Political SOPA opera
Copyright legislation serves to benefit only large media companies, while ignoring independent artists who share work digitally
Even after the protests of major websites such as Wikipedia brought attention to the censorship issues raised by recent anti-piracy acts in Congress, little attention has been given to how something like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would protect the rights of artists besides movie stars and musicians. Why does this concern you? Because you probably have intellectual property that is still going to be stolen, regardless of the legislation Congress was considering. The content you post on social media, such as your Facebook photos, should be treated as your intellectual property and bound by the same copyright principles as music sold by record labels.
People who know me joke that my camera is like a third arm. I delight in taking a camera with me wherever I go because I enjoy seeing friends' reactions to pictures that I post and tag on Facebook. Photography is an important facet of archiving and sharing my experiences with others, but what bothers me is how cavalier people are in taking my pictures and using them outside of their legal domain on Facebook. Legislation which focuses mostly on banning access to websites which host pirated materials would help protect the music and film industry, but it would do nothing for my situation.
The PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which requires ISPs such as Comcast to ban access to certain Internet domains which contain infringements on copyright, would need to prevent access to Facebook entirely if it were to attempt to protect my rights as an individual photographer. Facebook comprises a large portion of Internet traffic in the United States, reaching more than 40 percent of global Internet users, according to alexa.com. If SOPA and PIPA were to be carried out consistently, they would render the Internet close to useless since nearly every website contains complexities regarding intellectual property which the government simply does not have the resources to patrol.
For example, when I post pictures to Facebook, I do not give up my copyright or other legal rights to my photos. I do, however, give Facebook the right to use my images throughout the web. This allows my photos to be used as other users' profile pictures.
Does it matter that my intellectual property rights as an amateur photographer are protected since I am not making money by offering my material for sale? Unlike other artists who stand to lose royalties if their property is pirated, I actually gain utility from having people access my content for free. People viewing and interacting with my photos helps give me feedback so I can improve my portfolio in the future. But when people modify my pictures by cropping, color adjusting or otherwise, it potentially disassociates me from my content and typically alters the overall effect I intended for the picture to have.
I am not an acclaimed artist with a reputation to uphold, but I do spend valuable time digitally processing and refining my work before I publish it, which is why I am disappointed that the proposed intellectual property laws affecting my Internet experience as a whole will not help protect my personal intellectual property.
Photographers who make a living selling their artwork online have much more to lose. In a TED Talk about the effects of PIPA and SOPA, New York University Prof. Clay Shirky says, \n"In the end, the real threat to the enactment of PIPA and SOPA is our ability to share things with one another." Whether or not PIPA and SOPA are enacted, some people will still copy; the laws will just force mediums such as Facebook, Flickr and YouTube into the business of trying to police user content. This maintenance of content will be a hassle for websites, many of which will take a "guilty until proven innocent" approach to the management of intellectual property if these laws are enacted.
With prices of some lenses alone topping $6,000, photography equipment costs can exceed the price of a new car, requiring photographers to reach as large an audience as possible to sell their artwork for profit. With outlets such as Facebook restricted by laws that add friction to the sharing process, sales for start-up photographers could be negatively affected. Without these sales, small photography boutiques cannot afford to pay for new lenses, software or employees, and their net creativity output will decrease.
My problem with SOPA and PIPA is not that the government gets discretion to control that bastion of free speech, the Internet. Rather, it's that the content protection these bills would provide would only benefit the same large media and industry companies which have been lobbying since the introduction of the tape recorder.
Andrew Kouri's column appears Fridays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.