This article is a product of the modern age. It was written by a pirate.
Recent bills proposed in North America, namely the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act in the United States and Bill C-11 in Canada, have met widespread opposition. In the past, governments have attempted to tame the Internet (think the shutdown of Napster) and these newest legislative attempts at online governance will undoubtedly change the way you relate to the Web. For starters, most of us will become outcasts. Criminals. Legally, pirates.
Most of the opposition to the respective bills is not to its stated purpose, but to what it could potentially allow. The bills use an axe where a scalpel is needed. Worse, since its heralded arrival and unstoppable expansion, the Internet has blurred the line between nearly every distinction we have, making it rather difficult to determine where even a scalpel should be used.
In the case of SOPA, the government is aiming to allow content holders the right to legal action against any entity that “aids in the proliferation of copyrighted material”. Such a broad definition would affect far too many entities. For example, Google could get fined for listing torrent sites in a search. (Hint: torrents are not inherently illegal, only some content that tends to get torrented.) PIPA is essentially the same thing: an act that limits of online freedom.
In the same way, our very own Bill C-11 limits the right of content users. All bills drive at the heart of the consumption of cultural product, a sticky area if you are an artist. RiP! A Remix Manifesto is a free online documentary that explores the complications of cultural production through an examination of mashup artist Girl Talk. Directed by Canadian Web activist and filmmaker Brett Gaylor, the documentary looks at both sides of the argument and, as the title suggests, creates a manifesto that defends remixing and rejects of heavy-handed copyright agreements. In his view, copyright in the information age merely creates unnecessary barriers and stifles the development of potential communities. According to the film, most of the $135 billon claimed by the entertainment and publishing industries every year is produced by a small number of major corporations.
According to Gaylor, “big media” consists of “six […] studios and four major record labels [that] now control Hollywood”. Those are owned by even bigger corporations, he says: “Disney, Time Warner, Viacom, News Corporation, General Electric, and BMG own more than 90% of media holdings in the United States.”
All of this calls into question the legitimacy of the respective legislations being proposed. After the protestive blackout of Wikipedia on January 18, many have turned their attention to these bills. Though they have been stopped for now and will surely be amended, they are still active and their passing will have implications for anyone who uses just about any sort of online content.
If you believe that we should be the creators of our culture, you can call yourself a “culture jammer”, not a “pirate”. Rather than make felons out of many and limit free speech and expression, the monolithic corporations that currently control our content should instead change their business models and adapt to the times. Our modern age, with the number of ways to share information and the inevitable blurring of distinctions it provides, has redefined freedom, for better or for worse. The online world that we have come to know is changing. Where that goes is up to us.