A View from Christopher Mims
SOPA Proves: Hollywood Hates Your Freedom
Old-line media companies have taken a hostage in the battle against modernity: the Internet
To paraphrase our last president, Hollywood hates your freedom. There, I said it. Hollywood is the Al Qaeda of content. It clings to an antediluvian notion of how media should be created and distributed. The SOPA and PIPA acts – which Congress is continuing to consider, despite today’s mass protest against them – are its paternalistic, anti-Enlightenment attempt to suicide bomb the Internet’s ability to disrupt its pre-modern, rapidly deteriorating business model.
Maybe that sounds like crazy talk. But think about it: Hollywood would use SOPA to make it possible for anyone to single-handedly take down any site on the Internet, without the action of a court, just because anyone with access to that site (say, a commenter) used it to link to copyrighted content. What does Hollywood think? That if they win this level of power, the Internet will stop happening in the rest of the world?
That’s why today two of the smartest, most successful guys in America – Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google, blacked out the logo on the most iconic homepage on the Internet. But don’t take their word for it – dozens of other sites have followed suit.
If either SOPA or PIPA pass, it will be an AK-47 round through the chest of America’s capacity to stay ahead in practically the only industry we have left in which we have the slightest lead – the Internet, the web, information technology. If you’re cool with Hollywood blowing up the websites that are protesting SOPA/PIPA by blacking themselves out today – along with every other site on the web, more or less – then by all means, do nothing. Hollywood would like nothing better than for all of us to assent to its attempts to roll back the clock to physical media that can be locked down with custom hardware.
Hollywood has spent $95 million lobbying for this kind of legislation, according to the founder of Reddit, whose excellent primer on the subject, above, you should watch.
All that lobbying muscle means that the battle over Internet censorship, waged under the banner of ending piracy, isn’t going to go away. The Internet is a copying machine, and making money on it means making it easier to get your content legitimately rather than through piracy. I’ve got nothing against attempts to make piracy more difficult – content makers should be able to dictate the terms under which their efforts are used, as has always been the case under copyright law – but only as long as those strictures don’t harm the free exchange of information in every other form on the Internet.
Hollywood still has an awful lot of our money, and the ignorance of our Congress, as demonstrated in the video above, is vast. SOPA and PIPA, in other words, are the Internet’s version of the war on terror or the war on drugs. A new reality, a Forever War, which we’ll all be fighting for the rest of our lives – or at least until the end of the protection racket that modern copyright has become.
Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.Subscribe today