I find your post an interesting one, but like most of Internet discourse surrounding the issue of SOPA, I find it imbalanced.
I’ll begin with a triviality – you have deliberately omitted the role of Facebook in the democratisation of information access. Quite why, one can only assume that you do not like the pivotal role it played in important events such as the recent Arab Spring, or that Mark Zuckerberg has not signed that statement. It is probably more likely that as you are a competitor of Facebook, you are rather more concerned with it continuing to outplay Google in the US display market. One would only hope that it is either of the latter two reasons, but nonetheless this is a flawed omission. As a person of high stature and responsibility, attempting to offer a balanced statement on freedom, I find it quite bizarre.
Secondly, I am intrigued by the attack on SOPA from the point of view of freedom of speech, when actually it might be more useful to approach this with regard to copyright (which SOPA apparently primarily seeks to tackle) and the problem of copyright that Google exacerbates.
I am from the UK. I cannot claim to have read the full details of SOPA from a legal standpoint. However, I feel I’ve found enough information to make a few points about the issues; it does seem like an unworkable plan that will have little practical application. I do not support the bill. I do not support your position either.
That information flow is a force for good I cannot disagree with. The rapidity of being able to access information at a fraction of its previous cost is something that will almost help humanity in the long term.
However, to the contrary, the freedom makes many industries, particularly creative ones, haemorrhage at a rate that cannot be seen as healthy. One of the clear reasons for this problem appears to be in Google services and social media. YouTube is a service so virulent with copyright that I can find almost any song that I listen to on any other service, and listen to it on repeated playback with no interruptions – and quite often at the sacrifice of quality.
The claim of course, is not to blame the technology, but to blame the uploader. Often times, it seems to be to blame the creator, or the legal distributor of that creator, for being old school, or not understanding that technology has moved on. In most of these cases, there will almost certainly be a claim to the degree that lawmakers simply have their head up their own asses.
While I enjoy this freedom myself, I notice that it hurts others. I work for a company whose revenue streams are quite dependent on the newsstand sale of consumer magazines. It is notable that the decline of large consumer titles is not only because of the free alternative of information on the Internet, but more likely, due to the virulent problem of piracy that eats into an industry. People have criticised the music industry for not understanding the technology and the democratisation of information. I fear people will only criticise the magazine industry for much the same reasons. However, I very much doubt many of those critics will have a particularly informed view of how these industries make money, and how free information flow, by in large, doesn’t.
If a photographer pictures a beautiful model, and sells that picture to a consumer magazine, they both earn a living. If these pictures are sold via magazine to a buying public, then jobs exist. If websites simply take what isn’t theirs and distribute such imagery on the Internet, then there is no cause to buy a magazine for its unique selling point. There is no cause to have the photographer and no cause to have a model. Without any of these things, there is no cause to have the website that stole the imagery either, since there will be no content to steal.
This circle is not one of creative freedom. In this example, there is no creativity presented by the Internet at all: merely theft. The Internet takes away the requirement of artists being paid for their work. This can be seen as damaging for art.
This scenario also paints a dangerous picture of creative plateaus rather than creative freedom. Creative freedom is almost certainly more likely to exist in a world where creatives do not need to be concerned about money. In the current set up, entertaining creatives earn money so they do not need to be concerned about it – so that they can concentrate on what they are paid so handsomely to do: entertain people. If there is no money left for such creativity, then people will always have to work at the same as being entertaining creative – something that will in all likelihood damage their ability to be creative. I have attempted, amongst other things, to write novels and create entertaining art – and while I feel some achievement in what I have done, I will not be nearly be wholly satisfied with it until I can focus on it almost wholly. I cannot do that while I work uncreatively the majority of my waking hours.
What is Google’s role in this? Although it may not realise the virulence of the problem, Google simply distributes content it finds, no matter who the publisher. Rarely can it know the creator – only the uploader. Without knowing the creator, it has little ability to exclude the doppleganger ‘creator’ (the uploader of copyrighted content) from search results. Instead, it determines to rank websites that it can crawl and understand authority often better than the initial content creators. While it has taken recent steps to correct this problem, I still know this system to be flawed. In some realms it is deeply unjustified. The market of men’s magazines and websites has very few content creators, yet very many published sites. It has come to be that through distribution networks that cross link back and forth while using 3rd party copyrighted content, new websites have outgrown the originators (a problem I alluded to earlier). You might say the originators had their head up their ass. You should say the new contenders were outlaws.
What irritates me about all of this is that it is apparently easy to get content removed by DMCA request, when actually it isn’t. It is in fact incredibly difficult to get content removed from Google using DMCA, and sometimes, it just isn’t worth the immediate return on investment. I have looked through websites which have entire libraries of copyrighted content, with no signs of accreditation, then considered the process I have to go through to have it removed. First of all, the webmaster probably won’t listen to my threats, thus I will have to consult lawyers. They will charge such high sums for each bit of content listed, that it makes no economic sense to legally challenge it on the micro level required.
If the webmaster does not remove content, then I have the ability to have the content removed by following the steps at www.google.co.uk/dmca.html
. However, you will note upon reading this documentation that it is a fairly lengthy process, it will almost certainly require expensive lawyers (again) and then that finally, you will possibly have the Internet PR disaster of having your copyright request filed and published on the Internet at: www.chillingeffects.org
. I’ve looked through the process, considered a copyright infringer who was quite clearly in a heavily damaging position for one of our brands, but felt paralysed by this final point. If I was to get this removed, our brand would probably gain equity, only to have it knocked back by the complaint being pulled apart online. For most many media workers placed in this situation, the status quo and slow ebb of equity is a lesser evil than online humiliation, thus we have a slow death of authoritative media via copyright infringement.
I do not feel Google does enough in its power to control copyright. It states that it acts as a provider of information, not a mediator. It is also the most common method of gaining information online. People give trust to this colossal brand and respect its hyper-intelligent sorting process. It is time that Google woke up to this level of respect and acted in a manner which wasn’t so disrespectful to common law.
As I have mentioned, I do not support SOPA, but I do not support Google or outright opponents who make statements such as those you have made above. I believe there must be a common ground of compromise where we do not just blindly pursue ‘freedom’ which is in fact anarchy, and that we do not pursue ‘control’ that is in fact in violation of freedom of speech – that there must be a technology created that does a better job of realising the source of creativity, of the expenditure of content rather than a misused reproduction. We cannot have a creative economy that is a spiralling vampire, sucking itself dry at a quickening rate because of continuing enhancements to services of free distribution. The services must realise the role that they are playing in these issues, and they must react to them.
Thank you for reading.