MET with momentous public backlash, SOPA and PIPA have retreated to the shelves of Capitol Hill. The Internet, led by Wikipedia’s blackout and Google’s more symbolic efforts, roared, and Washington listened. A landmark victory it seems. In the name of protecting copyrights, the Stop Online Privacy Act, and its sister, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, would have, for digital rights advocates the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “slow[ed] down job-creating tech innovations at home and create[d] devastating new tools for silencing legitimate speech all around the web”.
The legislation was myopic and reckless. Far from throwing the baby out with the bathwater, Washington Post blogger Alexandria Petri sums it up as “bludgeoning the baby repeatedly with a sledgehammer and then throwing out the whole bathroom.”
But SOPA and PIPA are not the root of the problem, they are merely its dangerous symptoms. At home in Ireland, the landmark 2010 ruling the Supreme Court that they could not grant EMI an injunction obliging UPC to introduce a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy for illegal downloaders under the current Copyright Act, has now forced the government to introduce a new law aimed at bringing Irish copyright law into tandem with the EU. As a statutory instrument it doesn’t require the approval of the Dáil, only a minster to sign it into law.
Minister of State for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock says the law will “balance the rights of copyright holders and individual internet users”. However, worryingly, governments are increasingly capitulating to the whims of publishers like EMI, at the risk of potentially harming the freedom of expression on the net.
That illegal file sharing (no; it is not thievery on the high seas) deprives artist of income there is no question. But it is certainly not the inflated figures the entertainment industry often bandies about. The Internet has backed publishers in a difficult spot. Their traditional means of income (printing books, pressing records) have become outmoded. Digital files cannot continue to be treated as if they were physical items. Adaptation is needed on the part of publishers and other industry players. Forcing the web to adapt and harming it in the process is not the answer.
A large online petition arose to oppose Minister Sherlock’s legislation. At the time of writing, the wording is yet to be published and an informed debate on the law in the Oireachtas looks unlikely. The Internet is a fabulous resource and facilitator, and such disregard for the details is ominous.
Josh Lee, Arts & Entertainment Editor