By Nelson Schneider - 01/22/12 at 03:45 PM CT
This past week has seen an unprecedented amount of uproar coming from the Internet. And not just from small, isolated communities on the Internet (which are prone to tempest-in-a-teapot-scale uproars on a daily basis), but the ENTIRE Internet.
What could cause such a huge and fractured group to unite under one banner? How about an undisguised attempt by Corporate America to impose causeless censorship and technical restrictions that would break the underlying structure of the entire Internet? Doesn’t that sound like a great idea? Apparently it DID sound like a great idea to a number of America’s elected representatives; individuals who are put in office by the will of the people in order to represent the will of the people.
But anyone who lives in this country should be well aware that representing the people is the last thing on the minds of many of our congress-critters. Instead, their eyes flash with dollar signs at the prospect of being lobbied. They swoon with the knowledge that, as soon as their term in office runs out, they will be lavished with job offers with six- or seven-digit incomes by the same lobbying firms from which they accepted contributions while in office and for which they proposed and voted for favorable legislation. Private citizens don’t have lobbyists, and the in-built ethics of the Internet have prevented those who have a vested interest in its well-being from buying votes as well. It’s a vile, despicable game, but it’s one that must be played as long as corporations are considered “people.”
In the current instance, Big Media’s lobbying efforts bought them the SOPA/PIPA bills (not to be confused with the delicious sopapilla): Two bills that, had they become law, would have undermined the greatest invention of the last century by removing the freedom, openness, and universality that makes the Internet a level playing field for Big Evil Corporations, small businesses, start-ups, totalitarian regimes, revolutionaries and LOLcats alike.
Why would Big Media want to do such a thing? Are they insane? Evil? Mentally retarded? Yes! They are. The reason behind the curtain of all of Big Media’s efforts, the last notable success being the DMCA, is their fear of copyright infringement, which they love to label as “piracy.” Big Media likes to spin tales about how counterfeiters (which, in reality, are completely different from copyright infringers) are selling poison disguised as cheap prescription drugs or knock-off toys and gadgets that are actually made of a lead/iridium alloy that causes cancer, AIDs, and erectile dysfunction. And that is why Big Media (not Big Government), a subsidiary of Corporate America, should have unchecked legal powers to remove anything from the Internet that they deem to be fake. The irony here is that, in railing against counterfeiting, Big Media, an American institution, would be protecting products primarily made by fancy European brands (i.e., Gucci, Ferrari, etc.) instead of the intangible intellectual properties they make themselves.
So why does Big Media trot-out the anti-counterfeiting rhetoric while keeping the anti-copyright-infringement rhetoric on the down-low? They KNOW the vast majority of Americans disagree with them. It’s easy to rally support for getting rid of Italian mobsters selling knock-off handbags for only slightly less than the real thing. It’s easy to rally support for getting rid of Islamic terrorists who sell opium disguised as baby aspirin in order to fund bombings. It’s NOT so easy to rally support for taking away people’s access to free MP3s and movie rips... because the end user isn’t hurt by them.
What the epidemic of copyright infringement on the Internet SHOULD teach Big Media is that their products aren’t really worth very much. They are entertainment. They are throw-away silliness that people can spend their discretionary income on, just for fun. Creating artificial scarcity for intangible products that cost nothing to reproduce and price gouging aren’t going to go over well with the informed public created by the Internet. Copyright infringement, as a form of civil disobedience, is a way to keep Big Media honest. They may cry and scream about losing huge profits to “piracy,” but when CEOs are getting $50 million bonuses, it’s hard to feel sorry for them OR believe their stories.
Thankfully, the Internet doesn’t believe Big Media’s stories, and the stink raised over the submission of SOPA/PIPA for debate has seen these two bills shelved. But we denizens of the Internet can’t rest on our laurels. These bills may be shelved, but they aren’t gone. As long as Big Media is still enamored with control and ownership, SOPA/PIPA will never really die. I fully expect these two bills to be chopped into smaller, less-revolting pieces and stealthily resubmitted for congressional debate, with a weighty tip promised to any congress-critters that can keep the original names from coming up.
The copyright system is broken; bought and owned by Big Media. Instead of stimulating creativity, as the Founding Fathers had hoped, American copyright law has turned into just another weapon in the ongoing Class Cold War between corporate persons and actual persons. Thanks to the Internet, we can now see this and fight back against Big Media’s stifling influence on our culture. The Internet’s preternatural omniscience ensures that injustices will always be revealed. We cannot allow the perpetrators of those injustices to use their wealth to buy legislation that shackles the only tool that can be used against them.