There has been a tremendous amount of press in recent weeks regarding PIPA and SOPA and how detrimental these pieces of legislation would be to the online liberties we currently enjoy. I could not agree more with this assessment but it took some digging to find resources that helped me understand why this is the case. I stumbled on a video recording of a recent TED presentation by Clay Shirky on the subject which framed things up perfectly for me so I decided to share. The video uses a true story as an analog involving a bakery who was forced to stop allowing customers to use their own images for their children’s birthday cake designs. They were forced to stop because some of the cake designs that parents would come up with contained images of their child’s favorite cartoon character that occasionally looked too much like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.
Because the cost of ensuring that no such “infringement” took place far exceeded the profitability of the product, the bakery just stopped production. The copyright owners were able to hold the bakery (not the parents) accountable for any infringement instead of going after the consumers. It would not be effective or popular for the media companies to sue individuals but going after the bakery that enabled the consumer to “violate” their copyright proved very effective. The same strategy is being employed with PIPA and SOPA. Even if the monthly cost were as low as one penny per user to ensure that no infringement is taking place on social platforms, it would cost companies like Facebook $96,000,000 per year to do so. Obviously this would change drastically what you are allowed to do on Facebook and make it a less rewarding experience. The video is about 13 minutes long and frames things up very nicely.
I won’t go as far as saying that media companies are evil but I will say firmly that the industry has very little respect for your personal liberties when they are in the way of their agenda. Further, we better pay darn close attention to every move they make or we may find ourselves unable to share pictures of our children with our friends because making sure we’re not stealing is too expensive.