Google Search Box, January 18, 2012
There are likely more black pages, icons and avatars appearing on the web today than at any time in its history. Why? Two pieces of legislation being considered on Capitol Hill: The Stop Online Piracy Act (a House bill commonly called SOPA) and the Protect IP Act in the Senate (called PIPA).
From today’s Google doodle’s censorship iconography to Boing-Boing, Craigslist and countless other sites going dark while Twitter is immersed in “#stopsopa” and “#stoppipa” verbiage and imagery, the opposition to this legislation is obvious and growing rapidly. Several weeks back, a consortium of the “founders” of the web (not you, Al Gore) asked congress to (re)consider their actions and possibly listen to someone who knew something about the matter. Web giants such as Yahoo!, eBay, and Facebook, which apparently many people use, have also come out against the legislation. Today, Wikipedia powerfully darkened their U.S. home page and included the Orwellian statement “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.” Um, no thank you.
The ins and outs of how we got here are maze-like and not worth rehashing. Wikipedia offers a wonderful (community-edited, of course) overview. In essence, there are bad actors on the web; sites which knowingly and willfully house copyrighted material with the full intent to disseminate that content to end users without compensating the intellectual property owners. This is true. And has been for a long while. No one debates the fact. Now, exactly what to do about it… that’s another issue. Very quickly, you’re in first amendment waters. Deep waters, indeed.
The Orchard has decided to let its feelings on PIPA and SOPA be known today. We feel that as providers of a technology platform and business engineered to facilitate the broad distribution, discovery and legal consumption of online content, we are uniquely positioned to do so.
Herewith a summary of our thinking:
- The Orchard is certainly concerned with piracy and is not opposed to measures which attempt to address it, be they business solutions or legislation. SOPA and PIPA are simply not the right ones as they are constructed in ways which may prove harmful to our business partners and, potentially ourselves, having the exact inverse effect legislators are seeking.
- It is far too early in the stages of innovation around digital content online to enact sweeping legislation which is at once broad in who may be targeted for infringing and on what grounds, while being very specific about the penalties involved. As has been pointed out, this puts at risk any site which may contain even one piece of “infringing content.” In other words, just about any site on the web.
- The Orchard is in the business of providing maximum reach for IP owners and, as such, can’t endorse policies that would stifle potential business innovations that allow for this to be done in a legal, consumer-friendly manner.
- We have watched legislative action often pale in comparison to business innovation in stemming piracy as business solutions tend to provide a “viable alternative” to piracy as opposed to merely whacking each mole that arises.
- We believe that the DMCA and its Safe harbor clause could be refined and iterated on to potentially provide some legislative support to business innovation.
It would appear that we are in good company as the Obama White House has come out against SOPA, indicating that it would only consider legislation “narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, [that] cover[s] activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and [that is] effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity.” The statement went on to say that they would seek legislation “that provides new tools needed in the global fight against piracy and counterfeiting, while vigorously defending an open Internet based on the values of free expression, privacy, security and innovation.”
Clearly, this is not over. We will be actively watching and participating in the dialogue. We hope you will be, too.