Monday, February 06, 2012

SOPA and PIPA Debate Ongoing

So what’s all the buzz about SOPA and PIPA? Well, it is not a new Disney flick featuring cute little fuzzy animated characters. Rather, SOPA - Stop Online Piracy Act and PIPA - Protect IP Act, are bills that were to be considered in the US House and Senate respectively. Both are aimed at preventing unauthorized sharing and use of published copyrighted material. Movie makers, music publishers and other providers of online content are increasingly concerned that anyone can copy what they’ve created and use and share the materials without paying. After a backlash from major online services the bills have been tabled for now, but the issue is far from resolved and remains the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

The argument that digital pirating is eroding profits and viability and, as such, is a major threat to their businesses is not a new concern. This new salvo has the support of some major players in the US economy like the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Walt Disney Company to name only a few. All contend that without this legislation serious damage to their bottom line will lead to significant reductions in the quantity and quality of movies, music and other programming.

Critics of these efforts to censor Internet providers like Google, Yahoo and Bing, whose search engines connect millions to content, and Wikipedia, whose collaborative encyclopedia has become a household word, argue that as written, SOPA and PIPA go much too far to censor what they do and in reality will have little effect on the problem.

The Internet companies have argued that SOPA and PIPA force them to be online police. The legislation holds them responsible if users of their sites link to pirated content. The companies said the bills could require your Internet provider to block websites that are involved in digital file sharing. All of this, they complain, is contrary to the very basic concept of an open Internet.

There is no question that we must find a way to make sure that copyrighted content is protected. Intellectual property like songs, books, photographs and art on the Internet must have the same protection as they do in the brick and mortar retail world. You can’t walk into Macy’s and help yourself to a shirt or pair of socks bypassing the cash register as you exit without the judicial consequences of stealing. You shouldn’t be able to download a book or piece of music that represents someone’s livelihood without paying for it.

Right now we need to strike a balance. It is one thing to go after people profiting from other’s work. It is another thing to try to close down YouTube because someone posted a video of a birthday party where a piece of copyrighted music was sung.

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