Note: If you’re just stumbling on to this post, both bills have been withdrawn at this time but keep reading. The points are still valid. An excellent wrap up of the issue is contained in this New York Times piece: It’s time to put down the pitchforks on SOPA.
The current controversy over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as U.S. House Bill 3261, is highly disturbing on several levels, and the actual bill might be the least of our worries, in the long-term.
I am against piracy, but I’m also against this bill. The proposal is so out of touch with reality that it is embarassing. It looks like the opposition is gaining momentum, so that is a relief.
But here is something that is just as disturbing to me. Many people I know became “Stop SOPA” lemmings.
Follow the leader?
Legend has it that a lemming is a little rodent that blindly and unquestioningly follows their leader, even when they follow them over a cliff to their death (they don’t actually do this but that is another story).
I questioned three well-known social media leaders about why they were supporting SOPA and actively encouraging their followers to attach a “Stop SOPA” badge to their profiles. Here is a summary of their responses:
“I’m not what you would call an expert on this. I haven’t even read the bill. I’m trusting what I read from others.”
“To be honest, I don’t know what is in the bill. But based on how people are reacting it must be bad.”
“I have not read the bill and I do not intend to read the bill. What is in the bill is irrelevant. They are taking away our rights.”
You see, on the social web, “Stop SOPA” is not a political issue, for many. “Stop SOPA” has become a meme. This movement was passed from person to person without much independent thought or an educated response. It has become the Keyboard Cat of political statements.
I fully appreciate the importance of “social proof” on the Internet. In the absence of direction, we may look to trusted others for an idea of what to do. But come on folks. This proposed legislation directly affects the very heart of our lives and our livelihoods. There is no excuse in encouraging action from your trusting followers without doing a little homework.
But what about the problem?
The third level of concern this proposed legislation created was the fact that everybody seems to be against SOPA but there has been little intelligent dialogue about the actual issue of stopping piracy. And stealing is “our right” is not a viable answer in my book. Please, take a strong stand … but also help provide some answers.
Here is the problem in a nutshell. I just spent nearly a year of my life writing a book. If there is no hope of getting paid for the difficult work and sacrifice that goes into creating content like this in the future, I will never write another book. And so on.
When you steal content, you’re not beating a greedy corporation. You’re not sticking it to “the man.” You’re sticking it to me, and millions of other writers, filmmakers, musicians, software developers, and other hard-working content creators.
Some claim that alternative monetization models will emerge to allow people to continue to create and prosper in spite of what seems like unstoppable piracy. But we have been stealing legally-protected content for 20 years now. If an easy monetization alternative were available, wouldn’t it have emerged by now? It hasn’t, and it won’t. And yes, I’ve read the book Free by Chris Anderson and still believe there is probably no answer to widespread content theft other than some sort of legislation. We need to come to terms with that fact and be part of the solution.
OK, that is enough of the rant. This time it was SOPA. But the next time we “go lemming,” will it be something even more important? And at what cost? I was really disturbed by the herd mentality I witnessed. What about you?