[Note: This post has been censored by the author in protest of the "rogue sites legislation" (i.e., Internet censorship) currently being considered by U.S. Congress. The full text will be made available soon.]
Dear Internet friends,
As you may already know, I create audio/video mash-ups by crossing older films and music videos with newer music, with varying levels of editing to the original visual content. In a sense, it has become a hobby of mine over the past few years, and I find it very rewarding. My own activity has been inspired in some ways by the mash-up culture more prevalent in music during the last decade.
During my Masters of Journalism program in 2007-2008, I learned that this is legal behavior because of the “fair use” aspect of U.S. copyright law. That says people can use copyrighted works for non-commercial, transformative purposes that add value to the material but don’t hinder the profitability of the original “intellectual property.” In other words, I don’t make any money on these mash-ups; I just do it for fun, and to fulfill my democratic duty of keeping our public domain vibrant and progressive.
However, as Lawrence Lessig explains in his 2004 book Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity, copyright law has now become vastly overextended due to the new technology of the Internet. All traditional media content can now be duplicated and distributed online with little to no cost, and incredibly faster than what was possible in the “real world.” This has led to a boom in content-based social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo.
Companies that own copyrights to music, movies, TV shows, and other digital content have been fighting peer-to-peer (p2p) networking for almost a decade now, claiming that they’re losing money because of these new technologies (such as BitTorrent). But really, they haven’t fully demonstrated that online technologies are actually causing them to lose money. What bothers them the most is that they have lost control over distribution, as Rob Sheridan wrote in a now-legendary 2007 eulogy for the p2p music site Oink. (For more on why copyright law is broken, please see my 2010 essay “CC-BY: A Step Into the Belated Future.”)
Things have changed a lot in the past few years. Attempts by media conglomerates and their lobbying groups to sue copyright infringers — usually labeled as “pirates” — have totally failed. Citizens have shown no signs of stopping any of this behavior, because threats now seem empty, and arguments why they should stop don’t make any sense. So now companies are pushing Congress to pass “rogue sites legislation,” claiming that its purpose would be to prevent foreign websites from selling counterfeit or bootlegged goods.
But a bill like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or Protect-IP (that is, protect intellectual property) would do far more than that. First of all, the U.S. government would have to work with Internet service providers to limit access to those foreign sites. They’d also have the power to prevent payment or advertising services from working with foreign copyright infringers.
By the same means, the government could fine or shut down domestic websites for hosting copyrighted content without permission — or even for linking to such content! Critics say this could harm the Domain Name System (DNS) that holds the Internet together!
Now it gets more serious. These bills would make online copyright infringement a felony punishable by up to five years in jail! (For more on the specifics of SOPA, please see this article.)
According to AmericanCensorship.org, SOPA could pass as soon as Thursday, December 15. So as you can imagine, I’m feeling pretty anxious about the possibility of being labeled a felon for activity that should be totally and unquestionably legal!
You might think that if you don’t manipulate or remix copyrighted content that you’re in the clear — but actually these laws could target many other kinds of online activity. For instance, many have pointed out that even uploading a video of yourself singing a copyrighted song (i.e., almost any song you yourself didn’t write) could be punishable as a felony! You don’t even have to be singing the song. If you take a video of your friends and there’s a copyrighted song playing in the background, it would be a felony to upload that video to YouTube or Facebook!
Hopefully I have convinced you of the horrible consequences that will surely ensue if SOPA passes. I also recommend watching the video below. Please visit AmericanCensorship.org (or their partner site, FightForTheFuture.org) and follow instructions on how to spread the word to your friends, family, and colleagues (use the tag #censorshipeverywhere) — and (perhaps more importantly) how to tell your U.S. representatives why they should disobey financial interests and listen to their constituents!
Update 12/14/2011: AmericanCensorship.org has provided a widget to make it super easy to call representatives: