Back in college, I may or may not have run an mp3-sharing FTP site off my computer that was registered on Oth.net. My roommates downloaded bootleg “cams” and “screeners” through IRC, and we watched them on a modded Playstation that could play VCDs. I thought nothing of it; we were poor college students. Everyone was doing it. This was the age of Napster and college-wide network shares.
In my first apartment after college, in 2001, I had my computer connected up through Time Warner Cable. One day, they shut off my internet. When I called to inquire, they said the a record label associated with the RIAA had reported me as in violation of copyright infringement for sharing copyrighted music files. I think they had a list of about 40-50 tracks they specifically had called out as hosted by my computer available for people to download.
This was before all the RIAA lawsuits started. TWC told me to remove any file sharing software and public access to my music and they would reinstate my internet connection. No harm, no foul. I got off with a warning.
Had this been 2-5 years later, I could have been hit with a $3000-$5000 “settlement fee” for the same offense. Or if I fought it? I might have ended up with a $2 million judgement against me, like Jammie Thomas-Rasset in 2007. I got lucky. I don’t download or share music anymore.
Piracy today is rampant. If you could persuade teenagers to be honest with you, most would tell you they don’t buy music – they have tools to rip the tracks off of the audio in Youtube videos, or they torrent them, or download from sites like the recently-shut-down MegaUpload. Some people boast of terabytes of music in their archives – an amount which would cost any normal purchaser thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars to acquire “honestly”.
SOPA and PIPA are obviously flawed measures, and would do a much greater order of magnitude of damage to the internet than any benefit they’d provide to the RIAA and MPAA. But lobbyists and lawmakers are going to continue to push and push for these kind of regulatory actions because of all this piracy. The recording and motion picture industries are mired in old technology, and they believe they cannot survive if the piracy continues. (Whether they actually can or not is something I’ve not seen enough information on to have a firm opinion about, but I suspect that there are enough innovative groups and labels out there that are getting by without the frivolous lawsuits that the RIAA and MPAA’s whole arguments are thrown into a doubtful light.)
So if SOPA and PIPA won’t work, can we eliminate piracy by means other than legislation? Probably not. Especially not if the public mindset continues to be “Everyone’s Doing It”, and people believe they’re immune from reprisal because they’re “just one in a million”, or they’re “just downloading one movie only, and not even a good one at that” (both arguments I’ve actually heard for justifying piracy).
Killing piracy is like curing poverty – idealistically, it would just require enough people to care enough to take action (or stop taking action, as the case may be) to effect change. Realistically, if parents don’t govern their kids’ behavior, colleges don’t crack down on their students’ activities, and ISPs don’t punish ALL offenders, the number of incidences of piracy is not going to decrease. And the only way to really get ANY of that to occur is to make piracy not only so illegal, but so prohibitively costly to NOT monitor and protect against it that ISPs, college campuses, and individual families begin to comply.
The men and women in Congress know this. Every day, lobbyists from the RIAA and MPAA hound them with this truth. And so they work to develop bills like SOPA and PIPA to fight back. Yes, these bills are horrendous and could break the internet as we know it today. If they do come to a vote next week, they probably won’t pass. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to just go away. Just like music and movie piracy, the legislation to combat piracy is going to keep popping up, rearing its ugly head until the lobbyists can ram through something to help out the record and movie labels (assuming anything can, at this point).
So stay strong, stay informed, and keep fighting against censorship, but be aware that it’s going to be a long battle ahead. Oh, and if you can, consider obtaining your music and movies legally instead of bootlegging them. It’s not going to end the piracy, but I’d REALLY hate to see your name on the next lawsuit filed by the RIAA/MPAA.