Making the internet accountable isn’t censorship, it’s the law

Tell Congress to stop censoring the illegal music I like to download.

Tell Congress I should be able to watch pirated movies if I want to.

This is the conversation right now around the Stop Online Piracy Act,  but let’s back up for a second.

A few years ago Google began running a disclaimer if you stumbled upon a keyword, intentionally or unintentionally, that gave you child pornography in your search results.

Google removed those links from your search and in their place added a little disclaimer about the effects of child pornography and why Google was censoring these items.

That’s what it is, censorship. When it’s taking advantage of children, we can all agree, censorship is not only right, but necessary.

When it comes to your ability to get free stuff, hands off.

It’s mind-boggling to hear the arguments from tech companies about why they should be able to continue to link to websites that have illegal material.

The SOPA law basically holds websites accountable for the information they link to. If you link to a website that has pirated or illegal material on it, the host website can be held legally accountable. If I’m caught selling stolen property at a store, I’m responsible, whether I knew it was stolen or not.

I have to take reasonable care to make sure I’m not proliferating stolen material. That includes intellectual property.

In a CNN article up this morning, some staggering comments were made by people who believe this censorship is something truly dangerous to society.

“In the past, the media industry has often gone after particular infringers — people who have downloaded stuff off the Internet and sharing it, and now they’re going after websites that link to these things,”

– Rob Beschizza, Boing Boing’s managing editor

So, in a nutshell, he gets why media companies have gone after people who are pirating copyrighted material, something that is illegal, but doesn’t understand why those same companies should have legal standing to go after the websites who link to illegal material.

Hmmm…

Well, there has to be a better argument out there right?

“Both SOPA and PIPA are threats not just to the U.S. economy, and not just to all the jobs that this tech sector creates, but if they had existed, Steve Huffman and I could have never founded Reddit,”

-Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit

Except here’s the problem. Take Netflix. In 2010, they generated more than $2 billion in profit. They have 20 million subscribers globally (that’s almost 7% of the U.S. population).

They employ over 4,000 people.

Netflix has an agreement with media companies to run television shows and movies for a fee. In other words, Netflix pays for the rights to that intellectual property.

On the other hand, there are innumerable websites out there who put up pirated, illegal movies and television shows without any thought to the people who created it.

They’re relatively easy to operate, in fact, I had a friend in college who ran one. But that’s all it takes, one person.

Whose successes and failures hurt or help the economy more, a guy in his basement/dorm room, or a multi-billion dollar company with thousands of employees?

Ok, Occupy crowd, you don’t feel sorry for companies. You’re thinking goes something like this message on Boing Boing’s website:

“Making one link would require checking millions (even tens of millions) of pages, just to be sure that we weren’t in some way impinging on the ability of five Hollywood studios, four multinational record labels, and six global publishers to maximize their profits.”

That would make sense, except there are literally billions of pieces of intellectual property on the internet with absolutely no relation to an enormous corporation or even a company.

This blog is intellectual property. If the Huffington Post decided tomorrow to take my post and run it word for word without my consent and with another person’s name under the by-line, they’d be in big trouble.

Rightfully so.

I know a photographer for a newspaper who is fighting a local law firm who has posted one of his pictures on their website without his consent.

That picture is his intellectual property.

You don’t have a right to it.You’re not entitled to it and I know that’s hard for the Entitled Generation to understand.

I don’t know the specifics of SOPA well enough to tell you if it’s a well-written law or not. Apparently, that is part of Google’s argument.

On the other hand, I see my friends on Facebook and Twitter bashing this law over issues of censorship.

Look, you don’t have an inalienable right to free music. You don’t have any kind of right to do something illegal, in this case perpetuate or facilitate copyright infringement.

A school saying you can’t wear Playboy t-shirts to school is censorship. Congress saying you can’t help people find illegal content is re-enforcing the law, not undermining your freedom.

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