Friday, January 13, 2012

Is SOPA really a front for oligopoly by legacy media companies

So, about 10 days before Congress returns, where are we with SOPA?

I still have the general impression that very little of this is really about saving jobs, even though I am aware of all the reported problems (such as the supposedly illegal pre-releases of some pirated DVD’s before independent films come out). 

Perhaps it does come down to wondering if there is a way to draw a clear boundary between a "Pirate Bay" and a publishing or streaming service with partial overseas operations that has some customers who sometimes do illegal things. And what's illegal sometimes is a matter of controversy. 

More of it seems to be about the legacy media’s desire to regain its own old monopoly (actually oligopoly). 
The established companies would still love to see the barriers to entry raised, the practical legal risks to smaller players great enough (even if the risks are answered “on paper”) so that less media is released and there is less pressure to accommodate consumers who may otherwise buy only in microamounts.  It seems to be about power and control. 

In our system, you don’t have a right to cut out competitor innovation that makes it cheaper for someone else to produce your product.  You do have a right to be compensated for your own work. 

Part of the concept of control is that in a normal property rights system, the property owner can define the uses others can make of his property.  As William Patry argued in his recent book, in modern societies, that right is mediated somewhat by the common good.  As libertarians argue, sometimes the “common good” is just a canard for the interests of a competing political power.   True.

Copyright is tricky, because, in part, it does take away the owner of the “intellectual property” to define what is fair and “incidental” use in the work of others.   So “Fair Use” by definition reduces some “control”.  All creativity ultimately involves some copying.  All the great composers knew that.


Update: Jan. 21

Bill Maher actually supported SOPA, in this YouTube video, although he admitted to not having read the bill, and seemed oblivious to the "downstream liability" concerns with regard to user-generated content. Maher says that his own film "Religulous" (2008) was pirated heavily.

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