Who are stringent copyright controls supposed to protect

This week we look at what SOPA, PIPA and Acta would have meant for a blog like ours, and what they meant for the people they were supposed to protect.

Last week saw the largest protest to have ever taken place on the Internet. It was an attempt to stop two anti-piracy bills from making it through Congress and the Senate, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). But why were they so opposed, and what does it mean for the artists they were supposed to protect?

The bills granted a number of powers to the American courts. In theory, if a copyright holder found their content was being hosted on a website they weren’t affiliated with then they would have new powers to ensure their copyright was no longer infringed. Sites could be removed from search engines, have their advertising cut, and be blocked by ISPs, thus cutting off potential traffic and revenue. If The Phonograph were to be found guilty of copyright infringement then you’d see something like this whenever you visited our homepage.

This is the current landing page for Megaupload.com. A site blocked by ISPs.

Sites like ours could be taken down at any time because we link to YouTube music videos. Like this one, and this, and even this. Because, in all those cases, the uploader wasn’t the copyright holder. So, we become a facilitator of copyright infringement.

The silly and frustrating thing is that although these bills are fashioned to allow the big industry publishers to take on sites like The Pirate Bay, they wouldn’t be effective.They hit the innocent and inconsequential sites and miss the big fish. Even if a site is removed from search engines and blocked by an ISP it is still accessible.

Being removed from a search engine is like being taken out of the phone book: you may not be listed but you still exist. If you know a site’s address, particularly an IP address, then you can still get to it without the help of Google.

Continuing the phone analogy, an ISP denial is like having your phone number on a black list. If someone tries to ring it the operator won’t connect the call. But, you can make your own operating service: a pirate ISP. These pirate ISPs can connect users to blacklisted sites, and much more. There’s no guarantee that those operating the pirate provider wouldn’t occasionally take a peek at the private information you were entering on sites. The bills would push internet users into the hands of criminals.

But there are far more eloquently written explanations about why these bills, and a number of others like them, are bad and should be shouted down. What about those that stood to benefit from these bills, the artists and the publishers?

We’re seeing more and more unsigned bands selling directly through the internet. Surely these bills would allow them to remove pirated versions of the music from the internet, thus leaving only the legitimate, monetised means of acquring their music. Well, no. Firstly, as I covered above, the pirated file will remain online with passable barriers. And secondly, where will these bands find the money to hire the legal team to get the court order? These bills were only ever going to be used by the big publishers.

And why not? After all, the publishers are losing huge amounts of potential revenue. Allegedly, up to $20 billion each year. Why shouldn’t they protect their investment and remove illegal copies of their music. Well, again, the pirated music would still available online. So, they’d be receiving powers that don’t match what they’ve set out to do. They could instead be used to take down any site they took offence with. It’d be a small matter of posting a link to copyrighted material on the target and then filing the court order. All anonymously of course.

At best it is a bill written by someone who doesn’t understand the workings of the internet. At worst it is someone deliberately seeking means to put global internet censorship tools in the hands of companies.

(I see this is going all conspiracy theory, let me rein it back in.)

If not take down orders, what can the music publishers to to protect their investment? If only we’d written about this very subject last year. The way out of this cul de sac of criminality isn’t to tackle the pirates. Doing so only harms the innocent and the inconsequential. A better method is to make legal listening easier, cheaper, and more rewarding: adopt streaming services (don’t battle them), add value to music purchases, draw your customers into communities, and stop alienating them by perceiving each patron as a potential pirate.

There are many ways for publishers to make money, you only have to look at the success of print publishers like the FT who have managed to adapt to the times and tailor their content through each media channel, or the Guardian Media Group who have entered new markets to remove their reliance on revenue derived directly from The Guardian. Going forward publishers will find that the money won’t come from the music but the manner in which the music is delivered and the markets associated with it.

Oh, one last point, don’t call out the politicians you’ve bribed on live television.

Edit: Now ACTA, a similar bill aimed at harmonising and strengthening copyright protection, enforcement and censorship across countries, has emerged again in the EU. Check out www.avaaz.org for more information.

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One thought on “Who are stringent copyright controls supposed to protect

  1. Pingback: Extradition: a dangerous precedent for the digital age |

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