The effective success of grass-roots efforts to stall anti-piracy legislation in the U.S. Congress now has people whose lives and careers are affected by piracy worried about their futures. With Congress unable to launch a successful dialog about proper methods to combat piracy; the entertainment industry having tried out for, and landed, the role of the villain; and with "Anonymous" launching somewhat successful attacks against U.S., Polish and other governments' websites in defense of the "right to piracy," content creators appear worried that any effort to resume a positive dialog might make them targets of public criticism.
At the moment, it's hard to have been anti-SOPA and yet appear proactive against piracy.
Making some of the first public statements in favor of restarting a pro-active dialog are individuals speaking out on behalf of artists and musicians, including one group whose members were already instrumental in the anti-SOPA protests last Wednesday.
The American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) is continuing to advance this statement, released last week, concerning websites that led Wednesday's protest:
"They are taking a unilateral action to make their content unavailable. However, under current law, A2IM members whose copyrights are infringed upon cannot take similar action. Our independent labels and their artists have no practical way of taking down illegal links to their music from rogue foreign websites accessed via U.S. search engines.
"The media has portrayed the issue as that of two giant industries (movies/music and technology) in conflict, as though this was a battle solely between very rich businesses. In fact, our members are small- and medium-sized independent businesses that invest in the creation of music and whose very existence is being threatened by the availability of illegal content on line. We look forward to solution-oriented discussions among all parties."
The public stance of the Association did not stop individual A2IM members such as indie group Wye Oak from signing a letter of opposition to SOPA/PIPA last week.
A2IM's statement echoed the sentiments of Brian Philips, CEO of Viacom-owned cable music channel CMT. Over the weekend, Philips' pro-SOPA/PIPA sentiments appeared in The Tennessean - too late, of course, to keep PIPA from being indefinitely tabled.
"Opponents of this legislation... are raising phantom issues, through vague threats of censorship and other unspecified dangers. Unfortunately, their arguments are based more in fear than in truth. No domestic websites would be shut down by this legislation. Plain and simple: The target is overseas piracy websites. Creative endeavors are not alone as targets of piracy."
A Fate Worse Than SOPA
An examination of the Justice Dept.'s indictment of the proprietors of cyberlocker site Megaupload led the CTO of Sydney, Australia-based Web advertising firm Pinion to wonder whether squashing the SOPA bill could spark the creation of a worse alternative that could do even more damage than had been feared. David Banham was inspired by having used Megaupload to distribute files to clients, only to find the site taken down last week.
"It is easy to generalize, in the vein of SOPA, that all these smart people working in tech should just make sure that no-one uploads copyrighted material to their services. It's easy right? If someone uploads a Hollywood movie just delete it! In reality, though, every time any file was uploaded, an extensive search would need to be conducted to determine whether, where, how, and by whom it was copyrighted. The rights holder would then need to be contacted to determine whether or not the use was permitted. In the case of transformative or derivative works, the decision would have to be made (and the associated risk assumed!) by the service.
"That burden can never be placed on those shoulders. It would be crippling for Google. It would be completely impossible for any startup out there and would stifle a massive amount of innovation.
"SOPA merely (merely!) required that every link be checked against a blacklist provided by the US Government. If the allegations in this indictment are allowed to stand, industry will not only have to enforce that blacklist, but create and curate it."
"Knowledge Shall Be Increased"
Last Friday, the CEO of cable arts channel Ovation, Charles Segars, issued an outright pro-SOPA statement that echoed the expressed sentiment of Vice President Biden back before the entire SOPA debate began.
"They're calling the SOPA bill 'censorship' and an infringement of our First Amendment rights. And the entertainment industry is painted as 'greedy' for supporting this legislation. But I wonder... What would happen if all the movie theaters, cable and broadcast channels, book stores and radio stations did the same thing - went completely dark, off the air, closed their doors? Would you miss Wikipedia more than, say, being able to watch 'American Idol' or go to AMC theaters and see the latest movie in 3D? Would it take a total shutdown to make the point that entertainment content is something of value and therefore needs protecting?"
Despite Segars' and Ovation's public stance, some of the artists participating in Ovation's own forum ended up supporting the protests instead. "One thing I don't want to see happen is the old farts in Congress deciding what sites and material are appropriate!" wrote Mark Sean Orr, in response to another member's request for clarity as to where they should stand as artists. "The Internet is not a corporation or government agency and should never be. What it is, is a network of citizens world-wide sharing and connecting through this awesome new technology."
That led another member, named Cheryl, to share her view that precisely because the Web is beyond the control of any one government, some government somewhere will see that as a challenge and try to control it anyway. "The Internet and the World Wide Web are not owned by anyone. How do you control something that is a cloud?" she wrote. "How do you tax and fee something if the players involved refuse to participate or if your own dependence can be hacked?"
Perhaps inspired, perhaps depressed, and perhaps both by the prospect of blacklists and whitelists appearing on the Internet in one form or another eventually, another Ovation member closed the thread by citing the Book of Daniel, Chapter 12: "And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book... But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased."