In case you haven't heard, there is a battle raging between the recording companies which make gazillions of dollars from music and media they didn't create and internet web companies that make gazillions of dollars from publishing said music and media they also didn't create. A couple of pieces of legislation are pending in the U.S. legislature, called SOPA and PIPA (read more on Consumer Reports).
You may be able to tell from my tone that I'm not on either side of this particular battle. Again, this is a good time to remind the readers that Tim and the team at WebRev let me post here on their blog, but my opinions are mine, and don't necessarily reflect any "official" stance of WebRevelation or its owners. Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post.
About the time this post goes live, Wikipedia is planning to "go dark," which is a very dramatic, clandestine-sounding way of staging a boycott to protest anti-piracy laws. As you may know, Wikipedia publishes user-created content, and gets around current piracy laws because of "fair use" legislation. Since they don't make money on their content, and they don't rely on ad revenue to stay afloat, they can afford to do this, but most websites can't. Google, which doesn't make money from its content, but does rely heavily on advertising revenue, and decided to just post a protest on its home page.
Critics of the proposed legislation are concerned that free speech will be inhibited. Actually, the most dangerous part of the legislation, which would have allowed the U.S. government to force web hosting companies to block access to websites determined to be pirating content has been killed. But, as it is said, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once the government begins to legislate what can and cannot be published on the web, sites which rely on user-generated content will eventually go by the wayside. They'll never be able to effectively police their content and still allow users to publish at will. This will be a sad day.
However, as I mentioned before in regard to Facebook's irresponsibility with its immense, relatively non-legislated power, with much freedom, comes much responsibility. It's illegal to steal other people's creations and sell them for profit. We could insist that our U.S. Government simply enforce existing copyright law, but unfortunately the result of that is that those seeking to pirate the work of American artists simply set up shop overseas, where American law is difficult to enforce. With so many influential Americans insisting their government protect their rights, too, it's only a matter of time before the government has not choice but to get involved, and that time has apparently come.
It will be interesting to see what happens, and who will "win." I do have a couple of predictions. First, the rhetoric will get a lot crazier before everyone calms down. Secondly, some of the companies who are making such a big deal about being "against" invasive government action will be the first to use whatever legislation is eventually enacted as an excuse to further invade their users' privacy to glean information that will be helpful to their advertisers (I'm looking at you, Google).