Tech : Disputable copyright bill pits Silicon Valley against Hollywood executives
As society has been catapulted into the information age, the line between the right to information and the sanctity of copyright ownership has increasingly blurred.
With no precedent to dictate how information sharing should be limited or encouraged, the legislative process to determine this is now a no-man’s land of intellectual goods. Silicon Valley is on one side and Hollywood is on the other.
This gray area has resulted in the widely contested Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act bills. It also caused the controversial shut down of Megaupload, enabled by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Each side is the champion of its own extreme need. Those who protested SOPA and PIPA on Jan. 18 effectively besmirched the bill. That side fostered hatred against impeding the free flow of information. The entertainment industry and the heralds of copyright inviolability sponsor an absolute copyright ownership. Their goal is to maintain the ability to take action against those who steal or enable the theft of copyrighted materials.
Annie Varni, a junior television, radio and film major, believes both sides of the spectrum have rights backing their demands and causes to validate them.
‘Censorship is bad and restricting the free flow of information could be deadly at a time when everything is expanding so rapidly,’ she said. ‘But at the same time, the production studios can’t be expected to sit aside and watch their property be stolen and distributed at their expense.’
Presented as a means to stop foreign piracy of American copyrights, SOPA and PIPA garnered massive support from Hollywood and American entertainment groups. International sites that share links to illegally uploaded movies and songs frequently violate their copyrights.
Pat Longstaff, a communications law professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, is a member of the U.S. State Department Advisory Committee on International Communications Policy. She believes a misguided sense of ownership plays a role in the idea of communal information.
‘Because it’s been so easy to steal movies and music online for all these many years, people have gotten to the point where they think they’re entitled to it,’ she said.
Though the protests against censorship seem to be founded in the bedrock of freedom, the claim is paradoxical. Many of the more radical protests perpetuate the extinction of intellectual ownership, which violates American rights in its most basic element.
Jill Hurst-Wahl, a professor at the School of Information Studies with interest in copyright and digitization, acknowledges the importance behind the concept of these bills. But she found that they may be too stifling in an age of information growth and sharing.
‘My concern is that while we need to protect intellectual property, these two laws do it in a very broad way that could be harmful for information sharing,’ she said.
This cyberwarfare is best examined through the recent shutdown of international link-sharing site Megaupload and the ensuing uproar.
The day after the Internet protests, the FBI charged Megaupload and shut it down due to piracy violations of DMCA. Internet group Anonymous responded by launching attacks on the websites of the Justice Department, Universal Music, the Motion Pictures Association of America, and other government and entertainment sites.
Though Megaupload helped to distribute pirated American entertainment property, the public met the legal action against the site with disdain and criticism.
Hurst-Wahl believes the solution is being more innovative in the approach to copyright sanctity and giving credit and profit where it is due. She also believes that using legislation as an end-all is not ideal.
‘I think what needs to happen is for different people to come to the table to solve this problem without legislation,’ she said.
Though the key to solving this issue remains unclear, Longstaff may have summed up its issues best: ‘Being against things is the American way. Shutting down other people’s freedom is not.’
Jessica Smith is a senior information management and technology and television, radio and film dual major. Her column appears every Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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