From Jon Chappell at Harmony Central – a musicians forum
SOPA-riffic! The loose but vocal collective that are the denizens of cyberspace achieved a small and perhaps temporary victory last week when several prominent bipartisan members of Congress—and the White House itself—withdrew their support for the proposed House of Representatives bill known as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). The bill will now have to be re-drafted.
All of this was the result of the great hue and cry sounded not just by individual cybercitizens but many big organizations (like Wikipedia and Google), some of whom took their sites offline for a day to register their protest. At issue with SOPA, and its Senate counterpart, PIPA (Protect I.P. Act), is how much power the government should have in punishing those who allow access to websites that engage in piracy (the "P" in SOPA), or the illegal trafficking of copyrighted material, most of which is in the form of movies, TV shows, and music.
No reasonable person is in favor of piracy. And many people were reacting to the source of SOPA's authorship—the entertainment industry—rather than the content of the bill itself. After all, Big Media (including movie studios, networks, and the record companies) are notoriously parochial and primitive in their attempts to deal with the illegal copying and distribution of their properties.
But whether you begrudge the entertainment industry their profitability or not, you darn sure don't want them in control of the Internet, nor do you want them to be the authors of the legislation that enables their ham-handed tactics. (My longtime favorite example of this is the anti-piracy warning that precedes rental videos, where viewers must sit through an insulting and non-fast-forwardable screen—complete with FBI logo—about how you'd better not be stealing this movie.)
That doesn't mean the points raised in the now-scuttled bill aren't without merit. The movie industry doesn't profit unless it can make money for its Spielbergs, Lucases, Woody Allens, and Michael Bays—the creators and artists behind the industry. This obviously trickles down to the mere mortals—writers and film score composers, session musicians who play on these recordings, and everyone connected to the entertainment business in which we all strive to succeed. No one wants their stuff given away for free. Not if you hope to be a professional at it.
But protecting copyrighted work doesn't mean that industry-drafted regulations are what's called for, either. Imagine YouTube not existing because some material wound up being posted that hadn't cleared the copyright bar. Or shutting down Facebook and Twitter because someone posted a link to a copyrighted video. What next—sanctioning Google for returning a search result that lists a torrent site in Russia? That's what the broad language in SOPA's submitted form was calling for.
Swift justice for wrong-doers might be appealing, but the other side of that coin is the “law of unintended consequences”—the phenomenon where passing a law to address one problem results in a greater detriment somewhere else. (Consider 1920s prohibition, Africanized bees in South America, and our own vicious political climate, courtesy of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.) That's what people are afraid of here.
We need to protect the content producers and their publishers. I don't want to be in a profession that doesn't do that. And to be sure, there has been misinformation in the protest language, too. But we musicians—as the ones who are ultimately affected by copyright laws—must be fully informed as to when our rights are being protected versus when our industry overlords are overreaching in their authority. Because one thing's for sure: that legislation is coming back, just in a different form. And when it does, we need to be ready, and we had better be educated.
— Jon Chappell