Years ago, the Internet was a wild mass of pages with no central location, no source for finding anything, and it was lovely. You never knew what you'd encounter online, and you had to be part of a community to find a resource for specialized knowledge. Business went wild in the quest for inventing the next "one stop shop" for information and entertainment. In many ways, having a modem to connect you to the web was better than high-speed networks now; there were less ads, less harmful viruses, and we were spyware free. Our biggest problem was waiting 4 minutes for a large JPEG image to download.
In today's world, the web is much less complex... As predicted, companies have embraced the www and made iconic brands of places where the majority of people both on & off of the Internet go to find information. The concept of a single web site dedicated to a business is old school, now you also have to maintain a FaceBook page, a LinkedIn profile, do SEO to get ranked on Google and Bing, and you've also got Twitter and tons of sites you need to monitor and keep current just to gain a solid competitive edge and to quell PR incidents.
The changing landscape of the Internet requires many entities to carefully groom their image, some companies are paying other companies just to quell, if not delete negative comments from their customer bases online. There is also a sudden rise in the level of attention Government is paying to Internet regulation, as presented by an explosion of SOPA/PIPA discussions and protests online.
The Internet is shrinking, in the 90s we had a wide variety of sites that let you preview art, music, and video (media) on a massive scale. It was indexed by Yahoo, Lycos, AltaVista, Google, GeoCities, and on many other services. Now we have Google, YouTube, and FaceBook pretty much...
Google, YouTube, and FaceBook present an "Internet bubble" that serves as the main sources for information distribution on the web. Yes, sites like Reddit are coming into their own, but for the most part, the Top 3 sites on the web are
Google, YouTube, and FaceBook (not necessarily in that order). Each of these sites have characteristics that are similar to each other, and many different than each other, but they are all linked to the concept of sharing and displaying information that is not owned by the resources who are hosting them, this leads us to SOPA, legislation launched in the US to kill piracy and copyright infringement of digital content online.
SOPA emerged as an initiative to quell Copyright Infringement online launched by Congress in the United States. If you traced its origins, its not hard to determine that it came about by lobbies for media companies pressuring congressional seats to enact rules to protect the profits of these large media interests. There's nothing wrong with protecting your profits as a company, the usual way is to provide services and products that cannot be easily duplicated, and to position your price at a better (lower) point than your competitors. The main problem in this competition is that large-scale media retailers are competing with small (low overhead) independent media retailers, and they're beginning to lose money to these independent sellers. The way they decided to win the war against independent sellers is to cut out their channels for distribution by bundling harmful regulation into a bill under the guise of enforcing copyright protection for intellectual property.
The Internet has presented a great (possibly the best of all time) venue for selling, promoting, and distributing music and film. These media companies (that produce big-budget music and films) see their market share shrinking due to the conversion from hard copy media (CDs, Records, DVDs, etc. that only they could produce on a wide scale) to fully digital formats (which anyone can produce on a large scale). As computers and mobile devices proliferate, digital distribution will be king in terms of revenue and promotion for media artists from musicians to film makers, this we know.
One of the biggest media companies attached to SOPA support is UMG (Universal Music Group). UMG is one of the largest for-profit media groups on the scene right now, with lots of annual revenue on legal music sales from iTunes, and physical stores despite a declining rate of physical media sales. UMG was recently entangled in a public battle with a file sharing service called MegaUpload, a start-up company focused on ad revenue and digital sales. MegaUpload was intent on cornering the digital file sharing business, as well as ending iTunes'es reign on digital distribution. MegaUpload was a wide-reaching entity on the web, hosting vast amounts of files both legal and illegal (as alleged by authorities). This battle ended recently in UMG's favor, with MegaUpload being pulled off of the web entirely based on UMG's petition to their Internet Service Providers, and the founders/execs of MegaUpload currently face both criminal and civil suits in court.
This action occurred before any implementation of SOPA, not even a vote to adopt the policy had taken place, reaffirming that the US government has the rightful authority to shut down web sites found to be in violation of laws based on distribution of unauthorized digital content. One of the biggest reason an uproar from Internet communities occurred after this happened was that many law-abiding users were also affected by the take-down of MegaUpload. People who paid for hosting services, as well as people who depended on backed-up files they had on the service were instantly wiped out. What's scary to many, is that if SOPA was passed, a much larger scale of users would encounter the same problems with much more critical sites like YouTube, Google, and even Facebook. All of these sites currently link to content hosted on official sites in ways and means that SOPA prohibits. The legislation could turn the Internet back into a wild assortment of non-indexed sites, as we had in the dark ages, and it would also encourage a "seedy underbelly" to develop where users go to get bootleg material (we all know that piracy occurs regardless of steps taken to counter it).
On the flip-side, law enforcement agencies are paying attention to user communities and social media sites more than ever to assist them in solving and preventing crime... This practice would get much more complex, and probably harder if a sub-net grew to spread illegal digital material. Its modern-day prohibition on digital files in a way; In the 1920s when alcohol was illegal, organized trade created violence and organized crime groups that imported and traded alcohol. Perhaps the same can be said about what will happen if the Internet becomes more closed to restrict piracy, where groups will form based on selling unauthorized material for money in digital format, and they will be funded by hacked credit accounts, viruses, and malware on an increasing scale.
As a Congressional member, one should carefully weigh the consequences of legislation, and educate themselves on the issues involved. Now more than ever, public sentiment is that Congress does not understand the Internet. This is one of the main reasons why so many people are mobilized against The Stop Online Piracy Act. There are so many rights we stand to lose by just one bill passing through Congress.
The larger scale threat in SOPA is the restrictions it will place on small business, namely entertainment, software development, and other web-dependent ventures...
Tons of companies are in the business of creating patents that are stifling creativity world wide. These individuals, known as Patent Trolls register patents on a wild assortment of ideas without even having to submit a working proof of concept. The process of creating new software becomes daunting because of the potential that an individual or company has already patented your idea. The idea of being a full-time musician has become distant because of the huge costs of marketing that will get you to be noticed enough to grow a fan base. The idea of creating an independent film has become harder because of the rising cost of placing your movie in theaters, getting press, and even finding key talent...
Internet legislation that restricts the web deeply threatens the future of social media sites and web searches like Google and Microsoft's Bing. Policies of clearing content hurts individual producers because of the huge time and expense that will be required to get attention for your projects online. You won't be able to be featured along with films from large-scale media companies if YouTube is taken offline, you won't be able to sample any other artists, much less playing their music in a bar as a DJ, unless you pay for it all. Our existence becomes much, much, more expensive with this legislation looming over our heads, and we may not even get a chance to find out about great indie producers because they won't have the means to reach us if legislation of this kind passes.
Lets not confuse legislation with competitive pricing, positive marketing, and quality artists, products, and services that companies should be providing. Things that threaten competition should never be supported, because fair competition (without strategic price fixing and other similar tactics) is what fuels better pricing. Large corporations "sitting back" and using proceeds to enforce their copyrights and other restrictions against consumers/their user base without having to improve the services and products they provide is not a healthy business model for the future.
The other, more positive outcome for this debate is to consider the benefits of lowering the price of digital downloads (and selling more volume as a result of the lower cost). Its no surprise that the cost of downloading a digital album on iTunes is not far off from the price of buying it on CD, and sometimes you've got to ask yourself why? Why are digital downloads so expensive when manufacturing costs are taken out of the equation? Even marketing costs are reduced now that media companies don't have to set up displays in 20,000 record and video stores... But why hasn't cost reflected those savings? Perhaps this hints at the ideal that pirates aren't the only "crooks" on the ship?
This is why I fear today's Internet is shrinking like a cheap linen shirt; These large media conglomerates want to prevent individual distribution because it poses a threat to their structure and profits... These companies want to ensure that their partner outlets (such as iTunes) are the only sources for digital sales so that pricing can remain high. And on top of preserving market shares, they want to ensure that there are few places you can go to preview digital content that they can't control. With legislation of this kind, we may be forced back into the dark ages. The era in which we only had broadcast radio would be tough to go back to after years of being able to find you own personalized and favorite music, and listening to whatever you wanted to (whenever you wanted to listen to it). Regulations of this kind, and digital rights management place the devices we buy (computers, TVs, and mobile devices) on "wires" restricted from the open web. Soon it may be hard to choose your media if regulations of this kind are ignored and permitted to become the norm, and many fear that SOPA's failure will only lead to re-submission of the same policies with a new name... Lookout World, be careful what you buy, you might be supporting those that seek to limit your options!
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