SOPA Dead For Now, Lessons Abound

I had a college professor once say, “Don’t get mad, get better.” This turn of phrase applies to more than meets the eye.

It’s often been said by libertarians like myself that the only way to fight bad speech is with more speech. In other words, you don’t try and stop people from speaking, you simply make a better argument rendering their bad speech impotent.

The same is true with technology. A bill in Congress getting a lot of ink is SOPA which stands for “Stop Online Piracy Act.” As with most if not all Congressional bills, the name is as such that you couldn’t possibly disagree with the wording. They should really just add “And Feed Starving Children” to the end of every bill thus rendering any vote against it a crime against humanity.

Regardless, the SOPA bill is, surprise surprise, not what it’s cracked up to be. It’s intent (they say) is to have Google and other online search sites stop linking to file-sharing sites and require ISPs to block these sites. Obviously this is something that Hollywood and the music industry are pushing, but opponents say this goes against what has been a free and open Internet and requires too much policing by the ISPs and search engines. There’s also the fact that if given this power it’s just a gateway to more power for the government.

One of Steve Jobs’ first inventions was a device that would trick phone lines into giving you free long distance. What happened after that? The phone companies developed new technology to work around such devices. In other words, they didn’t get mad, they got better. (Well, they did get mad actually, but they also got better and the delicate dance between hacking and innovation continues.)

The same can be said here. Instead of trying to stifle the free flow of the Internet, the movie and music companies need to find ways to make the current technological situation work for them. An example of this was recently showcased by, of all people, comedian Louis C.K.:

Days after comedian Louis C.K. launched his content and distribution experiment, the results are in, and it appears that he may have inadvertently kicked off a new era of celebrity-controlled Internet content.

On Dec. 10, C.K. offered his one-hour “Live at the Beacon Theater” show for streaming or download for $5, free of any digital rights management (DRM). The move received a lot of attention via traditional and social media, but the main question on every one’s mind was: How will a show delivered directly from a niche comedian do when offered without the marketing muscle and distribution controls of a major company like HBO or Comedy Central?

According to data posted on C.K.’s Web site, the experiment pulled in a $200,000 profit.

This is the future. While the big entertainment companies are certainly within their rights to try and stop piracy of their intellectual property, running to the government isn’t the solution. If you make your product inexpensive and easily accessible then online pirates will be banished to Davy Jones’ Locker.

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