The Stop Online Piracy Act — a bill that aims to curb illegal distribution of music, movies and software — is under attack by users of the Internet’s most popular Web sites, who say that the legislation is tantamount to censorship. The bill puts artists in a tricky place: On one hand, it protects their work. On the other hand, it could prohibit the collaborative creativity that the Internet enables and curb viral marketing that can help an artist’s career.
A quick primer on SOPA from our tech blogger Cecilia Kang: The bill is a companion to the Senate’s “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act,” (Protect IP), but SOPA goes a step further, with the potential to punish Web companies that host unauthorized copyrighted content such as movies, songs or software. “Critics of the legislation say that it could increase lawsuits against Web companies or give the government too much power to shut down sites for hosting the content,” writes Kang.
The bill’s supporters include the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. Its opponents include Google, Facebook, and other tech giants that host third-party content, putting them at risk if the legislation passes.
The bill is a mixed bag for artists and musicians — especially for amateurs.
SOPA protects artists’ intellectual property, enabling them to pursue a profit — which, in the case of record labels and movie companies, cuts off consumers’ paths to free downloads, and pushes them toward purchasing the work.
But the types of content that would be prohibited under SOPA would also include amateur remix works, like YouTube covers of songs or mash-ups of movies. These works would be considered copyright violations, and not only could the creator of the work be legally vulnerable, but also could the host of the content.
However, these remixed works aren’t a commercial replacement for the originals. Hearing adorable Sophia Grace Brownlee sing Nicki Minaj’s ”Super Bass” isn’t necessarily going to keep a listener from purchasing the single on iTunes — in fact, it might introduce the song to an entirely new group of listeners. Viral videos often help an artist’s career more than than they hurt it. It’s a topic that Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig addresses at length in his book “Remix,” in which he argues that we must restore a copyright law that leaves “amateur creativity” free from regulation.
Lessig’s opponent might be Robert Levine, interviewed on Salon recently for his book “Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back.” In the interview, he says the best way to save artists’ jobs is to strengthen copyright laws. “One of the desirable things that copyright laws do is create some kind of market for intellectual property. We’ve had that for 300 years. That should change and it should evolve, but what we’re doing now is we’re dismantling that market.”
What do you think: Will SOPA protect artists’ work, or hinder their creativity?