Today marks the official blackout of many popular online destinations in protest of the proposed SOPA and PIPA bills. By now, most people have probably seen the blacked out Google Doodle and finally taken the initiative to understand what the fuss is all about (if you haven’t yet, feel free to sign the petition to kill the bills). It would be naive of me to represent myself as fully understanding the repercussions of the bills being considered, but the dialogue is certainly familiar. Who’s to blame?
Industries, like music and film, are supporting SOPA and PIPA to prevent the piracy of their content. There’s no question that illegal acquisition of the content created by these organizations has an impact on the revenue and future growth for the industry as a whole. This impacts jobs, innovation, expansion and more. It will also impact the quality of content they can produce which is certainly not something any movie buff or music lover wants to hear. Unfortunately, it’s a potential reality.
To prevent against piracy and unauthorized use of their content, these industries have chosen the historical route of sponsoring and supporting government regulation. When people can’t be “controlled” the next logical step is to hold the manufacturer, provider or in this case technology responsible. Someone has to bear the burden of protection, because we are not capable of making our own decisions… or the right decisions.
It’s significantly easier to punish the provider or the manufacturer and blame them for the choices made by their customers or users. However, if people are using the products and services not as the manufacturer intended, where does the responsibility lie?
We are again faced with a scenario that has potential repercussions that could permeate our culture in ways we never imagined. We’ve been here before with the Firearms and Tobacco Industries. Yet, those issues impact quality of life, not corporate bottom lines. However, I am still given the choice to own a gun or smoke. It is my responsibility to understand the implication of these products and their potential. My free will on usage cannot be controlled, but the implication of my actions are mine and mine alone.
The answer to pirated content is not an easy one, but turning to government regulation is an act of desperation that allows a few bad apples to spoil the whole bunch. Basic freedoms, like speech, should not be limited for financial reasons. While I don’t want to go as far as requesting that the entire publishing industry, “adapt or die,” a better solution needs to be identified.
We, all of us, have the ability to maintain a free and open Internet and must not let the anonymity of the web cloud our judgement. It is our responsibility to know the difference between right and wrong. Just because I have the right to bear arms, does not mean I should use them in cases where it is not absolutely necessary. Similarly, just because I have the ability to illegally acquire and share content from other sources, doesn’t mean I should do it.
People are natural innovators and no creation will ever be perfect right out of the gate. While the growth and power of the Internet is astonishing, the impact it will have on our culture is yet to be imagined. Stifling that creativity at such a crucial moment is a step backward.
We are now more aware, more connected, more empowered to make a difference. To drive the economy. Solve culture issues. Share expertise. Sacrificing this connected world in favor of a few bucks for the latest blockbuster is not worth it. Don’t blame Wikipedia, YouTube, WordPress, Reddit, and the countless others for facilitating the exchange of knowledge. Blame those who abuse the potential impact a free and open Internet provides.