So I was hoping to follow along with many other sites on the Internet today and black-out the blog in protest of the SOPA and PIPA bills that are in congress, but it was too complicated to setup for just one day, plus this post will last longer.
For those who don’t know there are two bills currently in congress SOPA (in the House) and PIPA (in the senate). These bills were put forward by Music, Movie and Television conglomerates to try to combat the online copying of their works. Unfortunately these bills are far too sweeping. Basically, they would give these companies the power to take any site they don’t like off the Internet, without giving the site a chance to defend themselves in court. If that’s not bad enough, the method they want to use to do this would break important security systems for *ALL* websites. Without these systems in place, bad guys on the Internet can re-direct your web browser to rogue sites that look like Paypal, Gmail, Wells Fargo, USBank, Hotmail, E-bay, etc. and get you to login to their malicious site (because you think its the real one) then once they have your user-name and password, they can use it on the real site to do bad things.
The fact that a bill would have this amazingly awful side-effect simply proves that the congressmen who wrote it (and the Music+Movie+TV people who actually wrote it) simply don’t understand the technology that they are dealing with, and don’t really care what side-effects the bill has.
Obviously this is a bad situation, and we clearly need to do something about the technical problems with this bill. However, we also need to look deeper at what is going on here. Over the last several decades the content industries (Movies, Music, TV) have pushed many bills through congress, making copyright law much tougher than the founding fathers ever intended. Originally copyright was only good for 12 years, which was plenty of time for the creator to make their money off it. After this period, the creation was available to anyone, with the idea that it would make all of society richer.
However, the content industries weren’t happy with this, even though they make the vast majority of their sales in the first 12 years, there were a few percentage points more profit they could eek out. So they decided to change it to 70(!) years after it is published. That means that things important to society like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, are locked up and you have to pay the copyright holder if you want to use them.
Besides the long term extensions, the content industries have also fought to limit how people use the content they have paid money for. For example, when I was in high school and college I made mix CDs to share some of my favorite songs with my friends, but now the content industries have started suing people who want to share with their friends. Another example is DVDs, if you buy a DVD of your favorite movie you’d think you should be able to watch it on your iPad on your airline flight, right? Sadly, no, the content industry (in 1998) made it illegal to copy DVDs, even for your own personal use.
There are lots more examples I could go into, but they all revolve around the content industries (which were immensely profitable even during the recession) fighting to make even *more* money than they already do, without having to actually make more or better content. As citizens of the USA, we need to start moving copyright back to something that benefits our society instead of the shareholders in a few companies. The first step is to call our congressmen and women and tell them to oppose SOPA and PIPA. But we can’t stop there, we need to keep rolling back the changes they’ve made over the last few decades, so that copyright is a benefit for all of us.