The entertainment industry is concerned about illegal online piracy, and they’ve got the ear of Congress. The result is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and The Protect IP Act in the Senate. Everyone agrees that stealing is wrong, but critics allege that Internet censorship and freedom of information are at stake if SOPA is enacted as written. Who’s right?

The Stop Online Piracy Debate 3 January,2012forum

Fred von Lohmann, senior copyright counsel for Google
Rick Cotton, executive vice president and general counsel of NBC Universal and chairman of the Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy (CACP)
Ellen Seidler, Bay Area filmmaker
Darrell Issa, U.S. congressman (R) representing California's 49th District and an original co-sponsor of the Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (the OPEN Act), introduced as an alternative to SOPA

  • Charlotte from Berkeley

    Besides wondering what is not already covered by existing law, I’m hugely concerned about the potential for abuse of process.  I know of many incidents where individuals or organizations have filed false or misleading DMCA reports in order to try to silence online opponents.  One person I know filed a DMCA takedown when her own mugshot (which she obviously does not hold copyright to) got published in a blog.  This tactic is encouraged in online “hate groups”.  I have also heard reports of its being used against legitimate competition.  

  • Bob Fry

    “Stealing is wrong.” Except when it’s legal stealing by Wall Street and bankers. Our entire economy is based on taking something from many and giving to the few.  I’ll take IP and DRM seriously when Wall Street crooks are prosecuted for their very real crimes. Until then, it’s just the 1% selectively whining about theft.

  • Steve

    Let’s be honest here. The bill is over-reaching, and there is VAST potential for abuse by the industries who seek to protect their property. Should piracy be allowed to exist? Of course not. should we give up freedoms to enforce that? The day that we do, we give up part of America. You NEVER take freedoms away form the people to enforce the laws.

  • Livegreen

    IP Piracy affects any business that involved art and artwork. Textiles, wrapping paper, scrap booking, any textile with a pattern on it, gift cards, etc. etc.

    Besides the businesses that make these piracy kills the jobs of the artists that make them, employed in company studios OR free lance artists.  From the U.S. to Indonesia to Africa, Chinese companies are knocking off designs and selling them on Alibaba and other websites.

    It is time for Online businesses to stop being selfish and to think they are above the law.  Real jobs are on the line…

  • James Ivey

    I’m an intellectual property attorney, though focused primarily on patents.  Originally, both patents and copyrights lasted for 14 years.  Remember, the purpose of intellectual property is to benefit society at large by benefiting inventors and artists in the short term. 

    After more than 200 years, patents last only 17 years, more or less, while copyrights last more than 100 years.  Why is that?  Because the vast majority of copyrights are held by a handful of very large corporations while large corporations spend much more time and effort defending against patents than asserting them.  Each time Steamboat Willie (Mickey Mouse) is about to fall into the public domain, Disney (and the RIAA and MPAA) descend upon Washington to ensure that copyrights never expire.

    Copyrights have been warped from a tool to enrich our culture to a subsidy for large, super wealthy corporations.  To a large degree, piracy is a public reaction to the over-compensation to super wealthy entities that don’t need it — not unlike the occupy movement.  I don’t mean to support such activity, but that’s the light in which copyright piracy should be viewed.

    • Vint

      James, your remarks are among the more cogent and relevant. Indeed, one looks at dismay at the grotesque expansion of copyrights in comparison with patents. Copyrights have become an entitlement for publishers and no longer produce the intended public domain benefit envisioned when the US Constitution was written. When things are this out of balance, something has to be done. 

  • Brianb

    This will reduce US competitiveness . Not enhance it. Foreign search engines will become the vehicle of choice as a user will not be able to trust us based sites
    Brian boschma

  • Bob Fry

    Anybody still remember the case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset…fined $80,000 per song for downloading 24 songs. $1.92 million for a few songs which theft didn’t hurt anybody. People get far less punishment for theft of physical property. Laws are designed to protect the wealthy and IP laws are a perfect example.

    • Joe

      I like the argument that everyone who downloads something along those lines was equal to a sale lost.  


  • AStevko

    Question – What protections to “fair use” and “due process” do the acts define or enact?

  • Joe

    I’d like to point out that piracy is not the same thing as theft.  Theft removes the item, piracy makes a duplicate of it.  While piracy is a close cousin to theft, calling it so is dishonest.

    Further, piracy is often an “easier” option than acquiring material legally.  It’s easier to search for a movie and download it illegally while risking viruses and such than to go to the website that owns that material to easily download a reasonably priced, high definition version.  

    Pirates are under-served customers.  Make it easier to buy your material than steal it and you will find success.  Some excellent examples are Steam with the digital distribution of computer games, and Amazon with ebooks.

    If I’m worried about my movie being pirated, I should put it on my website, available to download for a reasonable price, include both a high and low definition version, and offer all available subtitles.  Maybe you charge an extra premium for special features (deleted scenes, making of, etc.), but this is the future of media delivery.  

    It’s sad to see that movie studios didn’t get on this bandwagon years ago because the average consumer could be enjoying copious amounts of legal media and both buyer/seller would be happy.

    The MPAA is interested in keeping us using outdated technology while gouging us for the same old stories.  Instead of resisting change, they should be working with technology to help produce a better product to more people.  Again, pirates are under-served customers.

  • Ben Margolin

    +10 to Joe’s comment about theft != copyright infringement. Not legally, not common-sensically, just plain, it isn’t. Saying ‘theft’ is just a tactic used by these industries to try and paint a much more subtle concept, which copyright infringement is, with simplistic terms to attempt to get support for their flawed overreaching position.

  • Shaun

    Joshua made the best point on this subject so far.  The media companies have been EXTREMELY slow in evolving their business.  Instead of improving on their business, licensing, and distribution models, over the last decade, they’ve been suing people.  Even when a new company or group attempts to create a legitimate enterprise for playing music, movies, etc. they are often crushed under excessive fees and archaic licensing models.  Pandora has almost been put out of business a number of times since it was created because of slow to evolve licensing models.  Similarly, Netflix this year had a lot of trouble because of similar licensing expense, granted, they also made a number of bad business decisions.  
    Companies that are now doing well do exactly what Joshua said, they make the legitimate methods as or more convenient than the illegal alternative.  Spotify even made that very concept their marketing slogan.  When you can download / play content without having to worry about which of your devices you can actually play it on, how many of your own systems you can download it to, having to pay for it again if the data is lost, etc., and do it for free…it becomes an extremely attractive proposition that even extremely honest people will find hard to resist.

  • akacinna

    Nic from Sunnyvale here. I got cut off on the phone just now, but I’d like to receive my response off air as well.

  • Jonathanleeryan1

    Is it possible these regulations are attacks on sights like wikileaks? A way to suppress controversial journalism?

    • Joe

      Hah, I’m sure that will never happen.  A weak, vague bill passes through congress and then it’s used to oppress Joe Taxpayer.  No sir, not in the United States.

  • Ben Margolin

    Arrrgh, Rick Cotton, stop saying “it’s theft! it’s theft!” about piracy. It’s NOT theft, it’s copyright infringement. You’re a lawyer supposedly, so to keep repeating this makes you either incompetent or dishonest.

  • Son Dao

    Don’t confuse the piracy issue with the issue of saving American jobs. It is not like the media companies are using Americans to produce CD’s, DVD’s and other media.

  • Scott

    Part of the problem with access to copyrighted material is that it is difficult for an ordinary person get a license to access or use the copyrighted material because ownership is so fragmented.   Until iTunes gained licenses to the lion share of the content people wanted, napster was the only way to even get it. When an individual wants to have popular music in the background of their video and they don’t know who owns it, makes it hard to get permission.  Youtube will take their video down if they get a take down notice, but technologies like musicswap makes it easy for the video producer to get the license from an easy to use source that pays the owners without censorship.

    If we can just sieze the money pirate sites make and give it back to the artists and copyright owners, the artists and owners would  receive their payments and coonsumers would have greater access.

  • Joseph

    SOPA takes things too far. A great man once said ” Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. This is one of the ideals this nation was founded on, are we willing to give that up now?

  • They forgot one of Darrell Issa’s top qualifications for being on the program: US Congressman (R), co-sponsor of the Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade Act AND FORMER CAR THIEF.   I’ll grant that stealing physical goods such as cars is not the same as stealing virtual goods, where no one’s life or safety is at risk. 

  • max

    It’s never a suitable response, to give up rights and freedoms for the sake of prosperity or comfort.

    The proprietors of this property, who are the founders and creators of their industries, need to figure out how to adapt to new technologies, and find out how to survive in modern society, not prevent the evolution of society.

  • thisismyaccount

    Look up 
    Ellen Seidler’s film on IMDB it was almost universally panned. And ironically it is a bad, borrowed remake of Run Lola Run. Her assertion that piracy is what caused her movie to bomb financially is a BIG stretch. Yet one more example of Hollywood’s attempt at monopoly of media and paranoia about technology. 

  • Chad

    Great show, great job to Joshua for moderating a really intelligent debate on a complex topic.  Stop SOPA, stop censorship.  

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