The internet is in crisis. Wikipedia closed their doors to visitors last Wednesday, in protest at SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and in an almost perfectly-timed, plot-twist-shocker, the US Authorities pulled the plug on file-sharing hub MegaUpload. We are now amidst a full-on war between the US Government and web hackers Anonymous, who have retaliated in the way that only they know best: by co-ordinating some takedowns of their own.
SOPA is a US House Bill which aims to prevent the trafficking of copyrighted content. Infringing websites would be blacklisted and blocked by ISPs (Internet Service Providers). It seems pretty transparent on paper. But dig deeper, and it becomes clear that the bill would criminalise user-generated content streamed without permission - YouTube could effectively become dormant if the Bill was passed.
An internet censorship infrastructure was introduced in Denmark in 2004 to combat child pornography. However, in 2006, the Danish authorities used the infrastructure to shut down music sharing sites The Pirate Bay and allofmp3.com. Both websites were not allowed to defend their position in court. The censorship has also been extended to gambling and medicine.
One Danish national posted on techdirt.com, "...Our internet censorship started a few years ago with a very limited purpose and good intentions. And it was solemnly promised that nothing else than child pornography would be censored. But once the infrastructure for censorship was in place, the censorship started spreading to other areas."
Could the USA follow their Dutch counterparts and use SOPA as a means of censorship? Apply the Denmark scenario to the US and it becomes a frightening prospect. It generates images similar to those of extreme government censorship in China. Surely there is a better solution to piracy which is bound to result in less creative bloodshed than SOPA? Politicians need to sit down with industry bigwigs and ask: why do people pirate content? By identifying the root of the problem, they can then progress to tailoring a solution which works for everyone.
Contrary to popular belief, piracy was a problem long before the Internet came along. The 60's had Radio Caroline. The 80's and 90's saw Del-Boy types at car boot sales up and down the country selling pirate films on VHS. The Oasis CD you taped for your friend in 1997? That was piracy.
Take a look around you. You will know at least one person who has illegally downloaded content at some point. I've questioned the motives of some of my friends who freely admit to pirating, and the resounding answer is that their income restricts them from purchasing a CD or film legally. Now (shamelessly lifted from the 1990's precursor to all films): you wouldn't steal a CD or DVD from a shop if you were broke, so why would you steal it online?
The old saying goes, 'it's not worth the paper it's printed on'. A lot of chart music is run-of-the-mill - same beats, same producer, same sound. The same applies to films. It's a viable theory to defend piracy; consumers don't believe the content they want is worth paying a shelf price for, therefore, they go where they can get it for free.
Of course, it's a two-way thing. I've met many unsigned musicians who are resigned to trying to write a number 1 song because writing good quality music just isn't financially rewarding. If musicians earned more for the fruits of their labour, would they be compelled to spend more time making an album of good song-writing and production quality?
One solution? Focus on streaming sites, such as Spotify and NetFlix. Cloud computing is growing in popularity, and so technology is developing with this in mind. The majority of consumers now want access to content rather than owning it outright. Cut a better deal for the musicians and actors whose music and films are played via these mediums. Here's a stark figure: for a working musician to earn an basic living salary of £1000 per month, they must have their music streamed 4m times on Spotify. Musicians are provding the backbone for Spotify, so why are they getting such a poor deal? A bigger investment would result in a bigger return for all concerned.
Paying £9.99 a month for a Spotify Premium subscription has curbed my piracy altogether, and no doubt I speak for many other reformed pirates, too. A subscription the same price as a CD and rather than playing Russian Roulette with a potentially virus-ridden music file, I have millions of high-quality tracks at my fingertips. It's a no brainer, and as a result, I am no longer facing a walk down the plank.
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