Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why SOPA is made of fail

I was talking on Twitter today with a friend about SOPA—as were most of us, I'm sure. Hot button topic. Really should have blogged about it about 7 hours ago, but I was at work and I needed to collect my thoughts.

Let me give you the Twitter answer: My thoughts are if SOPA passes, we're all learning to hack.

And now, I shall exposit.

Our notion, as a society, of timeliness is drastically shorter than any society before us. Hell, it's shorter than our notion of it was five years ago. We forget that. We also forget that we have a generation who have grown up with the expectation of instant access to information and media.

When a distribution system won't deliver on that expectation, that generation does what any innovative group of people do: They create a subsystem to resolve the issue.

That's what peer to peer sharing—piracy—is. Hacking a system that is no longer efficient for a growing majority of its users. And that is why no amount of legislation created by people who don't understand our evolving notion of timeliness will be effective against piracy.

Passing SOPA would be like legislating horseshoes to repair tires. Seriously, how does that help anyone? Horseshoes won't even fit around tire rims.

Another notion that's evolving is our sense of geography. The internet, aside from not being a series of tubes, is also not a physical space. It's everywhere. All at once. (Except, perhaps, China—but, guess, what? They're hacking what they perceive to be a broken system, too.)

Our distribution methods for digital media are still being based on practices that apply to distribution of physical media to physical locations. The generation that has grown up online doesn't think of availability as being defined by location—and they aren't willing to wait for people who still do. They seek their media out online because they want it now.

You know who's to blame for this? Us. We have trained them to expect that what they want should be instantly accessible. We have reduced their attention spans; we have diminished their ability to wait.

Us. We created this demand for instant access—and it is our failing when we don't supply it.

We can scold and rant about legality all we want, but it will never resolve either of these underlying factors. Piracy isn't simply about right and wrong. It's a far more complex sociological issue.

In fact, we often go out of our way to compound this very issue we're so dead set on oversimplifying. Example? Most mainstream media providers have obscured the breakdown of payment. You would be amazed how many people have no idea how little creators make off their creations. We need to do something about that.

Also, society's idea of ownership is evolving. If we believe we own what we create, then that means we can't punish those who create transformative art. Memes and fandoms are dialects of our shared digital language. They're forming meeting places for vast groups of people trying to survive our increasingly disconnected world. Nodes on our cultural network.

Canadians are experts at talking about the weather. We can have safe conversations involving the weather with just about anyone. It is the staple of awkward elevator meetings, line waits, and enforced family time.

Memes are a digital equivalent of "is it cold outside." They are often "safe" means of interacting with strangers in this everywhere space we all inhabit. They are ways of reaching out, of filling silences and sharing experiences. They are how we begin to tell stories to one another.

And many of them require a vocabulary dependent on media. If you cut off a person's ability to access the source material or deny distribution of it in a timely manner, you render that person mute during these "safe" conversations. You prevent them from being able to tell us their stories.

One might argue that piracy isn't related to free speech. One might honestly believe that people who pirate are using free speech as a way to defend stealing from one.

I probably won't change your mind. But I honestly believe as long as we continue to oversimplify and insist on only treating the symptoms, we will never cure the disease.

1 comment:

KT said...

And by 'Only treating the symptom, it is effectively enforcing sticking bandaids over bullet wounds as well. The real piracy sites can be accessed with good old fashioned ip addresses. So it is not like it would even stop piracy.

Meanwhile it will potentially screw over a lot of legit things, damage privacy and security (huuuugely damage security!) based upon a small number of people in a single country not understanding the Internet and yet putting themselves in a position where they can cripple the web for the entire world.

Valve have it right. As a really good games publisher with a lot of IP, people would think they would be pro SOPA but they're they're not. Because they fought piracy in a way that works: Making your product better than what the pirates can offer. We don't need SOPA, we need more things like Steam.