Jan 20 2012
I generally try to stay out of the political arena on the blog, mostly because politics is such a contentious topic in and of itself. And I’ve been staying away from SOPA in particular because there’s been so much coverage that one more voice added to the choir wouldn’t have done anything. The music and movie companies once again tried to introduce legislature that made pirating content a crime and gave the entertainment industry incredible power to police the internet and block any site they felt *might* link to copyrighted content. But we, the Internet, rose up in unison as major sites blacked themselves out in protest and support for the legislation is suddenly falling away as if the Stop Online Piracy Act might be toxic. Yay Us, we won and the bad entertainment industry was put in it’s place. War’s over and we can all go back to our daily lives. At least that’s what it seems like in a nutshell to me.
But it’s not over, not by a long shot. In an oddly coincidental case of good timing, yesterday the US Government took down the site Megaupload, a hugely popular file sharing site. Since this event probably took months of planning to set up, the timing probably was mostly accidental, though I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the date got accelerated a little in response to this week’s Internet blackout. And in response to that, the group Anonymous started a DDoS campaign¹ against the likes of the White House, the FBI, DoJ, MPAA, RIAA and a number of other sites using the LOIC tool. There are quite likely one or two other groups using some of the noise created by Anonymous in order to perform some slightly quieter attacks under cover. And according to my count, the move is now back to the Government, probably coming in the form of a kinder, gentler form of SOPA or additional site take downs.
The movie and music distribution engines only see the Internet as a method for taking money out of their pockets. The technorati see the Internet as a boon and the current distribution model used by the entertainment industry as antiquated and only serving the big studios, not the artists. There’s a certain amount of truth to both arguments, though I find myself far more in line with the thought that the entertainment industry has refuse to adapt as technology and societal norms have changed, so they have to pay the price. This is a lesson Kodak is learning the hard way. Now the real battle of finding out if we make the technology and society bow to laws that are counter to how we want to act or if we change the laws to be more in line with how people want to act in the first place.
The ethics of file-sharing aren’t really important to the folks backing legislation like SOPA, they’re defending a business model and nothing more. Therefore, they have to continue to push for this legislature in one form or another in order to gather more power to bolster a dying business model. They have no choice, other than completely reworking the way they do business, which is more risky than doing battle in the court systems. While the Internet may have risen up and smashed down the SOPA legislation today, it’s the long haul of trying to get the power clauses passed into law that the lawyers excel at. Expect to see several more forms of this Act come up for consideration and votes, later this year.
The interesting part will be see how the dynamics between the creation of laws and the Internet change over the coming year. Between blackouts in protest and DDoS in protest, it’s clear that a lot of attention can be drawn to an issue very quickly. But can it be sustained and will these forms of protest have any long term affect? Part of what led to the uproar against SOPA was the technical infeasibility (or possibly stupidity) of the act; what would happen if the backers of SOPA created something that was more reasonable and technically possible to combat piracy? Will the resistance fade if something more palatable comes along? I somehow doubt it, but more I doubt I’ll have a chance to find out, since a compromise like that isn’t even something I believe the entertainment industry could even conceive of. It’s more likely we’ll continue to have a chance to see the evolution of the Internet as a political force.
So the back and forth between content distributors and pirates will continue, with the ball now in the government’s court. There could be more take downs like Megaupload.com, the folks who supplied the thralls for LOIC could find FBI agents at their doorsteps, or there might be a lull while newer legislation is created. But the reality is that what we’ve seen in the last few weeks is just an early set of skirmishes on the battlefield. What the next step in the escalation is remains to be seen, on both sides.
¹I know where that graphic came from!