Could FlyerTalk be an unintended and indirect victim of the Stop Online Privacy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act — also known as SOPA and PIPA or PROTECTIP, respectively — which is proposed legislation aimed to protect copyrighted material and reduce theft of intellectual property via the Internet?
If music and media companies have it their way — quite possibly.
SOPA and PIPA resulted from the ongoing battle for years between music and media companies and those who pirate or steal their intellectual and creative property. These two bills would require companies to police their own Internet web sites and prevent access to Internet web sites where piracy of intellectual and creative property is suspected, prevent companies in the United States from placing advertising on them, and prohibit search engines from linking to them.
While the piracy of intellectual and creative property is indeed a serious multi-billion dollar problem which needs to be addressed, could these two bills be legislation overkill?
Members of the Wikipedia community believe so — to the point that an unprecedented 24-hour blackout of the English-language Wikipedia is scheduled for Wednesday, January 18. Internet web sites imgur and reddit intend to join in the blackout, and there are calls for such Internet companies as Google, Amazon and facebook to join the blackout as well.
Furthermore, the Obama administration has publicly expressed opposition to the legislation, even though — according to The Wall Street Journal — “lawmakers appeared to be on the verge of easily passing piracy legislation by a wide margin, but the prognosis for the measure is now uncertain.”
FlyerTalk is an Internet bulletin board where its members discuss miles, points and travel, and is therefore not a beneficiary of pirated material. However, what if a link to an Internet web site which may inadvertently promote pirated material is posted on FlyerTalk? Could the bills force Internet Brands — the company which owns FlyerTalk, an Internet web site that would be innocent of any purposeful wrongdoing — to significantly ramp up efforts to police all content posted on FlyerTalk by both its users and its advertisers? Worse, could these bills — if passed — force FlyerTalk to shut down altogether?
From what I have read — and I certainly do not pretend to be an expert by any means — I cannot help but compare this issue to the security response by the United States as a result of the terrorist attacks which occurred on September 11, 2001.
Please understand that I am not comparing Internet piracy to terrorist attacks by any means. Rather, I am comparing the response, which I find to be similar: an expensive means of overkill where the innocent are unfairly punished.
Think about it: there have been many complaints by FlyerTalk members of being guilty until proven innocent at security checkpoints at airports in the United States by going through imaging devices where their naked bodies are displayed to Transportation Security Administration personnel and by enduring invasive “pat-downs.” Should Internet companies suffer similar government intervention and enforcement by special agents simply because they are going about their businesses?
There have been people who stopped traveling by airplane as a result of the increased security measures. Will Internet companies endure significant increases in costs or be forced out of business due to increased security measures? If so, how will that affect technology and the people who benefit from it?
While I am against those who pirate music and media and profit from them by re-selling them or creating counterfeit copies and passing them off as legitimate and genuine, is this a case for corporate greed to protect traditional ways to profit in a world that is constantly changing rapidly? Could it be that perhaps they may need to change their business practices and paradigms?
Take the graphic arts and photography industries for example: at first, they benefited from technology with new tools that made it easier and faster to create graphic design and photography projects for professionals back in the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s when the industries experienced substantial growth. The problem was that the technology was so accessible and far more affordable that the graphic arts and photography industries have shrunk as a result. Companies have gone out of business or have merged together to stay alive. Kodak, for example, just recently prepared to filed for bankruptcy — a humbling act considering how powerful a company it was when the graphic arts and photography industries depended on companies such as Kodak for consumables such as film and chemicals, which today is no longer the case with the digital revolution. Should companies within these industries such as Kodak have lobbied politicians to create bills to prevent technology from infringing on the traditional ways in which they profited — or could they have created a new way of doing business, such as Apple did in the music industry with its iTunes software and iPhone and portable iPod digital music players?
While this is not necessarily comparing Apples to oranges — pun intended — piracy has occurred regarding creative property, as evidenced by this FlyerTalk discussion about stealing photographs…
…and — because that discussion exists — could that be an example of a violation of either of the two bills where that thread should be deleted from FlyerTalk even though the discussion is innocent and well-intended? Would FlyerTalk have to possibly shut down as a result?
I do not believe that “the sky is falling”, nor do I believe that FlyerTalk is in any danger of shutting down. However, this is one fight where the entire Internet as we know it today could be at stake, and both sides of the issue have powerful companies with deep pockets to fight hard until the bitter end. This major issue will not disappear anytime soon. However, if you are a FlyerTalk member, this legislation may be something on which you should keep yourself informed and up to date.
After all, I certainly do not want to see the Internet suffer similar security restrictions and “mission creep” already imposed upon the commercial aviation industry. I want sound and thoughtful legislation that directly addresses and confronts the issue of piracy without interfering with my freedom of expression or reducing the innovation and progress of companies which use the Internet to think “outside of the box” and benefit people in general.
Am I wrong here? What do you think? Is this much ado about nothing, or is the proposed legislation a real threat to the Internet?