Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Captains and Pirates: SOPA and all that

Online piracy is actually a problem. Music has been hit hardest: fewer breakthrough artists than ever over the last few years.

Film is suffering too. Hollywood is blighting us with more and more sequels - and why? Because sequels are so less risky - and when revenues are being squeezed because potential customers are getting it for free, risk is something investors and producers are looking to reduce. The flipside is that great, popular films like Zombieland might not get sequels at all because of piracy (warning: that link is a rant).

It's a massive issue in the gaming community too. And the book publishing industry will be the next victim.

The Wrong Law
But certain captains of industry in the US are trying to roll back to some imagined Halcyon days when they could control how their content is used. A bill called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act - US bills need to market themselves in the political culture over the pond) is soon to be debated which will give copyright owners crippling power over websites which just link to allegedly copyright material. (I say allegedly because, as I read it, little due process will be required to block a site.)

The bill will allow for control of DNS entries in the US, so that access to a domain name can be removed. It will stop that domain name being accessible - buit in actual fact all you would then need is the IP address in order to access the site. So it would make piracy harder, but not by much. I'm sure tools will be created two help 'pirates' - for example bookmarks will record IP addresses so you can get back to a site even when its domain name has been blocked. It's as if the government could delete a contact in your phone - but all you need to get back in touch is to know their phone number.

Wikipedia is protesting it, and Obama's apparently on their side, so hopefully this particular law won't get through. But it's not the only piece of wrong-headed legislation that will come out.

Protect and Pay Creativity
But I said 'piracy' (a phrase which interestingly has negative and positive connotations depending on whether you are rich or poor) needs to be dealt with.

Although it's nice for us 'consumers of content' that we can get free stuff, we need to have a realistic long-term view. If musicians, actors, directors, authors and artists don't get paid - well, some of them might carry on creating the pieces of art that we love, but it won't bring them their daily bread.

Perhaps you'd argue that it would be a great loss if those artists who are in it for the money stopped working. But do you really want your favourite author behind a till in Asda, publishing online for free because only a few hardcore fans are willing to pay them to write?

Piracy's a problem, but laws like SOPA are the wrong solution. This is Hollywood and the music industry trying to control the content, when really they should be just making sure their artists get paid for it.

Dear Captains of Industry,
There are alternatives. For example, set up agreed royalties with an organisation like PRS, and send providers a bill for royalties. Those giving away your content for free will soon need to work out how to make it pay.

Work out how to change the culture of young people. It's difficult for them to link the artists' hard work with a product which is an electronic file - work out how to do that.

Make everything freely available on legitimate sites, with enough advertising to pay for it - as TV on demand already does. I know you're maximising revenue of DVD sales and the like, but get with the program, make friends and not enemies of your potential customers.


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