Intellectual Dishonesty?

I know a fair number of people are upset with the proposed Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Propery Act(PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act(SOPA) that have been under consideration in Congress, and I recognize there are reasons to stop this legislation, but I also know that there is good reason to believe that steps must be taken to arrest piracy of intellectual property.  It’s easy to get caught up in the public outcry, but it’s a different matter to admit the scope of the problem.  This has been an issue going back to the file-sharing sites that became popular in the late 1990s.  There can be no right to the intellectual property of others, and we have a generation composed of many young people who think they ought to be able to have whatever they want without paying for it.  It’s a mistake to indulge thieves, and to the degree people of this description are part of the outcry, I reject the idea that nothing should be done.  PIPA and SOPA  are probably not the correct legislative answers, but it remains essential that we enforce the law with respect to intellectual property rights.

Let me state from the outset that as a professional in the field of networks and network management, I am opposed to the idea of any authority being given to government to disrupt domain name resolution.  I don’t think that’s anything more than a band-aid, and I don’t suspect it will be effective once file-sharing services begin to change how they link material.  I don’t think the only effective way to deal with this is to find those whose sites are effectively clearing houses for what are stolen intellectual properties, issue cease and desist orders, and prosecute them under existing law.  We know this can be done already, as has been demonstrated by the case of MegaUpload.  The FBI went after this outfit because they were effectively trafficking in copyrighted materials, to the tune of a one-half billion dollars or more, and making a tidy haul of nearly two-hundred million.

There are those who have come to believe that this is fine, and that because they’ve now been deprived of a source for illegally copied materials, they have every right to whine, but I think the federal government should do something else in such cases: In addition to going after the file-sharing site, they should back-track via the ISPs every person who downloaded materials and prosecute them too.  This entire thing grew out of hand in the late 1990s when kids (and no small number of adults) began downloading illegal copies of music in the popular MP3 format from file-sharing sites all over the Internet, ignoring the entire concept of the property rights of the artists and publishers and all the others who would ordinarily gain their rightful profits from selling their property.  As available bandwidth has soared in many areas(but sadly, not in mine,) the same thing has happened with movies and videos and even operating systems.

I would like to talk about this aspect, because I want to remove any ambiguity from the discussion: What we’re discussing here is theft. We’re talking about aiding and abetting theft. We’re talking about scofflaws involved in the wholesale theft of the ideas, musical works, published and copyrighted material, and all manner of things by people who prefer not to pay for their own entertainment.  The fact that PIPA and SOPA may well go too far in the pursuit of this, or give the government an inappropriately excessive level of control and authority beyond what many think is already too much control is a good reason to write better laws, but this is not an excuse to simply ignore the issue to the extensive detriment of every creator of original materials on the planet, whether individual or corporate.

I realize that we have now a generation that has expectations of instant(and free) gratification of their entertainment desires, but the truth is that they too need to grow up.  There is every reason to believe that an unrestrained traffic in pirated materials will ultimately harm the creation of more, because after all, nobody can be expected to produce for free those things that in former generations you would otherwise have had to purchase.  Property rights is a concept that is the cornerstone of our free market, and while PIPA and SOPA may be the wrong vehicles for addressing this issue, it is nevertheless true that it must be addressed.  Pouting like spoiled brats because we could not get our free downloads of some pirated movies or music merely suggests that the problem lies with us.

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