In the middle of 2010 I wrote a post titled “ACTA and the Overblown Threat of Piracy” that discussed the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. ACTA is basically an attempt by legacy media companies to leverage their hyperbolic rhetoric and wildly inaccurate math into an extralegal framework that would allow them to dictate which web sites are permitted to exist.
It appears to be off the table – at least for the moment – so the existing US framework is largely based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA definitely has its problems, sometimes hilariously so, but contains one important protection: Safe Harbor provisions. Safe harbor means, if you host infringing content unknowingly, and respond in a timely manner to DMCA takedown notices, you cannot be held liable. This makes it possible for a site like YouTube to be a “dumb pipe” and allow users to upload whatever they want. If YouTube had to vet every single clip, the site would be unusable in its current form; few would bother uploading a video and then waiting until it eventually got cleared by the censor (or not).
That, along with the occasional random and specious seizure by the Feds, is the current practice. But when the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) started making its way through Congress I thought I was going to have to write a “SOPA and the Overblown Threat of Piracy” post. In fact, I might just need a “[Insert wrongheaded bill or trade agreement acronym here] and the Overblown Threat of Piracy” template ready to pull out every year and a half or so until the copyright extremists break the Internet or are defeated once and for all.
Happily, though, this time around there were a number of really thoughtful posts covering the deeply problematic technical, legal and commercial problems with SOPA. So instead of just echoing points made better and with more detail elsewhere, I’d like to address something raised somewhat tangentially in several places: The viability of existing legal music and video services, in particular Hulu.
Chris Hayes raised this on his January 15th show. Perhaps channeling just a bit of his inner grumpy old man, he compares today’s file sharers to those of a more innocent time (i.e. when he was in college): Read the rest of this entry →