On January 18th we saw the internet blackout. The blackout meant different things to different websites. Wikipedia was perhaps the most outlandish, blacking out the entire site with only a couple of methods of getting around it. Meanwhile, Google simply placed a black bar over their logo, without any real obstruction to the search engine itself. The blackout was a big deal. It was in protest to something extremely important to the rights of the modern man and the development of creative freedom in the information age. The Stop Online Piracy Act would put a stop to that, and perhaps even still will.
Let’s get something clear. SOPA didn’t fail because it was flawed. It is flawed but that isn’t the reason for its failure to pass through congress. The reason it failed was because so many of the big companies that were originally behind the bill removed their support. First of all, Sony, EA and Nintendo withdrew their support and then, shortly after the act was postponed, the Entertainment Software Association withdrew their support. More and more companies have withdrawn their support after congress decided the postpone voting on the controversial bill. It’s a reason to celebrate but the act wasn’t defeated. They will vote on it at a later date.
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of companies that are still backing the act. Universal, Warner Bros, ESPN, ABC and the NFL are among the supporting companies. There’s a lot of influence and money behind those companies that could certainly sway the vote in the end. But there are a number of problems with SOPA and their support. Perhaps the most important one is that even the supporters of SOPA in congress don’t understand how the Act will work, or won’t work as the case will be. SOPA will do nothing to stop internet piracy. It will only block sites in the same way that your school can block sites or similarly to how China limits what its citizens can view on internet browsers. But the sites themselves can still be accessed directly by using the IP address. So nothing changes and people who pirate movies will still be able to do so.
Yet, it seems that the supporters of the act in congress don’t seem to care. Its detractors have tried to point out that it is flawed and that they need to get professionals in to even explain what the act will and won’t do. But the supporters want to go ahead. The main reason behind the postponement of the vote seems to be due to the fact that the act is horrendously vague. It could very easily give a lot of power to movie studies and big businesses to lock out smaller businesses and smaller online companies who appear to infringe upon their copyrights and creative intellect. Gone will be the days of the internet entrepreneur. Gone will be fan fiction and unofficial modifications. Maybe writers get started writing online fan fiction these days (though personally, I’ve never done it) and a lot of PC gaming franchises have dedicated players who work to make their games more interesting with unlicensed modifications. Franchises ranging from The Sims to the Elder Scrolls series have entire communities who produced modifications for the games. But the games are still bought, the players still fans and money still goes into the pockets of the developers.
Honestly, I’m still not even convinced that piracy has much effect on profits. Torrentfreak recently constructed a list of the ten most pirated movies, based on Netflix’s list of the top ten films of all time. At the top of that list was Avatar, which has been downloaded, through BitTorrent alone, twenty one million times. Considering that Avatar grossed a total of $2,782,275,172 worldwide. I think when you make that much profit off one film you lose any right to complain that online piracy is affecting film sales. Other films on that list include The Dark Knight, Inception and Transformers. These are not low budget films made by independent studios that are dependent on the money to fund their next venture. These are huge companies with massive budgets, and are only dependent on sales to decide whether a sequel would be economically recommendable. But all of these films, aside from Inception and Avatar which were never intended as anything but one offs, have spawned sequels. So what is the downside of internet piracy to the film business? What harm is it actually doing?
Of course, the harm is arbitrary. Internet piracy is theft at the end of the day, whether I think that it really affects film sales or not. The point where seems to become ridiculous is when American authorities begin to raid Australian homes and demand the extradition of British teenagers. Taking down Megaupload and arresting its owner, Kim Dotcom, seems like a terrible idea. First of all, if Megaupload was responsible for any internet piracy then it’s a policy problem. I wouldn’t be concerned if American authorities were simply demanding that foreign sites tightened up their piracy policies. But many people were using Megaupload reasonably and responsibly to upload music, pictures or videos that were legally theirs, to be sent via the internet. Apparently now though, it’s a crime to send a song that you yourself wrote to someone else, if the file size is too big to fit in an email.
Perhaps even more ridiculous is the case of Richard O’Dwyer. American authorities recently tried to extradite him so that he could have his trial in the U.S. and a British judge ruled that he should face his copyright infringement allegations in American. O’ Dwyer has the right to appeal. The Judge explicitly stated that the offences were illegal under both U.S. and U.K. law. So why not try him in a U.K. court if he has made any offence to U.K. law? It seems silly that teenagers in a foreign country are being prosecuted by America when their own laws prohibit their actions.
Overall, it doesn’t seem like online piracy is in any threat of going away but on the flip side, it also seems as though a lot of American authorities are dedicated to squashing out whatever piracy that they can. It’s a war between American and the internet. But the internet is ever expanding and there are many dedicated people out there who will create ways to get around any bans and blocks that the American government might think to impose upon it. I fully expect someone in Hollywood to make a film about this war. And it will be the most pirated film of 2012.