Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stop SOPA: which are the proper arguments against it?

There's a lot of resistance to SOPA and PIPA, but good argumentation is rather scarce. Look at these links to find useful explanations about what is actually wrong with these bills:
For many, the content industry is the industry one loves to hate. It makes excessive profits (or so it seems), and they slice & dice their products in a consumer-unfriendly way (windowing) to maximise profits. Today, the people want instant access to digital files (streaming or downloading), while the content industry wants to sell very lucrative discs. Hence some sympathy towards illegal downloading.

However, this reasoning is irrelevant. It is Hollywood's right to determine how it wants to sell its products. And illegal file-sharing is still a form of theft. After all, China needs to shut down fake Apple stores, and it is illegal to wiretap the electric grid for free power.

And yet, there are good reasons to oppose bills such as SOPA and PIPA. ISPs simply do not want to police the internet, for two reasons:
  • It would produce a lot of administrative work. This could also be a growing burden, as more sites etc. are to be taken down. And then there is the risk of not complying in time and being liable.
  • It doesn't work. Technology will always find a way around.
  • Not ISPs alone will be targeted by laws such as these, but also the DNS, search enginmes, etc.
Further, content owners would get just too much power:
  • They could ask a site to be taken down without a court order.
  • Forcing players other than ISPs (search engines, payment processors, advertisers) not to do business with such sites.
  • Forcing anybody (mainly sites such as Facebook and YouTube) providing links to such sites (even for discussion purposes etc.) to take these down.
  • What would come next? Sites providing recipes being taken down on a request from a restaurant chain?
Hence the risk of limiting free speech, the open internet and innovation.

Finally, the content industry claims that piracy destroys their business. But this is not at all proven, at least not the extent to which this claim would be true:
  • File-sharing is not illegal per se.
  • And if it is, it is also a form of content discovery. Heavy downloaders may very well be heavy buyers of legal content as well.
  • Spendings on legal content (discs) may be down, but concert ticket sales are up dramatically. Assuming that a household's total media budget should not change dramatically over time, this should be taken into account.
  • Piracy is going down with the rise of companies such as Netflix and Spotify. UltraViolet may also contribute to an acceleration of legal streaming/downloading revenues.