or worse, Spark Notes. Even news websites could be taken down by the government for something as simple as a single user posting copyrighted content.

So the question is, how far will they take all this? The answer at this point is obvious; as far as we let them.

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1 Comment

One Response to “SOPA: right problem, wrong solution”

  1. Rather Nameless on January 13th, 2013 11:01 PM

    “Social websites, search engines, or worse, Spark Notes.”

    This was a joke, right…?


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SOPA: right problem, wrong solution