Why I hope there’s a SOPA v2

The purpose of having a blog, as we all know, is to complain about stuff in an acerbic fashion without proposing solutions. Today, we’re going to talk about SOPA.

SOPA, as we all know, is a bill going through the the House of Representatives in the United States right now. It is intended to stop online plagiarism of intellectual property of various sorts, and proposes implementing this by allowing the police to delete Wikipedia,  shoot internet service providers on sight, and detain potential suspects without trial indefinitely. No, wait, that was something else. Well, you get the general idea. It’s not a very well thought-through bill and I hope it fails.

SOPA inspires me to become grumpy about two things. Firstly, I’ve heard several times that this bill is being forced through by the film industry, who are incapable of waking up to a reality of digital distribution. And, of course, Viacom, Warner Brothers et cetera are all supporters of SOPA. It’s certainly true that these companies stand to make money if SOPA passes. But the list of companies that oppose SOPA isn’t a list of companies that have the best interests of the glorious internet close to their cute little altruistic hearts. It’s just an equivalent list of organisations that will lose money if this passes. It’s the companies who’ll have to spend a ton of money vetting user content, screening their output and adding infrastructure for reporting and monitoring. Facebook, Microsoft, Google, et al. The fact that some of these companies had the muscle to black out a chunk of the internet on January 18th is something of a confusing message, but I think we should disregard the corporate sponsors on either side and think about the bill itself.

The second thing I’m grumpy about is the fact that there’s far too much online piracy, and the death of this bill will probably mean the continuation of that. People justify ripping off films, music and software because they’re just taking it from a big company and they’re all bastards anyway. And I can see why that justification is socially acceptable most of the time. But this rampant stealing from “the man” has left people my age with a similar disdain for intellectual property rights in general. How many of us have needed a picture of two rabbits having sex for a work presentation, Googled “rabbits having sex“, taken the first image and stuck it in the presentation? Sure, it probably belonged to someone and they had some blah on their site about attribution but it’s only a presentation and, hey, they put it on the internet for heaven’s sake, what do they expect? My generation is habitually stealing this sort of content with only the merest hint of shame.

What I only really realised this week is that people younger than me are doing this with no idea that it could actually be wrong.

My friend Doug takes pretty nice photos. He doesn’t do it professionally, and he states on his web page that you can use his photos for noncommercial purposes as long as you give attribution, and should contact him for commercial use. He’s a nice sort of a chap. I suspect his total income from this has been less than the price of a nice lens. Doug doesn’t go off looking for stolen copies of his photos, but he’s a good enough photographer that he or his fans regularly just come across them.

Imma boop your intellectual property rights
 Doug’s most stolen photograph is probably this one. It was turned into this by a gentleman, who unashamedly added a copyright message for himself and then posted it all over the internet. This week it was posted on one of those “funny thing every day” Facebook pages – Doug spotted it, and pointed out that it was his stolen picture. The usual mixture of YouTube-style comments (from both sides) followed, but what really struck me was a comment from the original poster who was incredulous that someone could be so “up-tight” about “A FUNNY PICTURE POSTED ON THE INTERNET”. This hit a raw nerve for me – I was kind of okay with us having a society that ripped off each other’s internet content the whole time, but we’re breeding a society that has no awareness that this is even wrong.

Ten years ago or so, I used to occasionally search for plagiarised versions of my own web site. I’d send them an email asking them to link to my actual site as well, and they’d normally reply saying they were happy to. I thought I’d have another look today, so I searched for a reasonably distinctive phrase which appears in my definition of “bollocks”. Rather disappointingly, my own site is the third result after copy-pasted versions on The Urban Dictionary and DictionarySlang.com. Other highlights were a Facebook page which seems to consist of nothing other than unattributed chunks of my book, several copy-pastes of swathes of my site content and the rather glorious version of my entire paper book that the Chinese search engine Baidu has, complete with a handy reader app, some colour added and “Mr_doody2004@yahoo.com” carefully written in the footer. Sorry to disappoint, ladies, but this is not my email address.


Shall I mail all these people asking them to attribute me? Probably not, because there’s every chance these days that these are people who are genuinely unaware of such a thing as copyright (well, except for Baidu). If I did this now I’d probably get incredulous replies wondering why on earth I’d try to shut down funny stuff posted on the internet.

People ripping off Doug’s photos and my book doesn’t really make a difference to the world.   Although we both make a little money from our enterprises, we’re not trying to make an income and we’d both still do it if there was no money at all. But what about my sister, Joanna, who is trying to start a career as a professional photographer? What about my friend Nick, who makes a living writing online Excel training?

As I mentioned towards the beginning, I have no solution to this problem. Maybe it’s not SOPA, but we need something to teach our kids that going to a web site and hitting Ctrl-C is the same as going to the library, selecting a book, taking it home and starting typing from it verbatim.

7 thoughts on “Why I hope there’s a SOPA v2”

  1. It’s called the OPEN act, it’s nothing like SOPA, and it cuts off profits from thieves the best way possible – by making it illegal for the money-changing corporations who also profit off of piracy to transfer money to the pirates in the first place.

    Continuing to target free speech by imposing ANY form of censorship will continue to result in a militant struggle against the censors. The 1st amendment is sacred – it is a right worth fighting and even dieing for.

  2. Re your British quiz, as a brit, the answer to question 9 is wrong, mate (a quaint British word, technically denoting friendship, but when you don’t know the person, it’s mock aggressive). It very much depends on age. Young people in school are now taught metric distances and weights and other measures, and we use short metric distances in sports: for sure in track and field, and also in rugby union (the 15-a-side version, and the US does have a team that competes internationally, and actually got to the last Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in November 2011). However, oldsters like me (67) still think in miles, yards and feet, not miles and metres – especially when I’m not watching my beloved rugby.

    So a remarking is in order!

  3. I don’t understand what you’re arguing for, and to what end? Do you feel that every image shared online should be accompanied by the original creator’s tag or that profits made from sharing the image be passed down the line – however far from the source – to the creator? What would that serve, and who would enforce it internationally? Sometimes the easiest method is the best method, and sharing without the need for these rigid structures of recognition or remuneration is precisely why the internet has flourished. I hope you realise that these same traits afforded you with the ability to publish without the red tape associated with true journalism.

    Then again, if you’re simply arguing for posterity through recognition for your photographer friend, then you don’t understand this new media paradigm at all, or what SOPA truly means.

  4. Hi all – thanks for reading my post. As I was asked a couple of direct questions, I shall respond!

    @Brian: You’re quite right that thinking in metres/feet is a generational thing. I’m actually also a Brit (although I live in the US now), and I’m one of that generation that think in metres first (although these days I’ve been doing a fair bit of home renovation in the US and find myself thinking in feet). However… the question is about what’s written on road signs, rather than what people think. So you can’t have your remarking. 🙂

    @dmonsters: I did say I wasn’t proposing any solutions, but I’m sorry I didn’t explain the problem very well either. Rereading my post, I don’t think I can make it any clearer for you so it’s entirely possible that I don’t understand the new media paradigm. The fact that I turned a web site into a book certainly supports that idea…

  5. Thibaut, they’re all from Wikimedia Creative Commons, but it’s a nice try and I’m sure you could easily catch me on some other “oops”. I don’t believe that the law should put people in prison for stealing one JPEG any more than it should put them in prison for stealing a Cadbury’s Creme Egg – however, I think there’s a place for a law that dissuades people from this sort of behaviour.

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