19 January, 2012 - 15:17 By News Desk

Piracy and the SOPA rebellion

It is already quite a week on the web, with the enormous backlash against the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). Very many sites and blogs (mine included) joined the protests, with the view that if the act was passed, it would give the music and film industries enormous power over what everyone else can or can’t do.

Piracy is a nuisance, but it is what happens when people are given access to large amounts of nice stuff and the ability to take it without having to pay.

With information products such as documents or media, everyone knows very well that downloading it doesn’t destroy anyone else’s ability to also share it, so many people don’t think of it as theft. I have some sympathy with that view, but I also understand that for many of us, our information output is our livelihood, and if no one pays, we can’t survive.

I often fall victim to websites copying my material and passing it off as ebooks on their sites. Sometimes they even go further and try to give rights to others to use the material.

So they use my material to get rich or increase their influence. That is certainly theft. Do I care? No, not really. I’ve never lost any time worrying about it. The chances are they wouldn’t have paid anyway, so they might as well have my material free. If they leave my authorship details on, and they usually do, at least I gain a bit from increased influence.

Why should this be different for music or film makers? Film studios can make hundreds of millions from a film, even after piracy takes its share. I don’t accept for a minute that they are existentially challenged by piracy. It is a nuisance but nothing more.

With the music industry, many of us still pay even if others do steal, and again I see no reason to expect that to change. When they stop whingeing about piracy and set up streaming companies like Spotify or Napster, many of us are happy to pay for the convenience.

My sympathy with them is extremely limited mainly because they grossly overstate their losses and take no account of their gains at customer expense. If a million people download a free copy of a music track, you simply can’t equate that to a loss equivalent to the cost of all those people buying the tracks.

In most cases, if they weren’t available to be stolen, they still wouldn’t have paid for them and would simply have done without. They have many competing destinations for that money. Also, if I buy the same track many times via duplication of different albums, I get no refund.

Nor do I get a refund for the huge amount I have paid over the years for stuff that turns out to be rubbish. If you account for those gains, after winding down claimed losses to the losses of sales that likely would have happened, I doubt very much if the loss figures would still be significant. They complain very loudly but they have no case.

Even if they did have a case, there is still no reason why every other user or the web should have their lives made more difficult just to protect the interests of one small industry. The industry itself should do more to protect their works if they care.

They could watermark their content against every purchaser so that they could identify the main culprits and use existing legislation to prosecute them. Giving them the right to have sites closed, or extreme surveillance used against everyone, that is much too far. The protests look like they are achieving their goals. Politicians should listen and learn.



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