Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA: A Partisan Fight.

No, I haven’t forgotten this blog. Like many of my other ventures over the years, such as Mepisguides, my lack of updates was driven by my desire to keep from letting my personal life interfere with my professional life. Now that I’m slowly getting my feet back under me I feel a bit more confident in posting again. 


The subjects this time are the infamous acts of legislation titled Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act. Yesterday, January 18th, was the day that several prominent online sites protested the legislation by shutting down services. Over the course of the day 13 congressmen voiced their position of opposition to the legislation, with several notable sponsors of the legislation pulling their support. Not surprisingly many of the congressmen making an about face were Republicans, which did lead to the surprising comment from Arstechnica’s Timothy Lee:  


The partisan slant of the defections is surprising because copyright has not traditionally been considered a partisan issue.


Well, Timothy is wrong. The issues at hand with the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation did not involve copyright. The issues at hand were those of personal liberty and personal freedom. I pointed this out on SVN’s Google+ page:


It should, but it probably won't. SOPA was written by people with no concept of personal liberty, property rights, or consumer rights. It was written with no concept of Due Process of Law, and no concept of representation. SOPA was forced into Congressional consideration by outright bribery and extortion by people who believed that they were inherently better than everyone else and thus entitled to do anything they wanted to in order to get their way.


Some of the core issues are really the same as those behind Net Neutrality. The organizations behind the RIAA and MPAA do not believe in the concepts of personal property or consumer rights. Those organizations do not believe that consumers can actually “own” a product. Case in point is the long history of lawsuits against television recording devices such as VCR decks, Tivo, and other video capture products. For decades the organizations that back the RIAA and MPAA have dumped billions of dollars into methods that “protect” the content they sell or broadcast from being copied.


The actions of the members of the RIAA and MPAA reflect strong liberal democrat and socialistic tendencies. Just as the rights of the “state” supersede the rights of the citizen, the “rights” of the RIAA and MPAA supersede the rights of consumers. Legislation such as SOPA and PIPA further this agenda, restricting the rights of the citizen while giving organizations such as the RIAA and MPAA more power to further their agenda’s.


The reality of the situation is that the member organizations of the RIAA and MPAA are still stuck on ancient business models. Broadcast Television, for example, still works on the concepts of advertisers paying for breaks in the storyline of the program. However, more and more consumers are getting their television programs through time-shifting devices such as TiVo; or through streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix. Rather than try and explore new business models the vast majority of television production companies still try to make their shows work around a business model dating from the time of Jack Benny and George Burns.


The Commercial Content industry loves to blame piracy for their financial woes, but piracy really is not the problem at hand. The reality is that people who pirate content are going to pirate content. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the saying “Locks keep out only the honest” is a Jewish proverb dating back to Biblical times, as in thousands of years ago.


The problem the Commercial Content industry faces is that piracy is an increasingly attractive alternative to buying content. Let me put this in real terms for myself. If I rip a DVD using Handbrake I no longer have to put up with that mandatory selection of trailers or promotional content that normal dvd players cannot skip. Additionally, if I have a large series of DVD’s, such as Hogan’s Heroes, I can store entire seasons on a single media server and just browse through my shows as I please. However, the Commercial Content producers do not believe that I have the right to consume my content as I see fit. They believe they have the right to dictate how I consume my content and what I consume my content with. The RIAA and MPAA do not have the rights to make those determinations. Period. Stop.


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Looking ahead a lot of analysts are now wondering what the next move on the part of the RIAA and the MPAA is going to be. It is my opinion that they need to be short-circuited and shut down.

The reality is this: Theft is theft. There are already numerous laws on the books both at the federal and state level within the United States that clearly spell out how theft should be handled. There is no need for special legislation to deal with “Online Piracy.”  The FBI proved this point by taking down the sites Megaupload.com and MegaVideo.com using existing standing laws with absolutely no need for additional legislation


This goes back to what I said earlier. Existing Laws already cover protection and enforcement of Copyright. The issues at hand was never about Copyright. SOPA and PIPA contained no provisions or actions that would enforce copyright that existing laws did not already accomplish. SOPA and PIPA were always, from the day they were bribed into existence, always about limiting consumer rights and giving more power to entities who need to be shut down and dismantled. 

What we do have a -need- for is legislation that states that consumers have rights. We do need legislation that says it’s legal for consumers to copy television content that they paid for to any device they want to in any format that they want to, on any operating system that they want to. We do need legislation that says it’s legal for consumers to copy music or video content that they have paid for to any device they want to in any format that they to, on any operating system they want to. We do need legislation that says it is legal for consumers to run or copy video game content that they have paid for to any device that they want to in any format that they want to, on any operating system that they want. We do need legislation that says it’s legal for consumers to resell, gift, or trade content they have purchased to anybody they want to.


What we -need- is legislation that makes Digital Rights Management that results in Digital Rights Removal illegal.  


The reality is this: Getting rid of Digital Rights Management schemes that limit a user's freedom to own their content at a Federal and/or State level removes one of the largest barriers between Pirated Content and Purchased Content. If I no longer have to deal with DVD’s and Blu-Ray discs that don’t have unskippable trailers, I’d be more likely to pick up a legal copy than go and get an illegal copy that does not contain all of that extra crap. By the same token, I'd be more likely to buy a Blu-Ray movie with a video resolution of 1920*1080 if I was able to watch that video without having to purchase equipment that can pass HDCP signals.


Another side effect of making such DRM schemes illegal would be the crash in costs.  To speak for myself. even with a paycheck I was not buying a whole lot of videos games because I just was not willing to spend $60 a game. Looking at game sales, I’m not the only person whose skipping “hot new release” titles because they are a bit on the ludicrous side of expensive.


The economic rule of thumb here is pretty old: The more people you can potentially sell to, the more people you HAVE to sell to, and thus the more people that are in a position to buy your product. Really. Not that hard. It’s not. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to wrap your noggin around this economic principle. 


Cratering prices on content and making that content easier to access and easier to use would go a long ways towards making people more likely to buy that content. 


Now, is the United States now in a position to hit the RIAA and MPAA below the belt and dismantle their anti-consumer and anti-personal-rights war? I’d like to think yes. The SOPA and PIPA protests have highlighted just how partisan the core arguments actually are. With an upcoming election year it may be possible to get candidates into office who can push through pro-consumer legislation and return to consumers their rights to use their purchased property as those consumers see fit.  

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Now, as an addendum, I do want to single out services that have implemented non-restrictive Digital Rights Management, notably the Steam network developed by Valve Software and the Desura network.  


Both of these services leverage Single-Sign-On technology which requires a user to sign in and certify their account against a master-server. From that point users can access content distributed through the Valve Steam and Desura networks on any platforms that support the content Valve and Desura offer through those services.  In addition both services have offline implementations that store the user's credentials and allow consumers to still access their content even when no internet access is available.


Now, neither service is perfect, and I'll go more into what could be done with such services as I actually write about them.
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