In recent weeks, the Internet has been up in arms about the proposed SOPA/PIPA legislation. Many people see these measures as incredibly powerful and therefore dangerous to businesses and individuals online. While most people will agree it’s worth protecting the income of artists, history shows that the entertainment industry is somewhat overzealous with their accusations of copyright infringement. So the thought of giving these companies more power without ensuring adequate checks are in place to ensure they don’t abuse their power is chilling.
The entertainment industry giants already have too much power. They have used copyright infringement accusations to destroy the livelihoods and businesses of both innocent and guilty parties, yet instead of minimising the damage to innocent parties many governments are indulging the entertainment industry and affording them even more power. Why would they do this? Well, because the entertainment giants are powerful government lobbyists. Why is it a problem? Well, let’s see what they do with their current powers, shall we?
Blanket Copyright Infringement Accusations
Recently, a few YouTube videos I uploaded were marked as infringing somebody’s copyright. These were private videos of kids singing traditional Christmas carols and were obviously caught in an automatic blanket accusation against anyone daring to upload something with the same name as something one of their artists performed. I can appeal, however YouTube strongly suggests that people don’t do that as their account will be penalised if the appeal fails (what, my Gmail/Google Docs/Google Calendar account?). It’s a pretty strong incentive to let these guys get away with their blanket copyright accusations.
I know YouTube is doing its best to compensate artists and avoid litigation, but I feel the industry is abusing that power and will continue to do so since they’re financially compensated for it. Note, this happens in offline royalty collection too. Essentially, it’s a scam or a form of copyright trolling. Sometimes they seem to be claiming copyright infringements simply in order to be a nuisance (and they think they’re untouchable).
Turning ISPs & Content Hosts Into Copyright Cops
In the entertainment industry’s ideal world, every business in the chain of content creation and delivery would be protecting the entertainment industry’s interests and be liable themselves if they didn’t comply. This is not a feasible demand, since any attempt at complying would mean these businesses would need to impose blanket measures such as YouTube’s and inconvenience many of their non-infringing customers in the process.
It would also never be 100% effective, leaving the content hosts and ISPs falling foul of their supposed responsibilities. And who is to say the entertainment industry’s rights are more important than those of the content hosts, ISPs and law-abiding customers of those services?
However, regardless of whether laws enforcing further copyright protection come into effect, the entertainment industry already exerts pressure on content hosts and providers via litigation.
Limiting Purchases Regionally & Rights Of Consumers With DRM
Entertainment providers routinely impose regional purchasing restrictions and DRM (Digital Rights Management) controls on products in an attempt to protect their own interests, even if it renders that product unusable or un-purchasable for the customer. Computer games, digital music and videos are all frequently affected by DRM (including DVD region encoding), while many digital downloads are simply unavailable to consumers due to their location.
Customers expect that once an item has been purchased it should be possible to use that item in everyday, fair-use situations. However, this is often not the case and it causes great consumer frustration. Gamers are unable to play certain games unless they’re online, while iTunes movies downloaded to laptops are not able to be played using a larger monitor. Some people begin to wonder why they bother paying for things they can’t use. Libraries are finding it tough to lend digital books legally.
Changing The Laws
Persistent lobbying from the entertainment industry giants has resulted in criminalisation of digital downloading of copyrighted material (and prosecuting people for offences despite knowing how easy it is for the wrong person to be seen as infringing), copyright extensions (preventing works reaching the public domain and becoming available for adaptations into new art) and strong-arming other governments, thereby imposing strict copyright laws in other countries.
Recently, the US has also taken to extraditing people who are believed to have committed no crime in their own country in the name of copyright protection for the entertainment industry.
What About The Little Guys?
Sadly, independent artists are rarely and poorly compensated via large representative bodies. Nor is proposed legislation likely to gain them any real advantage to protect their own material. Quite frankly, most countries haven’t developed a workable copyright protection model to protect the rights of the little guys. France, for instance, taxes writable media like CDs and DVDs, yet the proceeds just go to the big names of the entertainment industry. In the end, individual artists still need to look out for themselves and develop better business models for the digital age.
The entertainment industry giants have a lot of power and they routinely seek more in order to protect their own interests. They also have no qualms in blocking other people’s interests on the off-chance their own were compromised. I don’t want to give them any more power. Do you? Let us know what you think in the comments.
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