Thank God for SoPi. I’ll tell you why.
On the morning of Jan. 18, America woke up to a digital reenactment of real life as experienced by humans at the turn of the century. We were shaken. We called and emailed and berated our elected representatives. Surprisingly—given the recent string of questionable legislation passed well within earshot of public clamor—they listened.
With a few synchronized lines of code, the Internet killed a bill. Though heroic it may seem, the group of companies that participated in the Blackout of Twenty Twelve did not step in to save us—exactly the opposite.
Yes, SoPi (the Stop Online Piracy and Protect Intellectual Property acts, respectively) would have greatly limited our rights to freely express ourselves using clips from The Lion King or lip-synching that Whitney Houston song from The Bodyguard but, often, so does thinking twice. The sort of free speech that would have been at risk if SoPi were passed would be more subtle.
Say, instead of posting “Hakuna Matata” to communicate joy to your friends, you just wanted to watch the movie. Incongruently, you didn’t want to pay for it. Luckily, there’s, in the words of SOPA, a “Foreign Infringing Website” (FIW) that is hosting an illegal copy of the Academy Award-winning film owned by Walt Disney Pictures.
If Disney found out about the FIW, under the powers granted by SOPA’s passage, they could file a claim to have that site’s domain name blocked within the United States. Furthermore, any site linking to the infringer or anybody accepting payment from them or their server would be penalized if the FIW refused to comply with demands to remove the film. In the most extreme of hypothetical scenarios, the government would effectively have the ability to shut down access from within the United States to any website whose content could be construed as in violation of copyright protection.
Every year, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) publishes a report on the five technologies to watch. Even though it’s already 2012, I’m sure CEA is smugly patting itself on the back this week—in the five trends it predicted to be of particular relevance during 2011 lingered the future of video distribution and consumption.
For almost a century, elite producers have been floating content on invisible waves that would reach us in our homes on our TVs and radios. When cable came around, the networks didn’t bat an eye. After all, cable in the early days was a wasteland of unwatchable movies, uncomfortably boring softcore porn and a ton of infomercials. Remember when Comedy Central would just…end? Substitute that for under_construction.gifs, uncomfortably slow-loading porn and just about anything anybody could think to sell and you’ve got the early web.
Cable won. So will the Internet.
People do not want to pay extra for what is apparently free using a service they already pay for. But it’s not free, right? The studios still pay hundreds of millions of dollars to produce content; the record companies still front an inordinate amount of cash to produce artists that may (and often do) totally flop.
With SoPi, these content producers would have had an effective way of policing the unauthorized use of their intellectual property. Anybody who owns anything will agree: It would suck if people just walked up and used your stuff all the time and you were helpless to stop them. That’s real, and SoPi was set to be the long-awaited solution to a problem that consumers don’t seem to care about—that is, where their media content comes from.
All the time we hear people talk about the economics of the Internet as though it were a cash blackhole: “Nobody knows how to make money on the Internet.” No way. According to MagnaGlobal, a division of IPG Mediabrands, and its updated Global Advertising Forecast for 2011, Internet advertising revenues increased 16.9 percent last year to reach $78.5 billion. Online video shot up 58.5 percent to $4.7 billion in revenue.
Those aren’t staggering numbers if we consider the mountains of cash that entertainment suppliers have historically raked in. But there are no manufacturing or shipping costs to weigh, no huge ad campaigns for individual titles. Hulu doesn’t have to post billboards about what shows they’re offering. We’re already there looking for one we want to watch tonight.
It wasn’t the actions of the Internet that made legislators spin maximum distance from the suddenly repulsive SoPi bills. It was us. We called in. We wrote emails. We made this happen.
For all the evils that SoPi represents and the limitations on freedom that we should aggressively fight against by blocking their passage, they may yet be a godsend. The sudden uproar against their potential effects has highlighted the huge problem within the media environment that would have necessitated such ridiculous bills. The only purpose they serve is to halt progress by forcing us to receive content the same old way—and pay the same old people to give it to us.
If you want a future that’s made for you, speak up and make SoPi history.
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