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Online piracy legislation needs to better reflect issues

Published: Monday, January 23, 2012

Updated: Monday, January 23, 2012 02:01

 

On Friday, congressional leaders postponed voting on two antipiracy bills after an overwhelming number of protesters spoke out against the proposed legislation.

The two bills, Stop Piracy Online Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), contained controversial methods that would, in theory, end online piracy. Popular websites such as Google, Facebook and Wikipedia rallied citizens to voice their opinions on the potential dangers posed by the bills.

While the two bills are now indefinitely shelved, content-producing industries, such as the movie and music industries, are still determined to tackle online piracy. The Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act is a new bill that is currently under review by committees in the House and Senate.

This alternative bill would allow the International Trade Commission to determine whether foreign websites are primarily for pirating purposes, and the commission would force advertisers and payment processors to discontinue business with infringing companies. This begs the question: Would legislation such as the OPEN Act stop piracy, and more importantly, if the rate of piracy decreased, would digital content sales increase?

Currently, the bill is unable to confront the complex issue of piracy. Furthermore, if content-publishing companies are concerned about the rate of piracy, merely passing legislation to penalize copyright infringers does not get to the root of the issue.

People illegally download games, movies, books, music and other content for multiple reasons. Some pirate for moral beliefs, which may include a general disdain for the major industries.

Others feel that the retail price for content is too high. Some even pirate content, despite regularly renting movies, purchasing cable packages or attending concerts. The ways people obtain information differ greatly from the methods a decade ago. The Internet is a tool of innovation, and that innovation is not exclusive in a technological sense.

Political leaders are obligated to understand changes in society so that legislation inspires, rather than hinders, creativity. According to the Washington Post, SOPA's congressional sponsors received $2 million in campaign contributions from the music, movie and TV industries, but only $500,000 from the software and Internet industries.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), an opponent of the shelved piracy bills, stated that more than 10 million voters contacted their lawmakers to protest SOPA and PIPA. In order for the legislators to create laws that are compatible with the ways the Internet works, they have to look past campaign contributions, because they do not necessarily reflect citizens' values.

The politics of piracy go deeper than copyright infringement — it reflects, in many ways, a change in societal values regarding entertainment and information at large.

Amanda Butler is a junior majoring in sociology and women's studies.

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