The unfolding saga of SOPA/PIPA is pretty unmissable. Sure enough, right when I thought I would be fine, I found myself needing to check something on Wikipedia on the day of the Blackout. I disagree with the proposed laws for a number of reasons, but I have to say I find some of the companies taking part in the protests quite self-interested in their actions.
First and foremost, this is a bill designed to protect the profits of American corporations worldwide, essentially setting up the American government as arbiters on the content of the web. There is no implication that this bill is designed to protect companies per se – it is a violation of sovereignty pure and simple. Such things should either be decided via the UN, where countries can vote, or not at all. In a sense, it proves that the American’s haven’t given up on manifest destiny.
Second, I don’t think this is about rewarding creativity. In many ways, its about ensuring creativity is channelled through a very small number of corporations before it gets significant exposure. Those companies are basically dinosaurs – they may look fierce and impressive, but in reality, they need to be consigned swiftly to the history books. The film industry is the one industry where costs of production may still actually justify a need to protect profits to some degree. Other than that, corporations like the Big 4 Music Co.s really aren’t necessary to the economy, except they keep making laws to make themselves necessary.
History has a beautiful sense of irony, and Kodak went into bankruptcy just in time to be used as a clear example of a corporation who’s failure to adapt has left it with no useful continuing purpose. We can get sentimental (and heck, some of my fondest memories were recorded with Kodak’s products) but we’ve moved on. The only reason music hasn’t moved on in just the same way as photography is that big corporations have paid governments to prevent us moving along.
It also assumes that all “content” is created for the purposes of profit, when much of it isn’t – many writers of blogs, for instance, aren’t attempting to make any money out of what they’re writing. In fact, I’m largely against the practice of direct profit from content sales. It massively skews the relationship between worker, work, product and consumer, and results in some of the worst content output available. Heck, I’ve listened to worship music albums where I could confidently predict someone was getting paid directly from sales. And I actively avoid WHSmiths bookshelves for precisely this reason. (Many churches specifically don’t pay worship leaders according to album sales, counting them as general income and paying a fixed stipend).
If a community regards its musicians and other creative types as worthwhile individuals, it needs to find ways to support them. Pubs paying musicians to play instead of assuming the artist will make it up in CD sales. Or people playing music in pubs as a social activity, rather than a performance. Paying for performance is one thing, but paying people to write music in the service of a culture leads automatically to a distorted culture. This is specifically where one of the key dangers lies. In a time of recession, our pop charts are still filled with basically the same old vacuous waffle from manufactured musicians.
For books, we now have e-readers, so the work of a publisher ought to be dead. Instead, publishers cream off huge margins for tasks of dubious significance – and that’s before we get to “academic publishers” who often pay as little as £250 for 2 years of someone’s work. In fact, in a free market, everyone would be able to publish cheaply and easily and then the end consumers themselves would buy or not as they see fit. E-Reader technology gives us this opportunity. Instead we have gatekeepers slamming the door on most authors long before the public can decide – and one only has to remember how many publishers rejected JK Rowling to worry about how much good literature is ignored. We have a literature press that can perfectly well adapt to identifying new reads that are worth airing to the wider world – I’m not even against the idea of some margin of profit share with such people on an affiliate link system.
Too much of this legislation seems to be written for the benefit of the businesses who’s hugely inefficient models are being undermined by the internet. These are most often (especially in the case of music) the companies against whom independent artists must compete to simply be heard, let alone make profits. They become unnecessary gatekeepers to music, books or whatever. Like Kodak, they are basically redundant entities. In a post mega-label world, it would be much harder for artists to become as hegemonic as a few currently are, spreading the income much further and giving people a better range of options, unless they happen to want to listen to manufactured rubbish.
Anyhow, I could go on with examples of why laws like SOPA and PIPA are damaging to culture and to the way we engage with creativity and performance.