Okay, I ripped off this video to share with you here. I am not going to make money sharing this content, but if the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation pass, my sharing this information would become illegal.
I have some thoughts on what Clay Shirky offers in this particular TED talk. Whether you agree with what Shirky has to say or not, I do know that mainstream media producers are rabid about protecting their intellectual property. As they should be! As a content producer myself, I understand the value of copyright and being able to protect your ideas and your work so someone else doesn’t steal it for their own gain. However, as I understand it, the new SOPA and PIPA legislation now before Congress will do more than just protect IP, but it will eliminate the ability to openly share a lot of the information we exchange today. Social media and the Web as we know it may disappear.
During my formative years as a trade journalist, I watched the copyright wars play out in the home video business, in the satellite TV business, and elsewhere. Video advocates like Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America were incredibly threatened by new technology such as Betamax, the VHS video recorder, DVDs, and computers. Digitization of entertainment made it easier to disseminate over channels such as the Internet, and led to the birth of whole new sub industries, both legal and illegal, to address content protection. I was part of the rise and fall of the home satellite industry which boomed when home owners miles from the nearest cable link or TV station suddenly discovered they could get TV signals direct from the satellite, until the content owners like HBO and ESPN decided to scramble their signal to prevent theft. That led to the birth of the underground black box industry, as well as new industries like DirecTV. Technological progress has often been the result of the struggle between information dissemination and content protection, but where do you draw the line?
What constitutes fair use of IP? In my mind it has to do with profit. If you are not stealing content for profit, or maliciously trying to undermine someone’s copyright for illicit purposes, then if you purchased the content, it should be yours to use as you wish. Apple has been progressive in this regard; they figured out a way to sell you music that you can play on your computer, on your portable music player, or burn to a CD for your car and still protect the artist’s copyright. If I buy a movie, I want the license to include the ability to watch on my computer, on my TV, or on my phone if I choose without having to buy the same product multiple times. It would be nice to share parts of that content with family and friends, assuming I am not undermining the artist’s rights to earn a profit from their work. But where do you draw the line?
I believe in protecting IP, but not at the expense of locking down all freedom of expression. As Shirky notes, consumers like to share as well as consume, and creative sharing will actually increase profit from IP, not limit it. What the “old school” media have failed to grasp is the power of the Internet, especially social media, to sell their product. I buy music, movies, books, and other digital products because I get to sample it; because people send me clips or I found online sound bites that inspire me to purchase the original work.
If you take away the freedom to share content, then the flow of information will slow to a trickle and we all will suffer, including the media companies behind SOPA and PIPA. If sharing digital content becomes illegal, then we all run the risk of becoming criminals.
Let’s all work to defeat legislative stupidity and promote a fairer, wiser alternative.