SOPA, PIPA, and OpenSim

There’s been a lot written lately about how SOPA and PIPA would affect virtual worlds including Second Life.

The legislation would allow copyright holders to shut down access to Internet domains where pirated content is published — or even where there are links to other sites that have pirated content.

Currently, under DMCA, just the content itself needs to be removed — and site owners are immune from prosecution for copyright infringement if they comply.

DMCA makes it possible to have sites like YouTube — and worlds like Second Life — with user-generated content. And, despite all its flaws, it does in fact allow copyright holders to remove infringing content.

SOPA and PIPA take this way, way, way too far. It’s like shutting down an entire mall because a teenager is singing “Happy Birthday” to his friends somewhere on its premises. Or shutting down WalMart because it sells blank cassette tapes which can be used to make mix tapes.

It’s clear the effect this will have on public social worlds. Since it is impossible to police what all the individual users are doing all the time, the technology would have to be crippled to prevent any uploads of any content whatsoever. You can buy things from the parent company — and that’s it.  Without uploaded textures, uploaded sound files — even uploaded text — there isn’t going to be much significant user generated content.

Plus, you can’t allow chat. Users can share links to infringing sites. And if they can use voice, they can read those URLs out loud.

Every social world will be reduced to a 3D version of Farmville.

But what about schools and companies looking to use OpenSim for internal collaboration, meetings with potential customers and partners, offering tours to the public, or holding press conferences?

My company grid, for example. Yes, my company controls all the content on this grid. All the buildings and plants and furniture have been placed there by me or my employees. But if people are able to teleport in, they could trade illegal content — virtual goods, copyrighted images, copyrighted texts, and, of course, links to infringing materials. A virtual swap meet could potentially spring up on our virtual property — or any virtual property, for that matter, that’s open to the public.

The bills put the onus of proof on the site owners — not on the copyright holders. You’re guilty until proven innocent.

And defending against a shutdown in progress would be impossible. How do you prove that there’s no illegal link-trading going on at your grid?

Say, for example, I suspect that Ener Hax’s Enclave Harbor has copies of my columns posted in her world, in infringement of my copyright. Or that Ener reads my columns out loud while hanging out on her grid. Her grid could be the epicenter of international infringing activity — with me as the victim. Oh, the horror! I can file a request to have her domain shut down, so that nobody can access her grid. And her payment processing cut off, so nobody can give her money. And stop all advertisers from advertising there. What, she says nobody is trading illegal content there? Is she sure? Maybe someone snuck in while she wasn’t looking.

I could go after any potential competitor in the same way.

The thing is, the laws already in the book work. If someone picks up one of my articles without permission, I file a DMCA complaint with the hosting company, and the article is down the next day.

There are countries where enforcement is insufficient — but the answer isn’t to cripple our Internet, but to work on getting them to enforce the laws which they already have on the books.

I’m worried about this legislation. I’m worried that even if these two bills and canned, the same provisions will sneak in elsewhere, somehow. There’s too much money at stake for the corporate backers of these bills to just give up.

The answer is campaign finance reform. But, until we have that, we need to keep vigilant.

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

19 Responses

  1. In response to this article, I read over what seemed to be the relevant sections of the bill as it is currently written.

    To me, the bill appears worded to affect those entities that engage in willful, purposeful violations of copyright law, e.g. an “Internet site dedicated to theft of U.S. property”.  I imagine that DCMA takedown notices would certainly still handle common copyright violations; who wants, or could afford, or would be legally justified in going after every single minor infraction with court action. We don’t do that now, and as you point out, the existing laws are not fully enforced.

    This bill also has protections for network providers who want to take down offending content, but have their own fears about a lawsuit. This new bill offers immunity to those site owners.  This empowers network providers to protect their customers from a minority abuser.

    If anything, this bill could use:

    1.    Refinement, to make the targets of the bill clearly the identifiably egregious offenders, and,
    2.     A year of “cooling off” and discussion, so that now that people are really thinking about these issues, they could not only read the bill themselves, but weigh in with their additional perspectives.

    I think a big part of the problem is that while the issue has been brewing for some time, this bill seems very sudden, and it has been presented with such hysteria that polarization has taken over.

    The specifics in the bill that I can see as cause for concern relate to the notification and 5 day deadline when a complaint is made to a network provider.  I think there should be a somewhat greater burden on the complainant to establish a copyright violation than simply submit their claims to the network provider. This puts the network provider in an awkward position in those many situations where the violation is subjective and must be arbitrated, mediated or litigated.  However, with immunity, the network provider will probably find it safer to just take the content down, and leave it up the customer to wrestle with the complainant – and there you have an opportunity for abuses in the form of false or malicious claims.

    Unfortunately, many copyright holders now have an extraordinary burden to protect their creations, so in the long run a better balance must be found.  The controversy over this bill could lead to some new laws and protections for everyone. 

    We will, however, have to keep to the real issues, calm down from the Orwellian alarms, and rise to the occasion of improving the Internet with new laws for the new realities that it has created.

  2. Paul Wilson says:

    What I find interesting is how history repeats its self and people never learn from it.

    Back when the movable type printing press was invented, there was a huge uproar from the earlier printers (non-movable type presses) saying that because these new printing presses could quickly and easily copy the text of a book made with great labour the old way, then these “Pirates” (yes, that is what they called them back then too) and “Buccaneers” had to be prosecuted.

    In the end, the movable type printing press was successful enough (because the pirates did what the old printers thought they would do) to drive the old printing presses out of business (or they adopted the new movable type presses).

    This is the same thing playing out again.

    However, if we look at the impact that the movable type printing press has had on society, then we can see that the very industries that are clamouring for preventing the modern equivalent of the movable type printing press revolution are completely dependent on the fact that the movable type press was invented.

    In other words, if their way of thinking had prevailed in the past, then their industries would not exist today.

    • The current debate is not over whether the Internet as a new technology is the threat, it is how to stop the theft of specific content via the Internet.  It is a debate precisely because everyone recognizes the value of the underlying technology, and clearly no one has any intention of shutting it down wholesale.  The example cited here about the printing press does not match the current situation regarding SOPA.  A better analogy would be the efforts to get drunk drivers off the road – we want cars and value them greatly, but we don’t want those drivers who harm others.

      The new laws in discussion are a flawed, yet developing attempt to shut down specific islands of creative content theft.

      If you believe the new laws would be ineffective, I get it.  However, I don’t think the current trends of content theft are showing us the way to a brighter tomorrow either.

      • Paul Wilson says:

        The whole thing is the concept of “theft”. Information has the technology to enter a Post Scarcity economy (that is an economy where scarcity does not drive the price of goods and services).

        In a post scarcity economy, the ability to make replicas (copies) is easy and (virtually) free. This means that the thing being replicated has no cost to replicate it. In a post scarcity economy, replicating something is not considered a theft as it is easy for anyone to do so and the business models that utilise it drive their income from the fact that copying is done (they want people to copy).

        There are other ways to create value and price of goods and services that are no longer scarce, in fact, there are business models that use the fact that the more people copy something, the more profit the producer can get.

        As an example, think of YouTube. It is easy for anyone to upload content, and it is easy for anyone to view (in this case the post scarcity is to the service rather than goods). But, YouTube makes more money the more people do these things.

        In other words, by making their service a post scarcity type model, they have enabled them to make more money off the fact that more people are using it.

        Currently, the entertainment industry is heavily embedded into the scarcity business model. This means that when the product they supply enters into post-scarcity (like it has), then they have to either change, or try and force the system back into a scarcity model.

        Now, think about broadcast TV. In a way this is a sort of post scarcity business. The more people watch a broadcast, the more money the TV network can make. This is because they don’t charge the consumer, but charge for advertising.

        Now, imagine that this service of being a TV network is no longer tied to a scarce resource (the brick and mortar stations), and instead, each and every person is considered to be a network station (and TV set combined). Advertisers could reach more people (so more value to them) and they could pay the entertainment industry to have advertising access to the content the producers make.

        We get the content for free, the advertisers reach more people, and the studios get their money.

        The reason pirates are so successful (as in people go to them) is because the studios are trying to force a scarcity model and the pirate are using a post scarcity model.

        the post scarcity model is a more effective model than a scarcity one (if that product can be post scarcity).

        • Really, the Black Eyed Peas should sell soap advertising space on their website to pay for their music creating lifestyles so we can have their music for free?

          We do not actually live in a post-scarcity economy.  The concept of a post-scarcity economy is hypothetical.  But no matter, theft is not a reaction to scarcity.  Theft is defined as taking another person’s property without consent.  And the way I see it, consent comes out of basic human rights.  Violations of that consent have various names, one of which is theft.  

          Creative products have value.  After all that’s why people want them.  An exchange of value is the atomic unit of what constitutes any economy.  To take something without an exchange of value is not economics, it is simply taking.  We get away with taking oil from the Earth, but taking from each other is a whole different matter because of the issue of consent.   

          When a creative product is freely given to the world, we are all enriched and, hopefully, grateful for that gift.  Open source software is a perfect example of communities working to create new value without asking for the beneficiaries to compensate them directly.  It also seems that most creative people and companies do not object to minor copying, because it can have a (limited) promotional value.  In the end, however, I am enthusiastic about paying 99 cents for my song.  I want the artists to be compensated so that they can go on making more of their music that I love.  

          It is entirely valid to say that a creation shall only offered in exchange for something defined, by the creator, as having equity to the creator, such as $1 per copy for a song.  This is not scarcity based, but based on opportunity cost, a fundamental fact of life (you could also think of it as a consequence of the scarcity of time, our most valuable and scarce asset, which arises because no one lives forever).  The time one spends creating a song in anticipation of an equitable return is time that creator could spend doing something else, perhaps something even more sustaining (which is the risk the creator takes).  This is not an impoverished or outdated business model; it is simply another way to structure a sustainable existence.  It has a long history and is exactly appropriate and essential in many instances.  Even if music can be copied for free, the creator will have to pay for rent, food, health care and so on – remember, no one actually lives in a hypothetical scarcity-free economy.

          The minute $1 is paid under these terms, a consensual exchange has taken place.  If the item, let’s say a song, is then posted on a site by the person who paid $1 and 10,000 people download it without paying $1 each back to the creator, consent is violated.  It matters not that it was easy to do, or that those copies were made for free.  It may have an after the fact promotional benefit, or it may drive the creator into a different, less-abused career.  The bottom line is that the takers have decided for the creator that the investment and risk taken to produce the song is only going to net the creator $1.  This is what theft does to creative people.  It is a system whereby the thief decides for the creator what the product is worth.  Pirates often take this a step further by selling the product they have paid nothing for, and arguing for this kind of piracy would be illogical hypocrisy.

          Pirates and thieves are not heralding a new world order or more equitable basis for economies in our digital age.  Arguing that content should be free and content providers must generate all their income from advertising revenue is nothing less than a self-serving “tyranny of the takers”, as well as being relatively absurd. 

          Developments such as open source software, online publications, cloud-based services, iTunes – these are sophisticated offerings that preserve consent, offer fair, low-cost enrichment for consumers, and provide us all with opportunities for sustainable democratic participation in a rich society, side-by-side with every other economic system that ensures people are fairly compensated for their creative, digitally-accessible work.

          • Paul Wilson says:

            If you read my post, I did not say “taking” something, I said “copying” something. I agree, taking something from someone is theft, but making a copy of it does not have to be (only in a scarcity system would it be theft).

            I also did not say that we are in a post scarcity economy, only that information has the capability to be so.

            Also, you are attempting to use a logical fallacy (starwman and ad absurdum). I never said that some like the black eye peas should sell soap ads. What they might do though is sell adds for sound equipment, tour dates (of other similar bands, etc).

            I could rewrite your argument to show that advertising on TV was silly as your tried to make my argument: Imagine trying to advertise used cars on TV to 6 year olds in the middle of Sesame Street. That wouldbe ridiculous, so why advertise on TV, you could never sell that to anyone.

            Now, lets examine the example you make about the song, but include my actual arguments about how to operate in a post-scarcity economy.

            In my argument, I said that the distributors could advertise (relevant) products to earn money. Now, anybody visiting that site encounters the ads, and thus the distributors get paid.

            But, because the song does not cost the person who downloaded it, many more people will be willing to download it, also because the site is free, the “pirates” who are trying to illegally distribute it, don’t have the advantage of underselling the distributor and the pay off (for them) is negated (and thus there will still be some piracy attempt, but because it is not worth it, it will be greatly reduced).

            Also, because the ads are relevant, people will pay more attention to them, and will even visit the site just to find out about tour dates and such. Thus the advertising, because it is relevant, because a feature of the site (a way for the distributor to increase the value of the site and further discourage pirates) allows them to charge more for the advertising space.

            The site could also sell scarce product of relevance (merchandise and such) to further increase their revenue.

            What this amounts to is that the distributors will likely get much more then $1 for the song, the end user doesn’t have to pay for it, but the artists still get paid. In other words, by actually use what I said, it is possible to get a better “price” for the products that you could using the scarcity model.

          • I understand the difficulty of this topic.  It is complex and much of it deals with abstract concepts.

            You wrote: “If you read my post, I did not say “taking” something, I said “copying” something. I agree, taking something from someone is theft, but making a copy of it does not have to be (only in a scarcity system would it be theft).”

            Yes, I wrote, “taking” to define what you called “copying”.  

            If you download a copy of song, without permission or payment determined by the artist, you are taking that song, whether there is scarcity or not.  This is one of the difficulties of intellectual property.  What we take with intellectual property is not a physical item, but rather the benefits of what comes from the creator’s mind, heart and soul.  The benefits are the source of the value.  This is *intellectual* property.  Each copy of the song is a vessel, if you will, that transmits those benefits.  The theft occurs because you have taken a copy of a song without permission to have the benefits of the song without fair compensation to the creator.  The same applies to movies, literature, software, and so on.

            I pointed out that scarcity, it terms of your propositions, is not relevant to the issue of (a concept of) theft of digital content.  I indicated that the issue of copying content without permission or compensation is an issue of consent and opportunity cost, which I see as the relevant moral and economic arguments in these situations, but to which you did not respond.

            As for the point I was making using the example of the Black Eyed Peas selling soap, your reference to the Straw Man (Fallacy of Extension) is not appropriate.  I made no exaggeration or absurd extension to make a false illustration.  The first television shows had commercials selling soap, and were called “Soap Operas”.  The soap had nothing to do with the content of the shows.  Making use of this cultural reference, my point is that is seems absurd to suggest that the Black Eyed Peas should sell products so we can have their music for free as the original soap operas did.  Any product on the Black Eyed Peas website that is not a Black Eyed Peas product is, symbolically speaking, “soap”.

            So my point is, we need many kinds of business models for offering online content, and consumers are free to choose what they find acceptable.

            Where I disagree is over the definition and understanding of theft in our digital age of intellectual property, and what I object to is the notion that the advertising model and potential for free content is the only model content providers and creators ought to be using.  Furthermore, issues of consent and opportunity cost would exist even in a hypothetical post-scarcity world. 

          • Paul Wilson says:

            Again, you misunderstand my posts.

            I am not saying that we should all just ignore copyright and copy anything we like *today*.

            I am saying that we have the technologies and the infrastructure, that if we desire to, can set up businesses to be able to “sell” their products (if they are information products) at no cost to the consumer.

            I am not saying this is the way it is currently. I am saying this is the way it could be.

            The technologies exit today (and have for at least a decade) to do this. It is because people have invested interests in the infrastructures of the scarcity economy that we don’t see a lot of this.

            Your posts show that you keep thinking in this same way. You don’t seem to see that as far as information goes, there is a potential to actually increase profits by adopting post-scarcity models.

            Also, I am aware of the origins of soap operas. But, did you understand that the reason that they advertised soap at that time of day was that, at the time, women who did house work was typically watching TV at that time.

            If, instead of advertising soap at that time, they instead advertised cars, the women would not have been all that interested, they wouldn’t have sold many cars, and we probably would not have something called Caroperas on TV today.

            Your example was to advertise soap to people who would not typically be in the market for soap as a way to prove your point that it would not be economically viable. But, as I pointed out, if you actually advertise to the market audience then it could be quite a successful venture.

            In other words, your argument against my position was invalid. And, as you tried to argue against a position not supported by my posts, you were arguing against a strawman as well.

          • My conclusion is that you have not fully understood your own points.  Clearly you have not responded to the supporting concepts I wrote of, that inform not only my perspective, but also come from the larger world of intellectual property rights.

            You also have not taken into account the areas where I agree with you.  I think that some of your ideas can and do work for some businesses in some industries and I made those acknowledgments clear.  I continue, however, to take issue with the idea that *all* content *should* be made available for free using the advertising model.

            Nonetheless, you declare my arguments are invalid because you feel my points are not directed to your actual position, hence you use the term Straw man.  I think you have declared my arguments invalid because I have carefully directed them to many of your points and I simply do not agree with you.  I believe the concepts I added to the discussion were accurate and appropriate additions, but, obviously, we continue to disagree.

            Given the drift of our posts, it seems to me we have explored this issue as far as we can.  I am ready to make this my last comment and leave the issue for the many others in society who are also debating and considering this topic.

            Best wishes,
            Lawrence Pierce

  3. Ener Hax says:

    i only use Corinthian Columns! i’m pretty sure yours are Doric or Ionic!

    see you in court and i’ll be there with my diorama of the Parthenon! =D

    • Did you just use the word “court”? 

      *I* use the word court! You are infringing on my copyright.

      SUUURE, you might ARGUE that fair use applies to short passages of text — but it’s up to you to prove it. In court. Which I’ve copyrighted. Just now. By typing it.Just try to write a defense statement now. Bwa ha ha ha.

      • I remember seeing that the expression “Uh Huh” on Pepsi cans had a “TM” mark next to it.  It was appalling to think that such an utterance could be enslaved with any form of ownership, yet apparently one cannot use it for business anymore.  Probably not much of a loss…  Still, I haven’t seen any arrests in my neighborhood when people talk and agree with each other: “Uh huh, I see your point, and I’ll see you in court!”

        • You’re confusing copyright with trademark. You can sue for trademark infringement if someone uses your trademark in such a way as to cost you business — it’s usually not just the words, but also the graphics surrounding the words, to create a little brand identity. If another soda put the same exact mark on their cans, I’m sure Pepsi would sue right away.

          • No, not at all.  My point is that we have laws regarding rights to things that are intangible and shared each day, such as words. Yet in actual practice, legal action tends to follow only the most egregious and harmful violations.  Many claim that SOPA will shut down the Internet and destroy free speech.  I find those claims hysterical and supercilious.  I agree, however, that the law, as written, has issues.  You yourself make a playful example that exaggerates the consequences of the issue.

  4. The DMCA is already horrifically evil law.  Content can be taken with no legal proof of guilt whatsoever.  Worse, as Lawrence Lessig point out in his books, limitations on use of various kind of material are built into devices.  These limitation far exceed what was actually arrived at by legislation and the limits are directly coded in the device.  DMCA throws in strong penalties against circumventing such devices even if the policies the device itself encode are against the actual IP laws of one’s country.   Lastly DMCA is an enforcement protocol for IP law that itself is in very very poor shape and needs much rework.  So no, DMCA is not good or good enough and its enforcement is not an unmitigated good.

    • I’m not saying that DMCA is great for users. 

      I’m saying that for content creators like myself, it seems to work fairly well. And there have been some successful lawsuits in China cracking down on online piracy there, as well — as the rule of law expands globally, we’re going to see better enforcement everywhere.

      But then again, I make my content available under reasonable terms. If someone wants to print out a copy of my article — I’m fine with that. If someone wants to send it to a friend — that’s okay with me. If someone wants to quote it in their own article — go right ahead. If someone wants to post a link to it somewhere — post away. I don’t charge people to read it, and you only pay if you want a reprint of the whole thing for your own, commercial, publication. 

      Those are reasonable terms.

      If I buy a paper book or music album, after I read it or play it, I can give it to my friends. I can donate it to a library. 

      Those are reasonable uses.

      There is no reason why the music and movie companies can’t make their content available on similar terms online for everyone — free with ads, reasonably-priced for full downloads, easy to share with friends, “fair use” allowed for remixes and parodies, etc…

      There’s no reason why Hulu only has the limited selection of content that it does.

      And if the content was available legally, for free, in a high-quality, ad-supported site, there would be no more reason for the pirate streaming sites to exist. After all, they’re slow — they’re in China or Berzerkistan somewhere — they’re low quality — and they’re filled with popup ads and viruses and who knows what other stuff.

      My point is that the entertainment industry doesn’t need the draconian measures of PIPA and SOPA to survive. 

      And, while I’m at it, Disney doesn’t need to keep extending the copyright terms of its intellectual property. Give it up, already. It’s time for the public to have it.

    • Paul Wilson says:

      If companies wanted to, they could take massively draconian measures to protect their information. They could, if they wanted to prevent copying of their works. However, in doing so, they would have to greatly restrict access to it. They could do this without legislation.

      However, they know that if they took these extreme measures then people would complain and probably boycott them. But if they push through legislation that requires them to take these kinds of measures, then they can pass the blame on to others (or at least reduce the blame they get).

      Since their founding, there has never been anything stopping these big media companies from implementing any of the protection methods they have in place. But they never seem to do any of them until legislation says that they should do them.

      If you thought someone was going to steal from your house, would you push to get legislation that every one must have a lock on their house, or would you just go and buy a lock for your house.

  5. Jay Donovan says:

    It might be prudent to post a list of how our congressmen and women vote on this issue so that there can be some public accountability BEFORE the election.  This single issue will determine my vote, truth be told.  SOPA and PIPA is a travesty to the US Constitution.  It’s a slap in the face of every single US Citizen.  We can’t really do anything significant to the industries that lobbied for this bill but what we can do is to make sure that their toadies don’t find their way back into a congressional seat.

  6. If you gives a gift to a politic without be his friend or relative -no business relations, of course- you are bribing him, adn that’s a crime. Then, what is a lobby? The problem is a democracy owned by lobbys and the oblivion of the citizen. This law is clearly impulsed by some lobbys, is not the ligitme with of voters. Watch who is ruling you!