SOPA: friend or foe to the creative community?

Websites across the world went ‘dark’ yesterday in protest over SOPA and PIPA, two pieces of legislation that many believe will fatally damage the free and open internet. As both creators and consumers of content, where do CR readers stand on the issue of copyright online?

Try to look something up on Wikipedia today and you will be met with a black page. The English language version of the site is down in protest over SOPA and PIPA, two pieces of legislation that it believes will “fatally damage the free and open internet”. As both creators and consumers of content, where do CR readers stand on the issue of copyright online?

SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) are two pieces of legislation currently before the US House of Representatives and US Senate. Their aim is to restrict the unauthorised downloading, distribution and use of copyrighted material online. Opponents have accused the measures of being heavy-handed, ineffective and that they will severely inhibit people’s access to online information. Some of the more alarmist critics of the bills have accused them of effectively ‘killing’ the internet as we know it.

Anti-PIPA/SOPA video from Fight for the Future

These are long and complex pieces of legislation (Mashable has a pretty good walk through here. Try this Guardian piece too). The issues of particular interest to CR readers are those involving sites that allow contributors to upload content (such as our Feed section, for example, YouTube or Behance) and those that collate large amounts of imagery (Fffound, for example, or But Does it Float). Under the original SOPA legislation, it has been suggested that sites could potentially be shut down on receipt of a complaint about a piece of content from a copyright holder. So, potentially, if a student uploads a piece of work to a portfolio site which includes perhaps a logo that they do not have permission to use, that site could be shut down while the complaint goes through the US legal system. Sites would even be liable for content on other sites that they merely link to.

Our view is that SOPA, in its original form at least, appears to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut: an exercise in corporate power in protection of corporate interest. It is impractical and iniquitous. Currently, it seems unlikely to pass into law without at least some major amendments. However, this issue is now ‘live’ and is not going to go away – there are too many powerful interests involved for that to happen.

So perhaps the time has come to ask what we in the creative community want from the internet.

Wired registers its opposition to SOPA with this ‘redacted’ homepage

CR readers create content. If you are a photographer, for example, you will want protection from those who might use your pictures without your permission. If you licence your work through a photolibrary, you will expect that photolibrary to pursue anyone using your images without paying for them. But you may also recorgnise that having your work featured on other sites that have a creative industry readership (even if used without permission) may well bring great opportunities that otherwise you would not enjoy.

And CR readers also consume content. One of the great phenomena of the internet has been the explosion of blogs featuring imagery and videos. There are a huge number of inspirational sites offering, for example, vintage ads, found photography, old posters and so on. We all enjoy these sites but how many have sought permission from a copyright holder before posting an image or a film? How many have paid to use content? Should they?

We have just finished our February issue. We’ve chosen our 20 favourite slogans, each one illustrated with archive images of the slogan in use. One of the slogans we chose is Beanz Meanz Heinz. To illustrate that piece we had to pay the History of Advertising Trust over £100 to use each image. That money goes to fund the work of the Trust – without those fees, it couldn’t exist. If sites like Fffound had to pay similar fees for each image used, they couldn’t exist either.

There’s no doubt that unauthorised copying, downloading and distribution is a problem for anyone who wants to make a living by creating content. How would you feel, for example, if you had invested two years of your life in writing a book which you hoped to sell online only to find that it had been made available to download for free elsewhere? But the counter argument is that you if make your book available for free, millions more may read it and the fame and opportunities that this exposure then brings you is worth far more than you would have made by selling the book in the first place.

Those familiar with Creative Commons will know that there have already been considerable efforts made towards a reasonable compromise. People want protection for their work, but they also recognise that there are benefits in having their work seen widely and that there is a great difference between, say, a non-profit site like Fffound posting an image and a corporation using that same image in an advert without permission. SOPA, its critics argue, would not make such distinctions.

 

This is a massively complex area and we don’t pretend to have the answers. What we’d like to use this space for is to ask readers where you stand on these issues:

As a creator of content, are you happy to see sites using content without permission?

Do the benefits of the current ‘free’ model outweigh the drawbacks?

Is current copyright law sufficient to protect you?

How can livelihoods be protected without destroying the free flow of information?

Let us know your views. We’ll get involved below the line to respond to particular points

 

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