Policing Internet Piracy: The Economist

Nov 25th, 2011 Legislation

On Nov. 25th, 2011, the Economist put out two articles on the controversy surrounding SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and the Protect IP Act.  The first article, titled Accessories after the fact, weighed the pros and cons of the legislation.  To begin, the article argued that online piracy deprives artists and businesses of revenue, previous attempts to stop online piracy have largely failed, and entertainment firms could change their business model to reduce piracy's effects.  The article also explained that SOPA differs from past attempts to shut down individual pirate sites in that SOPA allows content companies to target search engines and ISPs, thereby depriving pirate sites of revenue and traffic.

The author believes that for all the bad press, SOPA has a few good points.  Specifically, SOPA gives content companies a legal remedy against piracy, puts the burden of enforcement on those content companies (rather than the government), and encourages search engines to promote legitimate online music services.

On the other hand, SOPA has its cons: content companies could target innocent sites that "unwittingly carry comments linking to pirated material", SOPA might deter small tech startups, and the legislation loosely defines what is an "infringement."  Most importantly, SOPA could damage the internet's internal addressing system and mess with DNSSEC, ultimately raising cybersecurity concerns.

In conclusion, the author argues that SOPA could be improved by narrowly defining the type of websites that ISPs/search engines can block and "removing the requirement that ISPs put filters in place . . ."

The Economist source article can be found here.


The second article, titled Rights and wronged, elaborates on some of the points made in Accessories after the fact.  Here, the author notes that the open nature of the internet (a pirate in one country downloads content from another country, which he found on a server that is hosted in a third country) has brought us to SOPA; essentially, squeezing intermediaries (ISPs/search engines) to stop traffic is a lot easier than playing whack-a-mole with pirate sites.  This approach may be more effective, but the article notes that SOPA "smacks of censorship" and "determined downloaders will anyway find the block easy to bypass." 

The article went on to compare SOPA to other international anti-piracy laws in South Korea and Spain, and in so doing, highlighted the unreliability of such laws.  Anti-piracy laws were quite effective in South Korea, where most people stopped illegally downloading after their first warning.  However, after Spain passed an anti-piracy law, music sales dropped while Spanish internet users visited pirate sites more often than other European internet users.  Indeed, even in the US, the Recording Industry Association of America's anti-piracy lawsuit binge brought only a temporary decline in piracy.  The big point?  The deterrent effect of anti-piracy laws fade over time, and as the Social Science Research Council noted, there is  “little evidence—and indeed few claims—that enforcement efforts to date have had any impact whatsoever on the overall supply [of pirated media].”

According to the article, the real issue with SOPA comes down to "how content should be distributed and paid for."  On one side of the debate, you have the film studios, music labels, and drug firms that support SOPA and want to slow the development of new content distribution systems.  On the other side, you have "internet companies, technology investors and digital activists" who oppose SOPA and want to see new content distriubtion systems like "cheaper pricing in poor countries, more use of on-demand digital services, less exclusivity in distribution, and ultimately, less reliance on selling albums and DVDs."

The Economist source article can be found here.


Well, while we're on the subject, Forbes reported on how users of the social news and community site Reddit are attempting to resist SOPA by "building a mesh-based version of the Internet that wouldn’t be subject to the control of any corporation or government, with a focus on anonymity, peer-to-peer architecture and strong resistance to censorship."  They probably won't be successful, but just goes to show how unhappy people are. 

I KNEW that browsing Reddit would one day be constructive.

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