What's Really Wrong with SOPA and PIPA?

What’s Really Wrong with SOPA and PIPA?
by Sue Basko, esq.

What’s really wrong with SOPA and PIPA or any laws that propose to broaden punishment for small time individual users for online copyright infringement is that people do not understand Copyright law. Also, online users expect anything that is available or usable to be free.

During the recent SOPA/ PIPA drama, it became apparent that many peoples’ relationship to copyright law is like the ancients’ relationship to science: They do not understand it, and so they fear it, make up strange theories about it, demonize it, and go on witchhunts about it. I would not be surprised to see people wearing amulets to ward off the Copyright Monster.

Copyright law is so complex. Even many of those online users who seem to want to follow Copyright law appear clueless.

Let’s take youtube, for example. I often see videos that use others’ copyrighted songs (intellectual property), recordings, or film or video footage. Often, the youtube user will post some sort of disclaimer, such as: “No Copyright Intended.” They are clueless that copyright is about COPYING, not about their intention to claim the work as their own – although that is a more obscure form of copyright infringement.

I work with independent songwriters, musicians, studios, and little record labels. These are people in the music industry. Most of them seem to have only the slightest grasp on Copyright law.

When Copyright law was established, it was much more difficult for everyday people to violate it. Photocopy machines did not exist. The internet did not exist. Home computers did not exist. All of the digital means of copying and distributing songs, photos, videos, and written works that are now at the disposal of any 8 year old were not yet invented.

Not too long ago, making copies of a work was an expensive enterprise, and one for which a lawyer would be consulted. Not very long ago, to make a copy of a recording, one had to own the “master,” which was a big deal. The master was an expensive mold from which more identical records could be pressed. Old timey record label and recording studio contracts still talk about the master, as if a digital file could not be replicated a thousand generations with no quality loss.

Most of the Copyright laws have quite a bit of catching up to do so they comport with reality. I think most people want to reward songwriters, photographers, filmmakers, and writers. They also want to instantly share their works at no cost. Therein lies the quandary.

What’s the solution? I do not know, but whatever it is, it must be very simple and very user-friendly.

One of my favorite companies, Rights Flow, has made it easy to file for copyright on creative works. Under Limelight, they have also made it easy to obtain a compulsory license to record a cover song. This is the wave of the future.

It is fair for creative content creators to be able to earn money from their work. How to do so? Some say to offer a selection online for free and then offer premium items for sale. These are the musicians offering a few songs for free, in hope people will buy their other downloads or CDs. These are also photographers and graphic artists, sharing their photos and pictures freely online, but selling high quality prints. These are the bloggers, hoping that allowing readers to read their writing for free online will entice them to purchase books – either ebooks or the ones made of paper.

The least workable solution, in my opinion, is to go backwards in time. Today, violating copyright law is easy and quick and inexpensive (or free) and usually fun, so it becomes important to find solutions where following copyright law is also easy and quick and inexpensive (or free) and at least somewhat fun. User friendly is the key.