My friend Jeremy Dearringer asked me what I thought of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) this morning on Twitter. I haven’t given it a lot of thought, but have mulled it over a bit. Unlike most social media persons, I’m not one to quickly jump on a bandwagon without considering the issues at hand. While the opponents of the bill have done a good job of leading the lemmings off the cliff by saying, “This will shut down YouTube and Twitter!” or “This gives the government the right to force PayPal and ad networks to not do business with Facebook, meaning you won’t have Facebook anymore,” the reality of what the bill can do and what it will do are always different.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for SOPA. But I want us all to step back and think about it a minute. What’s really at issue here is a person or organization’s right to own their intellectual property and protect it from being exploited without their permission. Most of us in the social media world have been conditioned to follow an open source mantra about IP because very few of us have IP worth protecting. Your blog post isn’t going to earn you millions of dollars. Neither are your shitty YouTube videos.
But if you’re, say, David LaMotte, a singer-songwriter who has always shunned the big-bucks music industry and travelled from coffee shop to indy arts club performing his music and selling his CDs one-at-a-time, by himself, for over a decade — and that’s your livelihood, you’d see it a bit differently. When someone takes his song or music video and puts it on their blog or Facebook page without his permission, he is technically missing out on potential revenue. Sure, the promotional effect should be off-setting, but what if that blog post garners the site hundreds of thousands of pageviews, which is then translated into tens of thousands of dollars in monthly advertising? Does David LaMotte have a claim to a little residual or royalty for helping the site drive revenue? I’d like to think so. (NOTE: I have no idea what LaMotte thinks of SOPA. Just using him as an example as someone who might need help protecting his IP.)
Yes, it scales upward. Movie studios, record companies, professional sports leagues, television networks … most worth billions or trillions … want to protect their Intellectual Property, too. So they support SOPA since it will allow their attorneys to force websites to adhere to IP protection laws. It protects their exclusive channel, and the resulting revenue, rather than drives more money to them. But because these companies are big, faceless, wealthy giants, we in the social media space suddenly don’t like them.
If Jeremy, whose company Slingshot SEO, produced some software or code that it wanted to protect, but like the entertainment industry it also had to expose publicly, my guess is he’d have a different stance on SOPA. I’m betting most of you would too if you had a book, CD, piece of art, performance, code or idea that was potentially worth a lot of residual revenue. But most of us do not, therefore, we rail against the machine.
SOPA is likely to pass. I, for one, hope it doesn’t. The way the bill is currently written, it’s far too totalitarian and intrusive. Yes, the potential is there for it to shut down sites that accept user-generated content. If you have an NBA jersey on in your picture of you hitting a bong, the NBA could certainly use SOPA to cripple and potentially shut down Facebook since it didn’t approve of its image being used in that manner. There needs to be more of a middle ground.
But there doesn’t need to be a policy of 100 percent open market for everybody’s stuff. Unfortunately, that’s what the social media-ratti seem to be advocating for. And that would mean that no one who produces content can ever really count on profitting from it. As a content producer, I take exception to that approach, too.
SOPA needs to be stopped, but not completely. The idea is right, but the execution is extreme. Let’s rethink it and approach protecting Intellectual Property in a reasonable fashion that holds the violator responsible, not the channel or mechanism. If you post an excerpt from my book illegally on your blog, I should be able to hold you and your blog accountable, not WordPress. Facebook shouldn’t be shut down or penalized because one dipshit used a Ford logo out of context.
Let’s sign the petition to help stop SOPA, but then let’s come up with a solution that works. We’ll all be better for it.