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SOPA – Part 2

In response to my first post I received an email that brought up some good questions.   I thought I’d share the conversation with everyone here:

The Inquiry

Hi Lance,
I saw a news story on  this legislation last night on PBS Newhour (not the network news, of course). I am glad to check with you about a couple of things since you’ve had the experience of this sort of strategy already.  I am glad that you are getting involved in this; I assume that companies need to protect their own content better, but I don’t know how they can without some protections within the structure of law.

In 25 words or less, what should the legislation allow that would reduce or stop piracy? I know that is probably an impossible question, but I want to understand what alternatives would be better.

What is the time frame for the legislation’s passage? or defeat? How long do I have to write the Congressional representatives?

I’ve also heard that Wikepedia shut itself down today although I didn’t catch all the details. What good will that do?? Why aren’t they educating folks like me?

The Response

RE: Timeframe
The legislation WAS going to be voted on tomorrow. In typical fashion, our representatives moved the date thanks to all the attention this “Stop SOPA” movement has received & the fact that sites are going dark today. Our elected officials are banking on the fact that the general public has a very short memory & are hoping this whole thing blows over and they can pass this when nobody is looking.

Much like how they held a special Saturday session to vote in the debt increase, specifically choosing a weekend so the publicity via the news outlets would be at the lowest possible point.

As such you now have a few more weeks to let your elected representatives know what you think about all of this.

RE: Wikipedia

As for Wikipedia shutting down, they have executed their strategy perfectly. They shut down to draw attention to the issue. SOPA/PIPA was first drawn up and proposed back in May 2011. NOBODY reported on it. Why? The proponents of the bill include the parents of Fox, CNN, MSNBC, Hearst Publishing, etc. In December they set a date to vote on the legislation for January 19th, 2012.  Again, nobody reported on it.

However, when one of the most visited sites on the Internet suddenly goes dark & puts up a big banner saying “Stop SOPA”. THAT must be reported. How foolish would those media companies look if 5 of the top 10 websites suddenly went offline and they missed the story? Wikipedia forced their hand, giving much needed publicity via the traditional media outlets of print, radio, and television to the story.

If they didn’t do that, the event would never get reported. Here is a perfect example of this:

This morning on my way to work, Fox News was doing the typical morning report. They had literally a 30 second spot “Wikepedia is going offline to protest SOPA, along with dozens of other websites. … Full disclosure: Fox’s parent company fully supports SOPA.”. 30 seconds. That was all. They then did a 2 minute story about a woman at a gas station and the increase of lottery ticket prices. It was blatantly obvious that the reporter had been instructed to downplay and give limited exposure to the “SOPA Resistance”.

Re: Stopping Piracy

“In 25 words or less, what should the legislation allow that would reduce or stop piracy? I know that is probably an impossible question, but I want to understand what alternatives would be better.”

Here is the 25-word version:
The existing SOPA/PIPA legislation is fatally flawed and cannot be easily remedied. It needs to be completely scrapped and a different tact needs to be used.

Why do I say that?

The technical & social mechanisms that drive piracy cannot be remedied by legislation. No amount of law is going to address the fundamental problems. The problem needs to be addressed with a viable business model that addresses the needs that are being filled by piracy. Here are some of the factors involved in piracy that are completely neglected by SOPA/PIPA:

  • Pirated content does not, and often is not, a single-source entity on a named server. You can shut down a site name like “ThePirateBay.org” but that is only a facade. The real content is hosted on a myriad a systems with names like “192.152.13.9” and “155.12.8.7”. Thus the SOPA/PIPA provisions to allow the US Government to shut down the name translation service (DNS) does nothing to prevent access to the content.
  • People are pirating content because they can afford to.  It is free. If these laws worked, which they won’t, then piracy would stop and magically $2.5 BILLION dollars would suddenly start flowing back into the economy. Really? Are people suddenly going to be able to afford that $4.95 for an online movie just because they can’t get a free copy on a rogue site?
  • Pirated content often originates overseas. The content is already illegal to stream online. Yet it is readily available. Do you think “Xaun Wang’s Pirate Content” is going to shut down just because the US Government passed a new law? No.

“Ahh”, you say, “but the US Government can stop US citizens from going to Xuan Wang’s website with these new laws in place (censorship anyone?). THAT will stop them. Not even close. Anyone that has any clue about how to get pirated content has heard of a proxy. The basic principle is that you connect to a third party site in a “friendly location”, like the UK, which does not have a SOPA/PIPA law and they speak on your behalf t Xuan Wang’s site. Mr. US citizen is connecting to an allowed (non-censored) site and then routes through them to get their pirated content.

There are a thousand other things wrong with this law & quite frankly the groups of people doing this stuff are MUCH, MUCH smarter than nearly anyone we have passing the laws in this country. In the end you will only see these laws being abused by the large corporate megaliths in the old-school media & entertainment industries to squash anyone they don’t like. The sad part is they would not be in this position if they would innovate instead of litigate.

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Stop SOPA

Cyber Sprocket Labs is joining the hundreds of sites that are protesting SOPA and PIPA.

SOPA and PIPA are new legislative acts that are being proposed in the US Senate and Congress that are supposed to “protect American businesses against piracy”.    While stopping piracy is a good thing, legislative acts like these are the WRONG WAY to do this.   These acts have a number of significant flaws which prevent them from being effective against the majority of people involved in piracy.   They DO, however, provide a direct instrument for the largest media & entertainment conglomerates to shut down anyone they see as a threat.

Let me restate that point as it is a very important one:
SOPA and PIPA provide an instrument for media & entertainment companies to shut down ANYONE they deem a threat.

While the basic intent of the legislation started out as a good thing, or at least it was being cast in that light by the special interest groups behind it, the reality is that if these acts are passed they will destroy any and all innovation in the media and entertainment market.   Here is one scenario of how these acts would work if they make it through the legislative process.

The SOPA/PIPA Future

I am starting a new high tech media & entertainment company.   Let’s call it Musiplicity.   This new company provides a innovative new way to engage and entertain consumers while they are at their favorite bar, restaurant, or retail store.   It is a great idea and a lot of people are very interested in moving the project forward.   The project gets funded & starts generating a lot of buzz in the industry.

Then Sony Entertainment finds out about it.   They happen to have a new initiative that also provides business-to-business music & entertainment services.  They deem Musiplicity a threat.   They submit a complaint of POSSIBLE copyright infringement on the CONTENT provided by Musiplicity.    Even though Musiplicity has all the proper licensing agreements in place it takes months to prove that the 11-million songs in the system are all covered.   In the meantime SOPA and PIPA have shut down the website, the music servers, the PAYMENT PROCESSORS, the HOSTING COMPANY, the DNS PROVIDERS.  Anyone and everyone that supports Musiplicity simply because Sony Entertainment filed a complaint that “these new little guys might be doing something wrong”.

Litigate Your Competition Out Of Business

This is EXACTLY how the current legislation is written.   Any company that owns copyrighted material can claim breach of copyright and have any other company shut down for an indefinite period of time.   While larger companies like Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia will have deep enough pockets to prove they made the best effort possible to keep copyright materials off their sites, anyone much smaller than that will be literally sued out of business.

This is how the big boys play.   They don’t play fair. They play to win & this new legislation gives them exactly the leverage they need to execute an all-out litiguous attack on anyone they deem potential competition.

They did it to one of my prior startup companies and essentially burned through our entire cash reserves by litigating us out of business even though we were 100% legitimate selling legal US goods to US consumers.   Our playing by the rules did not stop these companies from playing dirty & killing a company that they felt was a threat.   Now they are laying the legal groundwork to do this on a much larger scale with little-to-no ramifications for filing false claims.

We should do everything possible NOW, before SOPA and PIPA get written into law, to prevent the creation of yet another tool that is designed to do nothing more than kill anyone that the “big guys” deem a threat.   In the meantime, the piracy will continue and these bills will do nothing to stop it.   It is a problem that cannot be addressed via legislation.    If legislation worked to stop piracy then DMCA would have stopped the issue many years ago.

Learn More

You can learn more about SOPA/PIPA and the people involved at these locations:

If you live in the State of South Carolina, write to Senator Lindsey Graham and let him know what you think about SOPA, PIPA, and his co-sponsorship of PIPA.  If you disagree with his policies you’ll have the opportunity to vote him out of office in 2014.   You can also tweet your thoughts to him at @GrahamBlog on Twitter.