This guest Kat dutifully warned readers yesterday that the next post might be a bit editorial.
On the day that this Kat’s Twitter feed is blowing up with #stopsopa hashtags and rallying cries against American censorship and the Stop Online Piracy Act, this Kat would like to ask for a collective Deep American Breath and a little bit of calm.
(Dear Tweeters: Twitter will survive SOPA. This Kat guarantees it).
This (slightly adult-themed!) video, from The Oatmeal, one of the funniest sites in America, is a good example of the rhetoric that abounds in the U.S. from the tech industry about the devastating effects of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). It’s a very cute video, and would be highly effective at delivering its message, if the message were remotely accurate. The Oatmeal claims that by posting a photo of Oprah Winfrey (the richest woman in America, at last count) without Ms. Winfrey’s permission, under SOPA it could be setting itself up to be taken over and shut down by the U.S. government.
The U.S. government has long had the ability to seize infringing sites in the United States, which is where The Oatmeal is located. SOPA was designed to give the U.S. some measure of control over “foreign infringing sites.” The definition in the bill has been changing, and this Kat understands the technology crowd’s wariness that the bill could be construed broadly. (The content industry has stated that the bill is only intended to give them a weapon against the most egregious rogue infringing sites, but at last read, the language didn’t bear that out). But the bill does apply only to “foreign” sites, which at least means “not registered in the U.S.” The Oatmeal is registered in the U.S. Therefore, SOPA does not apply. The Oatmeal scaring us all with the idea of its demise at the hands of the U.S. government does not move the conversation forward in any meaningful way.
The content industry has been engaged in a certain amount of rhetoric, in this Kat’s opinion. It is perhaps not as clear as the industry would like us all to believe that curbing piracy will bring jobs back to the recording studios and movie lots. Technology is here, is evolving, and will replace a certain amount of need for human labor.
But this Kat humbly suggests that the hyperbole and misstatements coming from the tech side are the result of an automatic negative reaction to any attempt to control or regulate online activity. Censorship is a very legitimate fear, to be sure, but there is a conflation that goes on between “censorship” and “stopping illegal activity” which is perhaps unnecessary. The tech world would do well, this Kat believes, to respect its role as a developer of platforms for communicating and sharing content, while respecting the necessity of maintaining the rights of the content creators to distribute their content (or not) as they see fit. Record labels and movie studios, on the other hand, could perhaps work a bit harder to erase the perception that they believe that all technology is bad. If the dialog could start there, this Kat can only wonder what amazing win-win innovations could be dreamt up.