Much of what is written about SOPA speaks in platitudes about free speech and an open Internet. We all face a serious problem, particularly people who create content for a living.
This problem has recently been well documented by Robert Levine in his book Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business. The title is provocative, but Levine systematically documents how piracy has damaged the music, movie, television, newspaper, and now the book businesses. In my own research, I have come across stories from countless photographers about how their works have been pirated.
Levine looks at cost structures, employment trends, and usage to make his case. He shows how both the transmission and hardware companies have used piracy to build their businesses, knowing that much of what they are transmitting and putting in the hands of information consumers is pirated. They then use the leverage they have obtained by gathering eyeballs to negotiate what have often proved to be unfavorable arrangements with content providers.
Levine also documents how the transmission and hardware companies have funded nonprofit organizations to promote the notion that information should be free and the Internet open. These companies have manufactured populace sentiment to further their own profit-making agendas. They have a right to do that, but there is another side to the story--the rights of creative people to earn a living.
If Levine's predictions are correct, we are on the cusp of learning what "Information Must Be Free" leads to: Less quality information. In one of many examples, Levine points to Spain as providing creative people with the fewest protections. He demonstrates the devastating impact that a failure to regulate the Internet has had on the Spanish music industry. Just yesterday, world--renowed Spanish author Lucia Etxebarria announced that she would cease writing novels because illegal downloading of e-books made it impossible for her to earn a living.
Creative people have a right to be paid fairly for and control the distribution of their work. That is true regardless of whether the creative person is a lone photographer or a large media company. The Internet is now well-established. It is time to end the lawlessness and strike an appropriate balance between free speech and property rights.
As much as I would like all my music, books, newspapers, and movies to be free, I am willing to pay the creators for their work. I am unwilling to hide behind free speech platitudes to serve my own selfish interests.
I continue to be puzzled why many creative people and people who like the fruits of creative people are so quick to lobby on behalf of large corporations at the expense of creative people and their efforts.