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Further thoughts on SOPA, and why Congress shouldn't listen to lobbyists

Colleen Taylor of GigaOM interviewed me yesterday by phone on the subject of why I'm opposed to SOPA. Rather than the usual comments about the potential harm to the internet, I focused on the harm to the very content industry that has proposed the law. I highlighted three issues:

Piracy is not the real problem. It's a symptom of market failure

SOPA protects the wrong people. We need to encourage innovative businesses, not protect those who are unwilling to adapt to new technology

SOPA ignores history. Storied American publishers began as "pirates" in the eyes of the British, yet America grew up to be the largest copyright market in the world.

Read the article:

There was one point, though, that I wanted to expand on. There was a section in the interview entitled "Tech and lobbying don’t mix" that was too short, and effectively misrepresented my views by omitting a key part of my argument. As published, the interview says:

"Certainly, the tech industry needs to do a lot more lobbying in Washington, DC. But the whole notion of lobbying is anathema to so many tech people, and for good reason. We’re used to a world in which people design products that have a purpose, where your work speaks for itself. So yes, the tech industry should try to communicate more with the people in DC, but at the same time, congresspeople need to use more of their own independent judgement."

These comments were in the context of a discussion of Congress' seeming to define its job as simply balancing the concerns of various constituencies, without seeming to use sufficient independent judgment about the accuracy of those concerns.

For example, when I talked with +Nancy Pelosi at Mayor Ed Lee's inauguration on Sunday, she assured me that she was opposed to SOPA, but that the bill couldn't just be voted down because of the concerns of the movie industry. I had this bizarre image of the Google Search Quality team meeting with content farms before rolling out the Panda search update to "take into account their concerns." In the end, Google was making changes that they knew were in the best interest of their users, and the fact that this would hurt the business of various companies producing low-quality content shouldn't (and presumably didn't) enter into the equation.

My point is that when evaluating the request for legislation like SOPA, Congress ought to be considering factors like:

* The credibility of those making claims. The motion picture industry has a history of opposing every new technology, even those that proved ultimately to grow the market. (MPAA head Jack Valenti's claim that the VCR was the equivalent of letting "Jack the Ripper" into your home is the most famous example.)

* The lack of independently verified quantitative evidence that there has been actual harm to the movie business (and other copyright businesses). My conversation with Representative Pelosi focused on my experience as a publisher at O'Reilly, in which losses to piracy are far outweighed by the growth of the market. Far from being hurt by piracy, internet distribution of DRM-free ebooks is the brightest spot in my business, a key driver of growth.

* The overall benefit to consumers in supporting innovative business models that increase access and bring down prices.

This isn't a matter of simply weighing the concerns of one set of lobbyists against those of another, but using a standard of care and independent judgment about what is best for our society.

If Congress isn't knowledgeable enough to make that determination, they need to be consulting independent experts, not lobbyists for one side or the other.

The mismatch between Silicon Valley and Congress isn't just that Silicon Valley isn't engaged enough with lobbying Congress, but that Silicon Valley has this outmoded idea that your ideas succeed when they are right, as proven in the marketplace, rather than because you were better at making a backdoor deal than the next guy.

Congress needs to act the same way, doing deep thinking and research about which policy approaches will best serve our country, rather than simply trying to balance the requests of various interest groups without regard to what is right.
The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has drawn the ire of many tech industry leaders for its potential to squash innovation. GigaOM talked to O'Reilly Media founder Tim O'Reilly about why SOPA i...
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Its hard not to listen when the lobbyists own Congress through their so called campaign contributions.
Tim is absolutely right. The Microsoft monopoly experience has taught us that the harm from monopolies is not only the harm it brings to would-be innovators and the harm it brings to consumers, but it ultimately corrupts and destroys the monopolist itself. As long as the content cartel insists on playing a rigged game, they harm not only new content creators and consumers, but they ultimately destroy themselves as well. It is of course ironic that there are many great stories and movies about just such a moral outcome, but that is the thing about corruption--it cannot be seen nor understood by those who are corrupted.
Tim I couldn't agree with you more and I love the books you publish.
Tim, glad you got a chance to at least talk with Nancy Pelosi.

It's scary to see how much time the members of Congress must spend at fundraising events. Do you get the sense that she is in a "filter bubble" that reflects the assumptions of large contributors who attend those events and have access? Or can her other sources of information somehow counteract the immersion in donors?
Hey +Tim O'Reilly Congress isn't concerned about what is right or best serves our country. And they certainly aren't deep thinkers. They only care about which lobby is going to get them the most money the fastest. They pass laws for those people. Not me and you. Oh, and they also exclude themselves from those same laws if they are adverse to their interests. (Obamacare ring a bell?)
I'm currently reading +Lawrence Lessig's excellent Republic Lost book. The term dependency corruption discussed in the book describes what's happening with SOPA perfectly.

Pelosi is not telling you why the bill can't be voted down without MPAA "approval". It's because she and her colleagues are dependent on their funders and the continued flow of campaign donations.
Jenny A
Someone brought up a valid point of why do the e-books cost the same if not more than then dead tree version? Where is the justification for that +Tim O'Reilly ? Are publishers/book sellers including shipping for the dead tree version and assume people will know it costs more because of weight? Most people don't consider that when making their purchases.

You're right about market failure. Apple's iBooks is clearly a failure in Japan while Aozora Bunko ( is used more often to supply people with books in the Japanese language. Granted Aozora Bunko is more like Project Gutenberg (, but it's filling a need. I would love to buy the e-book versions of Murakami Haruki, but can't.
+Jenny Adams The profit on ebooks is higher because of reduced material, shipping and restricted use. The Book industry has been fighting reselling books for more than a generation and with ebooks they win. When you die, the books don't get passed on. Lending is restricted, platform is restricted, users are restricted - for the first time in book history.
Tim makes a very important point. In a democracy you have to intelligently weigh the options you have. not follow the one that cries the loudest. Surprising is that a pro like Nancy Pelosi doesn't get that.
I sent email to Dianne Feinstein expressing my concern in her support of SOPA, I got response, and here the quote from it:
I understand you have concerns about the "PROTECT IP Act." While I voted in favor of this bill when it was before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have also been working with California high-technology businesses to improve the bill and to address the concerns of high-tech businesses, public interest groups and others. I recognize the bill needs further changes to prevent it from imposing undue burdens on legitimate businesses and activities, and I will be working to make the improvements, either by working with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) or through amendments on the Senate floor.
I don't believe Senators and Representatives are understanding technical implications regarding this matter. Hackers will come up in several weeks with work around, but infrastructure/providers will suffer great deal.
I am strongly against SOPA and I agree with almost all of Tim's points. However, to be fair I do think piracy is increasingly a serious competitor with legitimate sales, and that piracy is not just a "fringe" phenomenon. Piracy is what forces successful content producers to provide alternatives that are as cheap, convenient, and endearing to their consumers as possible. Over time there is a good chance that copying will get easier, piracy will get more widespread, and that social norms about pirating will get more lax (you can partially blame the bungling music and movie industries for that.) Also as long as the economy is this rocky, "free content" is going to sound really good to consumers, even to those who could theoretically pay for it. As a result, I think piracy will continue to exert extensive downward price pressures on the value of digital content, pushing the price closer and closer to zero. So in some respects I think it is rational for some of these content industries to be concerned about piracy, even if they are probably fighting a futile battle in the long run.
All Governments, like to play with, things till they, break it and then blame someone else, allot of things don't work properly, after spending allot, they can achieve total failure, and break something else, so just give them, something that dos nothing, to play with.
There is no such thing as an "independent expert," generally speaking. The problem of lobbying and Congress is twofold (and it has nothing directly to do with money):

First, it is comprised of people, and people are ignorant and flawed. There's little you can do to change this, and you shouldn't try to work around it with rules and procedures. Transparency helps, but in the end, it won't solve anything, because of the second problem.

Second, and this is where the real opportunities lie, wherever government is involved in something, special interests will try to influence that involvement. Whatever rules you come up with, the special interests will work around them.

The only real solution is to limit the scope of what government is capable of doing. Then special interests will lose interest.
+Jenny Adams At O'Reilly, our ebooks are always priced at least 20% less than our print books. That is, we take out the cost of printing, and give it entirely to the consumer in the form of lower prices. Most other publishers also price their ebooks lower than print books. But that doesn't mean that they are offered at prices lower than print at Amazon. Amazon has for years discounted print books extremely heavily as a way of taking share from competitors (literally driving most independent bookstores and chains such as Borders out of business in the process).

In other words, the price you pay doesn't necessarily reflect what the publisher is charging, and you can't read anything into the relative price of print and ebooks at Amazon. But even so, a quick look at Amazon shows that the Kindle edition is almost always priced lower than the print book, based on a quick survey of a half dozen titles. So I'd suggest you check your facts and not just repeat what you've heard.
+Rich Vázquez The profit on ebooks isn't necessarily higher. Given, that as I just noted, the savings in manufacturing cost are entirely given over to the customer in the form of lower prices, the cost structure is fairly similar. (There are some savings on the capital at risk in inventory, if a publisher doesn't do a good job of estimating demand for a print book.) But more importantly, until we go "all e", the profitability of a book has to be measured against the combined costs for both print and electronic editions. And because the cost of print books depends on the number of copies printed, manufacturing costs often go up as ebooks become a larger part of the total mix. This means that for low-volume books the total cost of the combined run might actually be higher (and the profitability lower) than in the old days when the book was sold entirely in a printed edition.
As a content creator I see an internet full of people who get outraged over this but don't seem to give a rat's ass about piracy (and even brag about pirating materials OPENLY in discussion threads about SOPA) and it's hard to be concerned.
+Chris Nandor I am very sympathetic to the idea of regulatory capture, and that one way to reduce the problem is to reduce the scope of government. Unfortunately, most libertarians are so knee-jerk on the subject that their cure would be worse than the disease. There are quite a few countries that are run on libertarian principles, with little or no government intervention (i.e. no rule of law.) They are generally referred to as "failed states," and I don't see any libertarians rushing to move to them.
I'm a libertarian, it's important to temper our principles with reality. People who champion the free market rarely (a) acknowledge time periods when the markets were free and normal people were trampled and (b) do nothing to address the fact that monopolistic behavior is just as contrary to capitalism as socialistic behavior is. We have faults as a group like anybody else.
Very well reasoned arguments against SOPA and PIPA. It provides a persuasive and highly constructive base from which to make the case against.
+Jon Perry That argument has often been advanced, that people come to expect things for free, and will no longer pay. But this prospect is not new. Did people stop going to movies when those movies were shown on free broadcast television? Most pirate sites are inconvenient for ordinary users, and most people are happy to pay. In my own experience, I pay more for music today (subscribing to a number of music services and buying music on iTunes) than I did buying CDs, and I pay more to Netflix than I did going to movie theaters (admittedly, I didn't go to movies much). And as a publisher, I find I get revenue from customers around the world who would never have given me a nickel for print books, because I had no way to reach them. Net net, there is some loss, but the gains are far greater.

In addition, as I wrote in my 2002 essay, Piracy is Progressive Taxation (, obscurity is a far larger problem for creative artists than piracy. If you're at the top of the heap, piracy may chip away at your sales, but if you're at the bottom, or in the middle, then the value of the additional exposure far outweighs any losses to piracy.

I just heard a great story today from Peter Schwartz, about Peter Gabriel, who, soon after the advent of CDs, started arranging to do concerts in locations around the world where he heard that his CDs were heavily pirated. "It's free marketing," he opined.
+Tim O'Reilly In my experience me and most of my peers pay less for media today than we did before. Whether or not this is the case for a particular group of people is highly dependent on volatile variables like social norms, tech savviness, and income. The net gains from a larger audience I will grant you as well as that piracy is good for those at the bottom of the heap. Pretty much I agree with all of your above arguments as far as how things have been working for the last two decades, but my main point is that things are changing rapidly: both the scope of what is pirate-able and the ease of pirating are potentially going to increase dramatically and the result may be that some of these arguments no longer hold. Also I still think the existence of piracy might put a ceiling on the market price that wouldn't otherwise be there.
+Tim O'Reilly I'm sorry, but that just completely misrepresents libertarianism.

The most fundamental principle of libertarianism is that we all have a right to life, liberty, and property. But second to that principle is that -- as Jefferson said -- to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.

If you actually listen to libertarians, the one thing almost all of them have in common, that they think government should do, is protect our rights. And in order to do that, we need to set up our laws and treat them as a contract with the people, and then follow those laws.

To say libertarianism is anti-rule-of-law ... that's 180 degrees opposite of the truth.

Indeed, I'd point out that modern liberalism is significantly closer to Somalian "no rule of law" than libertarianism is, in that modern liberalism eschews the rule of law, though in a different way.

Rather than asserting that there is no law as in Somalia, the modern left says there is a law, but it means whatever we want it to mean at the moment, which means that while there is law, there is no rule of law, but, rather, rule of men. Liberalism believes in practical principles, that can change as they see fit, not in a rule that must be followed (e.g., the Constitution).

For example, the 2nd amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear arms, but we'll ban them anyway; the 14th amendment guarantees those gun rights -- as "privileges and immunities" of U.S. citizens -- in the states, but we'll pretend the clear language doesn't mean that; the 10th amendment says Congress can only do what the Constitution says it can do, but it's OK to do what we want regardless.

If you want to talk rule of law, the modern left will come out looking pretty terrible.

That's not to say many on the right don't similarly ignore the Constitution when it suits them (like Senator "Shut Up! You Don't Get a Lawyer!"), but it is for that reason that I don't call them conservatives, let alone libertarians. This is a feature of some on the right, especially common among social conservatives; but it is nearly an identifying characteristic of the modern left.
Well said, sir. Glad you've been so vocal on this topic.
+Tim O'Reilly The combined run argument makes sense. But having worked tech and logistics for print publication and even produce distribution, I find the same operations model being applied to digital content highly questionable. I've seen the cost differences in electronic and physical delivery and know the volume considerations on physical delivery don't match that of digital.

None of that address the fact that the publishing industry has always sought a distribution model that requires a restriction on reuse of published material since the first used book store open. They lost that, but are training the next generations to expect that limitation. Limitation of book reuse by device and by individual.

If, in ten years, ebooks dominate-- a hundred year old corporation with publishing rights of anything that lasts the next three generations of interest has magnified it's profit.

If ebooks dominate - how many used book stores do we see in 100 years? I have books from my great-grandfather, grandparents and parents. I've gone through estate sales and have books because of the cover, title and age.

Either the profitability goes away, or the cultural transfer of picking up a dusty piece of literature transferred as you pick through what the prior generations left (because the license is non-transferable). Both fulfill the reduction of re-use by consumers - a constant aim of publishers.

Either one is a ruination of literature and culture - and the consumers are being rained well.
+Steve Broome People who champion the free market rarely ... acknowledge time periods when the markets were free and normal people were trampled

I think that sort of thing is generally accepted by free market adherents, but they recognize that there's a huge difference between fixing it to protect individual rights, and controlling it to try to get some desired outcome.

As an example, we draw distinctions between having a robust insurance commissioner's office that can go after insurance fraud, and having a law that tells insurance companies who and what they have to cover, and at what prices (let alone telling consumers what products they have to purchase).
On +Tim O'Reilly's main point, I think he's basically right about the principle of how things SHOULD work. The problem is that I don't see how to get there, under our current system of government (not the Constitution, but how we currently operate under it).

We could say the public should be more informed and active, but it won't happen.

We could say politicians should pay more attention to facts and experts, but experts are as flawed as anyone else, and facts are usually read to be what we want them to be (even by experts). Plus, a lot of this stuff (though I think Tim's right that in this case it isn't that way, though in many other cases it is) often comes down to opinion and perspective, moreso than facts.

We could say we will clamp down on lobbying, but it won't work: no matter what we do, they will find a way to lobby, even if we take extraordinary (and blatantly unconstitutional) measures such as making it illegal for lobbyists to talk about policy with representatives.

I'd love to see a workable solution, other than reducing the scope of government authority (in this case, for example, we would say government simply has no authority to get law enforcement involved in copyright/piracy "crimes," which rightfully should be civil actions mostly unrelated to government authority, except for some basic definitions about copyright terms and so on). I just don't.
+Tim O'Reilly It's come up in this thread, as it generally does, that the public interest is trumped by political fundraising with the main source of those dollars being corporations, PACs, trade groups, etc. Elections have become auctions, in a sense.

Time and time again we hear about campaign finance reform and the need for public financing or some new method of pumping money into the political process. That's backwards. What we need it to get money out — completely. And the only way to do that, as far as I can tell, is to remove the demand for money. On top of all the contributions through the interminable primaries, the candidates in the general election will receive perhaps $100 million to spend on media. That's public funding from the FEC to pay for more toxic ads, misleading out-of-context half-truths, all of that. What if we decided to simply buy or grant identical blocks of time for each candidate with some simple rules, like ads must have a minimum length to get rid of 15 second attack ads?

Let's be serious about this: 1960 was the first election where TV played a major role. Have we seen many thoughtful statesmen since then? Or have elections more often than not been decided on appearances and visuals? Could you see Ike or Truman winning today? Could a man in a wheelchair win a single national election, let alone four, as FDR did?

Anyway, this may be OT but I think germane to the complaints about politicians paying more attention to high rollers than their constituents. If you had to raise $15-20,000 a week for six years, as senator would need for an effective campaign, you'd have to spend a lot of time listening to people with money. And a challenger with no name recognition or record to run on has an even harder time: why else would everyone in congress be wealthy?
+Jon Perry - Paying less for media today than before isn't necessarily a sign that piracy is placing unfair pressure on pricing. It could well be that previous margins were higher than justifiable.

On another note, it's good to hear that DRM-less media are selling well for O'Reilly despite whatever levels of piracy presently exist. Coming as it does from the personal experience of +Tim O'Reilly it augurs well for a digital economy that can prosper with less of the likes of the MPAA and RIAA, etc. It adds weight to the view that piracy levels are a reflection of market failure rather than a pure disregard for copyright as these two institutions would have you believe.
The claim that pirating movies will cost the movie business money is proven wrong in The Netherlands. For the fifth year in a row the number of people going to watch movies in movie theaters has grown. Last year was a new record in 33 years. The number of movie theaters themselves has sky rocketed.
Look like EU is doing the same thing atm..
+Rich Vázquez The proof of the way publishers think about e-books is visible in the way The Netherlands calculate sales taxes. On physical books the tax is 6% as a stimulation for people to buy books, read them and share them. On e-books the tax is 19%. E-books are considered a service that is sold to one person.
SOPA isn't about piracy! SOPA is about control! Ever since the Patriot Act passed as a law the US goverment tried to control more and more information for its war on terrorism. Everybody knew about piracy before the Patriot Act and nobody actually cared that a geek in a basement was downloading a movie or a book without paying! This isn't a have to think more mathematically about this issue...what are are they trying to achieve and what the result will be bring for them(control the information in the hope of they will be somewhat able to find Osama#2 in a cave!). Lobbyists are just trying to milk a quick buck if the law passes! MPAA and EMI and god know what music label don`t have financial problems because people are downloading copyrighted material from the internet....they still have huge earnings year after year, after year....SOPA will only make the problem bigger!
Hopefully while +Gina Tripani was in D.C., she was given a chance to explaing to The President how SOPA is a bad idea.
"Congress needs to act the same way, doing deep thinking and research about which policy approaches will best serve our country..."

You're dreaming, Tim. Government doesn't act like entrepreneurs. They CAN'T act like entrepreneurs. If they could be entrepreneurs, they wouldn't need to go into government -- because they could convince people of the value of their ideas and actions instead of forcing them to do things at the point of a gun.

It is this false notion of what government is that gets us into so much trouble. Government is violence. Violence always achieves the opposite of what is intended.

To take the concrete example of SOPA, what Speaker Pelosi really meant was "we have to do what these people say because not only do they make massive campaign contributions that allow us to get re-elected, but they also control the cultural memes that hide the fact that we are farmers and you are cattle. If we pass SOPA, a bunch of loud mouths on the internet like Cory Doctorow will write blogs and maybe a few incumbents will lose their seats in 2012, but nothing will change. If we reject SOPA, then the entertainment industry will stop churning out brain-numbing CGI and soulless pop music, and start delivering culture that admits just how bad we've let things get. We've already got a paltry 9% approval rating. We need them to continue disguising our failure."
Great thoughts on SOPA Mr +Tim O'Reilly.
I have read O'reilly publication's books for learning Linux Internals and Device Driver Programming in Linux and I had paid for them even though free pirated e-books were easily available online. The reason why I paid for 'em is because they are available in paperback in some kind of a Low-price-edition specially printed for Indian-subcontinental market. They are affordable, easy on eyes and more reliable than the pirated e-books!
You have my full support in the fight against SOPA! I am an entrepreneur and scientist, who works in the field of Synthetic Biology. I need for my science an open and free accessible internet. Modern science, especially Synthetic Biology is based on Systems Theory. We use huge data collections, we retrieve from the internet. If SOPA would be become reality, this kind of modern science would really be threatened. Some people see Synthetic Biology as the new IT industry. SOPA will destroy many jobs in this area! We might see SOPA as a fight of Hollywood against Silicon Valley. Hollywood was a great business model in the industrial age. However, we are now in a new century, the digital age. All industry will go digital. Old world publishing models and the film industry have to understand, that they either have to adapt to a modern age or die! The future business models build on digital strategies. - I am sure that SOPA will fail, at least in the long run. Lets hope for the best, that this will not become law at all, this will be the best for the US, jobs, entrepreneurs and all other countries involved. Let's fight for our future!
+Chris Nandor "I think that sort of thing is generally accepted by free market adherents, but they recognize that there's a huge difference between fixing it to protect individual rights, and controlling it to try to get some desired outcome.

As an example, we draw distinctions between having a robust insurance commissioner's office that can go after insurance fraud, and having a law that tells insurance companies who and what they have to cover, and at what prices (let alone telling consumers what products they have to purchase)."

That's the problem, there's NOT a huge difference between having a large body designed to enforce a law and having a law with overreaching mandates. Not in function. This is one of the times when people think there's a bigger difference on paper, but the battle isn't fought on paper.

BTW a friend of mine worked on a movie called Undisputed 3, it's an action film sequel with a small budget. The stars and creators talked openly about the fact that there wouldn't be more money to make another movie because the movie was heavily pirated instead of being bought, despite them using social media to try to get people to buy it on DVD when it came out, etc. People seem intent on insisting that their perspective on piracy being okay despite all the people who are effected by it saying so regularly. That's a bit too arrogant.
And despite the fact that in music, movies, and books, people has repeated made more money with free downloads. It's not stealing, it's free advertising.
Lobbying is Bribery.

Why else do it? You give some stooge politicians a pile of cash and the promise of some job and they'll do whatever you want.

There is no incentive for them not to listen and obey the orders of lobbyists since it's totally legal. Who gives a crap about the constituents? They aren't putting cash into their and their friend's and family's pockets.

As long as bribery is legal and acceptable nothing will change. 
+Steve Broome "BTW a friend of mine worked on a movie called Undisputed 3, it's an action film sequel with a small budget. The stars and creators talked openly about the fact that there wouldn't be more money to make another movie because the movie was heavily pirated instead of being bought, despite them using social media to try to get people to buy it on DVD when it came out, etc."

Not only is this evidence seemingly anecdotal statistical noise, given the overarching has to ask a few questions here, namely:

"What is Undisputed 3"? :)

If you understand the deeper implications of the question, then the point should be easy to understand: based on the example given, there are myriad reasons for the failure of this film...the most simple being a complete and utter lack of exposure and interest. The "piracy" angle smacks of confirmation bias.
+Steve Broome I hear you. But I ask this question: what evidence is there that the movie would have been bought if it had not been pirated? The success rate of independent movies is small.
+Steve Broome That's the problem, there's NOT a huge difference ... in function. This is one of the times when people think there's a bigger difference on paper, but the battle isn't fought on paper.

Well, if we had a significant majority of people who cared about the rule of law, it would be fought on paper. But alas, we don't.

As to Undisputed 3, I agree with +Kai Cherry and +Tim O'Reilly. I would think that "piracy" is being used as a scapegoat. That said, even if "piracy" is to blame, it doesn't change anything: it's stealing, and it's wrong, and it can't be justified even if it doesn't cause any films to fail, or prevent any future films from being made.

That said, you can't stop it. And fruitlessly trying to stop it with my resources, while making my life and work harder, is wrong. Look, "piracy" is here to stay, it's a cost of doing business, and if you can't handle that you're probably in the wrong business.
I am not saying we shouldn't use law enforcement in some ways. If we have some people downtown mass producing copies of The Godfather for sale on the Internet, without permission, then sure, put a stop to it. But don't tell Google to take down links to it. It won't work. People will find it anyway, and in the process, you're violating at least the First and Fifth Amendments. So let's not do that.
+Tim O'Reilly "I hear you. But I ask this question: what evidence is there that the movie would have been bought if it had not been pirated? The success rate of independent movies is small."

Not the issue. The issue is that people should not CONSUME products for free that a group of people have asked them to pay for to consume. Is it really asking that much for people to either pay to consume or not consume at all? I don't understand your point here. They don't have a RIGHT to entertainment.

+Chris Nandor "That said, you can't stop it. And fruitlessly trying to stop it with my resources, while making my life and work harder, is wrong."

Why don't companies take that approach to shoplifting? It's happened forever but they're always trying to stop people from stealing. SOPA is a ridiculous solution, but they're doing it because people won't stop stealing. For all the talk about the need to give people freedom, the first thing I hear from folks online whenever piracy is mentioned is justification for it as inevitable. Does accountability ever come into the discussion at all?

+Kai Cherry ""What is Undisputed 3"? :)

See, that's the point. Diehard action fans know the series, know the participants, and are aware of the fighting styles etc. So a small production like that NEEDS the people who are interested in it to pay to support it. If they don't, but consume it without paying, in no way is this beneficial for the movie. At the end of the day we're just talking about a bunch of people that want stuff for free, no matter how cute you make your explanations.
I'm sorry but "piracy" is not stealing. It is not part of the criminal code and hasn't been since the very first copyright laws in 1662. Back then, punishment by law was much more serve and if the lawmakers had decided it was stealing, it would have been part of the criminal code. It wasn't and it still isn't.

And I repeat myself: free downloads means _more_sales, not less. This is a proven fact:
Another good piece skewering the bad math proposed by Hollywood to justify SOPA:
How Copyright Industries Con Congress via @CatoInstitute
+Steve Broome Why don't companies take that approach to shoplifting?

Actually, that's a great example, because they do take that approach. They could spend a fortune trying to stop shoplifting, but there's a diminishing return, so they do just enough to discourage it significantly, and they accept the rest as a cost of doing business.

But Hollywood won't accept that. Instead, they are enlisting U.S. taxpayers, and the resources of other unrelated businesses, to do much of the work. If Wal-Mart could get you and me to pay for their anti-shoplifting costs (maybe get government to install and montitor all the security cameras) they'd probably do a lot more against shoplifting, because it's at no (direct) increased cost. Maybe they could also get government to force local gas stations to require drivers of cars with Wal-Mart bags in them to show their receipts before receiving gasoline.

SOPA is a ridiculous solution, but they're doing it because people won't stop stealing.

There's three main problems with SOPA.

First, it does not solve the problem at all. It is not a solution.

Second, even if it were a solution, the costs are simply way too high, especially since the burden is placed on you and me.

Third, even if the costs weren't too high and it did solve the problem, it violates the rights of regular citizens, and those with unrelated businesses (like Google).

Any of those would make me reject SOPA. All together ... yeah.

For all the talk about the need to give people freedom, the first thing I hear from folks online whenever piracy is mentioned is justification for it as inevitable. Does accountability ever come into the discussion at all?

You're not actually making a point here. If in order to catch shoplifters, we had to do strip searches of everyone and use technology that costs in excess of $10 million per 100 sqft of store space, and so we said "it's obviously not worth it," would you respond "Does accountability ever come into the discussion at all?" That seems bizarre to me. You can't go after all wrongdoing at any cost. Cost matters, and the cost is too high.

And that's all assuming it would have a significant impact to combat "piracy," which this would not.
Yes, some bad guys will get away with bad things. But in a free society, that is simply necessarily the case. You cannot stop it. So you find a point where you will discourage most of it, and accept as inevitable the rest. It's how free societies have always works. The only alternative is complete oppression of liberty.

It's kinda like what I've talked about as the solution to lobbying: take away the power of government to control our lives, and lobbying massively decreases, because there's much less to lobby government for. If you take away the power of people to do anything wrong -- for example, by shooting them automatically if they leave their homes without government permission -- sure, you can stop shoplifting. But short of that, shoplifting will happen. And we accept it, we live with it, we consider it a cost of doing business. And if we catch someone doing it, we punish them, but we don't break the bank -- let alone deprive everyone else of their money and liberty -- to catch them.
+Steve Broome "What definition of stealing are you using?"

The legal one. If you are charged with theft under the criminal code, you are stealing. Copyright infringement is not even part of the criminal code yet alone stealing.

+Chris Nandor SOPA is not about stopping copyright infringement. That's a ruse used by big content to cover their true intentions. SOPA is about controlling the internet. It's about give them the ability to take down any content they want, including any competition or criticism. They have already tried to do so:
+Shawn H Corey You're missing my point. I was arguing against SOPA giving them the benefit of the doubt (and there is much doubt). I am saying that even given that goal, it is a bad bill because it doesn't solve that goal, because the costs are too high, because the costs are placed on the wrong people, etc. Frankly, I don't even care about their "true intentions" if they can't even pass those tests.
Tim O'Reilly - I've recently been thinking that creating sources of independent policy analysis may be more important that either campaign finance reform or electoral reform, but its not clear how to do that.

All the think tanks are partisan and most of the heavy lifting in federal policy is done by the lobbyists. I don't think we know how to define and fund something independent.

Perhaps, these things ought to be funded by tax dollars. Ironically, the answer might be to pay Congress and Senate offices more - allow them to expand their staffs and pay their staffers better, so that they can spend more time analyzing legislative proposals and aren't as beholden to the financial opportunities that wait for them in the lobbying community after their time in Congress. If they represent us, perhaps we should pay them more, so that they are less reliant on lobbyists to get things done.

Paying Congressmen more in order to reduce corruption is a radical idea. I'm not sure its right, and I even if I was, I'm not sure people would buy it.
+Tom Cross It seems to me that something similar was done before. In the nineteenth century, being employed by the British government, especially the British Raj, was the desire of the top minds in the British empire.
+Chris Nandor Undisputed 3 didn't fail because of "piracy" or anything relating to distribution and failed because it was the 3rd installment of a film series that wasn't good even as an original idea. I can't speak for anyone else, but before even looking up if the movie existed (it does, I'll give you that) I knew that I had absolutely no desire to watch it...even though I could easily spend the 30 seconds - 2 minutes finding a torrent and then subsequently watching it.

Personally, I'm finishing a program and will be starting my career in the film and television industry very shortly, and even despite all of the piracy talk and bashing back and forth I'm excited. The fact is, entertainment isn't gonig anywhere...people want it and as long as there's demand, it will be produced. I agree also that most consumers want to and will do "the right thing" (which in and of itself is a debatable definition) when given the chance...and when that chance presents itself, they're all over it - case in point in my opinion being Netflix.

Living in Canada, you can see the direct correlation between new, popular distribution methods and the ire they incurred when they finally offered the service up here. The CRTC was immediately lobbied by Canada's big telecom - citing of all things the fact that bandwitdth was being hogged by services like Netflix and they wanted tighter control over the system to wring more $ straight out of the consumer's pockets...needless to say the internet community up here was up in arms and even though the initial assault has been post-poned, big telecom isn't backing down. Plain and simple, services like Netflix and the emerging industries as a result of the internet are making, in this instance, appoint by schedule viewing and cable television obsolete. I don't know about you guys, but I haven't scheduled my life around television in a lonnnnng time.

I'm of the belief that openly promoting the sharing of your content helps your sales, and your exposure. As a filmmaker, and especialyl if/when I make my own independent production - I know the climate of the industry going into the project. Any smart filmmaker, and good filmmaker (I'm using film as my example since I have the most exposure to it) knows that you don't make an independent production because you want to make money, you do it because you want people to see your work, and then that will (hopefully) be the catalyst to start a long and prosperous career.

My final comment will be this - I have no problem paying for something that I think deserves my money...I pay what I consider a ridiculous amount of money each month for access to cable television, there's no way I'm giving more of that money just to own a physical copy. Same argument for movies, I go to the theater to watch films a lot, mainly because I love the atmosphere and the experience of watching a film on the big screen, but should I honestly have to pay someone AGAIN to watch something I've already seen? How does that make me, it really doesn't. Regardless I will plunk down that extra cash to see something again when it deserves it and when I enjoy it thoroughly and a great personal example for me is Inception - I saw that movie 3 times in theaters (Opening night, the next night in IMAX, and a third time a week later) AND I bought the Bluray for the ridiculous price they were asking because I wanted to support the filmmaker and get the extra content offered on the disc...a fair trade for something I thought deserved my money.

I'll stop rambling now as I'm sure I've covered enough. I don't profess to be an expert and everything here is my opinion and take it as you will....I do really like the debate here so far.
+Justin Evans Great comment, except that you directed it at the wrong person: I wasn't the one saying Undisputed 3 failed because of piracy.
Money quote: The motion picture industry has a history of opposing every new technology, even those that proved ultimately to grow the market.
Fuck Yes (pardon the language), and this needs to be reiterated over and over, throughout the internet and wherever else our politicians get their news (if they ever care at this point). All this is just a reaction to the fact that the music, film, etc. industries have so far failed to find a business model that will work in the age of the Internet (or maybe they have, but don't like the lower profits, which are probably inevitable), and so they're doing whatever they can to protect that dying model from 50+ years ago. In the end, they will fail, because you can't force people to pay for things they don't want, and people will continue to choose what to spend money on and what not to, based on a variety of circumstances.

Of course, it all feeds back into our economic situation: if you want people to throw their money at things they love, you might want to make sure they actually have enough money to do so, starting with actually having jobs (which over 10% of the people in my state don't even have). Tech companies do have to fight fire with fire, blackouts like today do wonders (even politicians use google and wikipedia), but we'll have to go further in the future, because the RIAA and company will continue to fight this losing battle until they are bankrupt: they really have no choice at this point, because they have shown a clear unwillingness to truly completely transform their business model. Let the pieces fall as they may, but time is running out for their way of business: organizations like Google and Wikipedia are acutely aware of this, and that really is what makes me most optimistic for the future of the internet (and, by extension, the world as a whole).
This is very, very well put. I feel like a jerk for thinking like Piracy is a non-issue, some people are invariably being hurt by this problem. Going back to the music industry however, we see that out of the initial shock of Napster a viable, powerful and industry changing distribution system was born.

I feel bad for Lars Ulrick, but his entrenchment in the power of a Compact Disk to make him money that he missed the opportunity to reach Millions of consumers and take additional profit over time by loosing the hard materials necessary to hock his ideas.

I don't condone piracy, but it speaks volumes that a fairly niche, but talented comedian can sell his work without Legislative support or limiting technology to "protect" him from his fans.

At the end of the day, Piracy is organized crime, and not just a bunch of dumb "Average Joes" on the web. The nation saw what happened to organized crime during prohibition. It was an arms race, and the more sophisticated enforcement became the more sophisticated organized crime became.

When the dust settled, it was easy to diffuse the Mob's liquor business. We made Alcohol legal again. I'm not suggesting we make Piracy legal, but I'm saying that as the industry evolves the sophisticated pirates will no longer be necessary. Content will be too easy, to convenient, to valuable to NOT support monetarily.

For those in the industry, I'd point to the bankers a few years ago, and even today. When the model changed, Sub-prime evaporated standards were tougher, and it was harder to make money in the industry. I'm optimistic that at some point the cycle will return and when it does our lending industry will be stronger for this. As will the proliferation of VALUED content.
It is very satisfying to see the rise of the "What's the problem, exactly?" response to the whinges of maximalists. There's even some pushback on the twist that's being applied in the form of a "challenge." In this technique, a draconian "solution" which threatens a shared resource is followed by, "don't criticise, help us solve our problem." +Nat Torkington's treats this further claim to special treatment the way it deserves, as a joke.
Thanks for a thoughtful article. I would not support either bill in their current form. And, living in Northern California and working in the information industry, probably would not support it in any form. But reading through some of the points in the article and comments here I'm a bit puzzled - from the sound of it something completely unimaginable is happening. The bills are not very good and they are probably not the smartest way to go. Nor do they have much chance at passing. We might not like it or support it, but surely the affected party should be able to go to the Congress and ask to consider their case. After all copyright is protected by the Constitution, just as the First Amendment. And ultimately it's the Congress' job to consider cases like this. It's possible that the content industry's lobby squeezed that article in back in 1780s, but it's still there...
Undisputed III: Redemption - Viewed the trailer...when will it go Viral?
+Tim O'Reilly Because you said this, I'm going to go buy all of your books. Reading the bill and thinking about the implications made me feel horrible, but this post restored my faith. This is the same reason I so hugely support +Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails), because he, too, understands who piracy has an effect on. One of his albums he released on a 'pay what you want to' basis, and hilariously it made him more money than his previous two albums combined, even though the minimum payment was $0.00. Good will is the best thing to stockpile. Anyways, thank you.
Google should make a new internet that is not governed by government but by the people, and it should all be shared and open. people that download music and software for free are not the problem, the problem is the music studios that do not give the artist the proper percentage cut.
students do not want to spend $1000 dollars on a software program when they are learning ,all that will happen now is a slow in innovation and creativity. I hate all of this.
+nik rasic there already is an internet like that, you just have to know how to find it. The first step is installing telnet ;)
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