Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Internet Piracy

I admit it took me a little time to understand all the issues involved once the news broke about SOPA. I also avoided making any big statements for a while other than of course I don't support censoring the internet. I don't support any form of censorship. But I've seen too many things get way out of hand online. I've noticed self-appointed internet police without any authority claiming they are fighting to clean up the internet when in fact, they're just bullies who need to shut up more than anything else. Online retailers are posting warnings and strict rules about not selling to certain people of a certain age or residing in a certain country, claiming it's for “legal” reasons, when it's just censorship, plain and simple.

On the surface, internet piracy appears to be complicated issue with everyone arguing numerous sides. Allow me to demystify the issue for you.

First and foremost, sharing is not illegal. It's been going on since the dawn of time. A bunch of people sitting around a campfire and sharing ideas, there's certainly nothing illegal about that. It's called freedom of speech. If a group of friends share music with each other, it's not illegal. But when someone shares a torrent file online with millions of complete strangers, this is where the line blurs.

From a business perspective, companies work on a model that's been used for a very long time. This model is based on demographics, age, race, gender, location, everything, in order to determine a targeted audience and launch a campaign. It's an effective model that's almost flawless. Then the internet came along, and all of a sudden people can share, as is our legal right, material online anonymously, thus eliminating any data collection on demographics. It's the anonymous part that has everyone freaked out. And so, the infamous Anonymous Group stepped up.

If anonymity is eliminated in order to continue with an old, tried, tested and true, marketing model, where to draw the line? Would corporations then claim the right to install hidden cameras in your bathrooms just to find out which brand of toilet paper we use and create demographics? Sounds funny, but it's actually scary. Eliminating anonymity means eliminating everyone's right to privacy. There would be no lines to draw, because all rights would cease to exist. I certainly don't want to live in that world.

The simple fact is, the old ways are not compatible with the 21st century and all businesses, in order to survive, are just going to have to adapt and learn something new, whether they like it or not.

On the other hand, and I've seen this argument many times, people can spend the money instead of downloading for free. I would love to say it's that simple, but I would be lying. Not every town or city has a Walmart. And even if there is a Walmart, at least 90% of all products are manufactured in China. So if someone has the money and wants to buy a book or a music album produced by a citizen of their own country, they can't, because Walmart doesn't stock it, and no one else is distributing. So many libraries are failing to get the support they need. End result, they can't afford to shelve more books and music. Many online retailers have restrictions if a customer doesn't have a credit card or a mailing address that's not in the same country as the retailer, making it impossible to shop online. It's simply not available, except by downloading a torrent. And don't get me started on the absurd retail mark-up that's slapped on products, making it so difficult for so many holding down two or three jobs just to enjoy a book.

Oh, sure, there are lazy people too cheap to spend the money and think they have to have something just because it's free. Yet, I would bet anyone a lot of money that the number one reason people download copyrighted material online is because they can't buy it anywhere. The harder it is to buy something, the less money anyone makes.

The issue isn't about money. It's about control.

We're living in very interesting times. Things are changing. Welcome to the future. Though it will be a while yet before any change is stabilized, it's fascinating to watch it happen. It's also heartbreaking.

I once received an email from an aspiring writer who wanted to know if bookstores provide warnings because her YA book involves characters who swear as a natural part of their speech. I was shocked. That would never occur to me. I replied with assurance that bookstores don't put warnings on books and as long as she's true to her characters, she has nothing to worry about. All fiction is fully protected by freedom of speech.

So, while everyone argues about internet piracy, corporatism, money, government conspiracy, censorship, trendy causes, and senseless bullying, here's this young aspiring writer with hopes and dreams who's scared of her own right to freedom of speech and despairs she'll never be able to share her story because everyone keeps bickering about who should be in control of the internet.

Shame on you.

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