Parts of the internet will go black tomorrow. From Wikipedia and Reddit to the Cheezburger network and Major League Gaming, numerous highly-trafficked web properties say they’ll shut down to protest the SOPA legislation that would make the internet far less free in the name of fighting piracy.
Even Google is going to be making a statement using its homepage.
The blackouts are going on despite the fact that SOPA is effectively dead — for the time being.
Facing increasingly visible criticism and anger over SOPA’s heavy-handed approach to protecting Big Content, it became more and more difficult for members of Congress to stand by the legislation.
Clearly recognizing how unpopular SOPA was, U.S. President Barack Obama finally came out and said he would not support it.
SOPA was flawed in a seemingly countless number of ways. Perhaps most fundamentally, it was based on the flawed premise that piracy is a problem that is so big it requires a significant restructuring of the internet as we know it.
As Tim O’Reilly observed, “There’s no question in my mind that piracy exists, that people around the world are enjoying creative content without paying for it, and even that some criminals are profiting by redistributing it. But is there actual economic harm?“
He goes on:
In my experience at O’Reilly, the losses due to piracy are far outweighed by the benefits of the free flow of information, which makes the world richer, and develops new markets for legitimate content.
Most of the people who are downloading unauthorized copies of O’Reilly books would never have paid us for them anyway; meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of others are buying content from us, many of them in countries that we were never able to do business with when our products were not available in digital form.
Julian Sanchez adds a broader perspective in a must-read piece, explaining in some detail why the numbers Big Content throws around regarding the economic costs of piracy cannot be legitimate by any stretch of the imagination.
These numbers are, for lack of a better word, completely “bogus”.
Of course, none of this means that piracy should be ignored. Intellectual property is important, and it’s in our interest to have an honest discussion about IP rights.
But tearing down the internet, treating all individuals as presumptive criminals and turning government into the police force for Hollywood is not the way to protect intellectual property. Fortunately, with SOPA shelved, we can all breathe a sign of relief.
The big question now: for how long?
Big Content is not going to back down, and government bureaucrats aren’t going to abandon their lust for more power. Greater regulation of the internet is something both groups will push for, even if it doesn’t come in the form of SOPA.
Knowing this, tomorrow’s blackouts are a good thing. They serve as a reminder that there’s still a war here, even if one battle has been won.
Unfortunately, future battles may not be so easy. Ironically, the biggest challenge to winning these battles may prove to be the tech community itself. That’s because while it has done an admirable job fighting SOPA, prominent members of it are at the same time calling for more government regulation.
Google integrating its own social network into the SERPs? We can’t have that! Letting the private companies which build the infrastructure of the internet decide how to manage that infrastructure? We need network neutrality laws to stop that!
Of course, we don’t.
If the tech community doesn’t stop inviting government to effectively police the internet, and beg it to grant itself the legal powers to do so, there probably won’t be another SOPA to protest.
Instead, those who want to restrict the internet and control the free flow of information will do so by crafting insidious legislation some of SOPA’s biggest opponents support.