OnlineRock Blog

26 January 2012

Can the Looming Threat of Anti-Piracy Bills Alter the Internet’s Role in the Entertainment Industry?

By Ana Diaz

Last Wednesday, January 18th, was a day that will live in infamy as the day the internet went on strike in protest of the controversial SOPA/PIPA bills. Popular sites, such as Wikipedia and Wordpress, either completely blacked out their pages or had very noticeable alterations informing visitors of the two bills’ dangers. Though these bills aim to protect entertainment industries by punishing copyright violators, can they really alter our current system of consumption?

The 24 hour blackout: a story we will tell our grandkids.

The main issue giving rise to these bills is, of course, piracy. With the Internet becoming an intangible network of unlimited information an anonymity, illegall activities have become a regular part of the world wide web. Downloading and sharing is all but common among today’s Internet users. Some sources claim that one out of every four Internet users visit sites that illegally contain copyrighted materials. Considering these statistics, the SOPA/PIPA bills seek to cut down on illegal activity through some arguably drastic measures. Under these bills, websites could be held responsible for their users' content. Facebook and Youtube could be faced with the impossible task of policing user content to ensure legitimacy.

Under these bills, Justin Bieber’s adorable rise to fame via Youtube may have been a criminal act.

For the most part, the entertainment industry backs such bills because of their belief that piracy is a problem associated with billing and payment, rather than a problem with the product itself. Yet it seems as if the problem is something more akin to that of a distribution issue.

Drake does not seem to be having a “billing and payment” issue.

Today, a computer can connect anyone to everything. Despite having the world literally at their fingertips, the entertainment industry is fighting to keep an increasingly archaic distribution method afloat. For instance, despite the obvious preference for digital files, a consumer must purchase an album at a brick and mortar store to avoid a slew of cumbersome DRM restrictions commonly associated with the format of choice. 

Even after this physical and legitimate purchase, a consumer does not necessarily own the content. For the RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, a CD purchase only means the consumer can use the product rather than granting ownership. The same applies for software. Instead of exchanging money for goods, a consumer is exchanging money for a service that can be retracted or altered at anytime. Illegal downloading, on the other hand, is a very convenient method of acquisition that grants unlimited ownership. It bypasses all the middle men. Many claim to pirate music because of these technicalities.

Pictured: something you spent tons of money on but don’t own.

As mentioned in a previous blog post, digital sales have surpassed physical sales. The Internet has turned the digital into something as commonplace as water. Therefore, it is unlikely that altering the convenience of the Internet will lead to substantial retroactive change. Digital files are not assets but commodities, in a sense. Piracy is likely rampant not because consumers stubbornly refuse to pay but because the legal means of acquisition are becoming increasingly inconvenient. Proper compensation is obviously of upmost importance but ignoring the constantly changing means of dispersal or distribution is an unrealistic approach in a progressively intangible world.

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