“Big Brother” Becoming A Reality

Chris BeecherArgument, New Voices, Previous Editions, Technology

If you have ever listened to a song on YouTube that has lyrics on it and that was not uploaded by VEVO, you have performed an illegal act, and Hollywood is trying to make sure you and YouTube get fined for it.

In the beginning of 2012, Hollywood companies such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) started to fund legislation and were encouraging certain congressmen to push for new bills to be passed. These new bills that were being proposed essentially gave Hollywood and the government jurisdiction overseas to shut down websites in other countries and power to block these websites in the United States, similar to the form of web censorship that is being experienced in China, Iran, or North Korea. There is no reason why the United States government should be able to censor the Internet, as this would punish an entire community or website based on a few extremists.

The Internet has been growing exponentially since the dot-com boom in the late 1990s and since then, piracy has become more and more popular. While it is true that something needs to be done to aid with the growing piracy community, all the necessary laws are already in place since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed. The DMCA, passed on October 12, 1998, is a bill that protects the copyright of digital media. It is argued that the DMCA does not do enough to protect the copyright of digital media, but it actually does. The DMCA contains two major sections: the “anti-circumvention” and the “safe harbor” provisions. It is true that “anti-circumvention” provisions have done little to prevent piracy because this section only disallows pirates from removing Digital Rights Management (DRM), which is a layer of protection on digital media that prevents it from being shared across computers. The “safe harbor” provision does the most against piracy as it protects websites from being fined or taken down as long as they adhere to DMCA takedown notices, where they must delete any file that is accused of infringing copyright (Electric Frontier Foundation).

While it may be a challenge to find the illegal files across the Internet, the provision does provide the protection for digital media. However, Hollywood still argued that these provisions weren’t enough and in early 2012 funded both Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). The intentions behind SOPA and PIPA were good, but they were poorly written. With all the ambiguity, any large firm would be able to use these acts to their advantage and fine any websites who have been reported with illegal distribution of digital material.

This may sound like a good idea, but in reality it meant that any website, (such as Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter), could face lawsuits if any of the millions of users posted a link to something that infringes copyright. Copyright infringement could be a music video on YouTube that was posted by someone who didn’t have the rights to post the video, or an illegal copy of Microsoft Office. Another example would be that file-sharing websites such as MediaFire would be held responsible if one user uploads any illegal content to their servers. This meant that in order to avoid lawsuits, these websites would have to constantly monitor all of its users’ activity and take down anything that infringed copyright before the copyright holder found that it was being illegally distributed.

Not only would file sharing and social networking sites be affected, but also YouTube, as many people enjoy musical reviews. For example, a YouTube user named ADoseOfBuckley has gained a large following for his cynical humor and “musical autopsies.” He states in one of his YouTube videos that, “[He] could be potentially fined … and would have no way of fighting the decision” because he included clips of copyrighted songs, even though his videos are protected under the DMCA, which allows for reviews or parodies of any copyrighted material.

SOPA and PIPA would give both the MPAA and RIAA the power to shut down websites hosted on servers in other countries and to censor websites in the United States. SOPA and PIPA are doing exactly what the DMCA already does with the addition of giving firms the power to block or shut down any website. With copyright becoming such a big issue, neither SOPA nor PIPA address the rampant LOLCAT images and memes that start off by using a copyrighted image. As The Onion cites, “[SOPA] Denies future generations the ability to watch the hilarious scene from Dirty Work where Chris Farley yells at the Asian hooker anytime, free of charge, which is a fundamental right of being an American.” While the Onion is known for writing satirical articles, they are accurate when describing the effect SOPA can have due to its ambiguity.  Essentially all SOPA and PIPA do is “give Internet service providers, domain name registrars and other online service providers immunity from lawsuits if they voluntarily cut off service to websites accused of infringing” (Gross).

In January 2012, multiple websites staged an online protest by taking part of an Internet “blackout,” where the sites’ functionality was disabled for the day. After the online protest, Congress stalled the SOPA and PIPA indefinitely and the Internet waved the victory banner.  But shortly after, the FBI took down MegaUpload, one of the Internet’s largest illegal file sharing website in history. As outrage spread, Anonymous (a group of “hacktivists”) made themselves known and took down several government websites, along with multiple Hollywood-related websites. MegaUpload was preferred by multiple users due to their few restrictions compared to other file sharing websites. After an investigation, MegaUpload did contain a large number of copyrighted materials and was rightfully taken down. Even though many may argue MegaUpload was innocent, it can be seen that the current copyright laws in the United States are more than enough to shutdown a website for illegal distribution of copyrighted materials. MegaUpload was not the first website to be taken down due to illegal action. In 2010, LimeWire was given a court injunction to stop distributing its software which allowed for illegal distribution of material via the Peer2Peer (P2P) protocol.

As shown with MegaUpload and LimeWire, there is no need for any new acts or laws that will aid with anti-piracy. Any new laws proposed by congress will ignore its original purpose of stopping piracy and move onto tracking users on the Internet by invading their privacy with acts such as CISPA or the Cybersecurity Act of 2012. It is argued that the government wants to monitor the Internet for security purposes. But while cyber security is becoming a major concern with viruses such as Stuxnet, there is no reason why these security concerns should involve the government controlling the websites that its citizens would like to visit. Politicians should not fall victim to pressure from Hollywood or be funded by Hollywood to give Hollywood the power that it wants to control the Internet. If Hollywood would like to invest its money to stop piracy, they should invest instead in developing stronger DRM protection.


Works Cited

ADoseOfBuckley. “Sopa – A Dose of Buckley.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 30 Jan. 2012.

“Digital Millennium Copyright Act.” Electronic Frontier Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2012.

Edwards, Jeannine, and Arnold P. Lutzker. The Copyright Compliance Series: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act in Detail. Derry, NH: Chip Taylor Communications, 2006.

Goyette, Braden. “What exactly are SOPA and PIPA?.” The New York Daily News. N.p., 18 Jan. 2012. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.

Gross, Grant. “SOPA Alternative Bill Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.” PCWorld. N.p., 18 Jan. 2012. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.

“Internet Against SOPA, PIPA.” The Onion. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.