Saturday, 21 January 2012

Blackout 2.0

Wikipedia, Reddit, and a number of other popular Web sites went black for 24 hours earlier this week, in protest at the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) bills, and for good reason.

The blackout starkly illustrated the the potential chilling effects of SOPA and PIPA, which has since gone back to the US Congress for further debate. Even many of the senators who sponsored the bill have changed tack. At best it would have been an inconvenience, at worst it could have had the same effect as Hosni Mubarak pulling the plug on Egypt's Internet. And it would still have fired at the wrong targets. And isn't it just a tad unconstitutional to extradite so-called 'pirates' to America, when they haven't even set foot in the country?

In 2009, tech-savvy New Zealanders blacked out their online avatars in response to Section 92a, and succeeded in forcing a rewrite of the bill. Yet vested interests still persist in remaining set in their ways. Not least of all those who support the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), yet another exercise in cargo-cultism at the expense of all else.

Public Address blogger Craig Ranapia has pointed out that Victor Gollancz Publishing digitised its back catalogue into e-books, including many out-of-print titles. So, if old media companies like Gollancz can embrace the Internet and profit from it, then why is it so hard for the MPAA, RIAA and IFPI to follow suit? One word comes to mind - cartellisation. I suspect it's because they want to maintain a stranglehold on traditional distribution methods - and hence fix prices on the media they sell - and the Internet is a natural cartel-breaking medium. Meanwhile, bands like Radiohead and comedians like Louis CK have figured out how to make money online - by kicking out the middleman altogether. In the case of Louis CK, he hosted a live comedy show on his web site, with no DRM, and made $1m in just 12 days.

Film buffs in NZ who don't want a SKY TV subscription are keen for the likes of Netflix or Hulu to legitimately offer digital movie services in these parts. Unfortunately, Netflix has publicly stated that the Internet in NZ isn't good enough to justify setting up shop here.

And Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, two of Silicon Valley's best known figureheads, basically created their signature products by pirating ideas. MacOS effectively stole the idea of a GUI from Xerox PARC, and Windows effectively stole the same idea from MacOS. To top it off, Romanian President Traian Basescu once remarked - in front of Gates - that piracy laid the foundations for his country's ICT industry and helped its youth discover computers!

In the meantime, the founder of Megaupload, Kim Dotcom, and his assistants have been nabbed by the authorities - right here in NZ. Small world, it seems.

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