I interviewed the founder of the Blip.TV, Charles Hope, who shares his thoughts about why The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is extremely bad for online video platforms and their users, and explains what's really needed is not new laws, but better business innovation.
My Interview With Blip.TV Founder, Charles Hope
Charles, Blip now features a lot of original and professionally produced web video series, which is just the type of content most likely to be pirated. Wouldn't SOPA have some benefit to an OVP like Blip, as well as professional web video producers?
Piracy is not a major issue for Web video producers. From time to time, scammers stumble upon the brilliant business model of stealing various Web videos and re-hosting them, surrounded by a flurry of banner ads. Frankly, this is more of a nuisance than a threat, because they don't have access to rich distribution channels, and merely catch the occasional bored Web surfer. Given that this is the only problem of piracy web video creators face, the effect of this legislation will only be negative.
What do you think are the big problems with SOPA?
SOPA is incredibly far-reaching, and targets even software authors and Internet service providers. Undoubtedly its severely chilling effect would affect the entire industry. I think it's already been well-stated by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF):
Despite all the talk about this bill being directed only toward "rogue" foreign sites, there is no question that it targets US companies as well. The bill sets up a system to punish sites allegedly "dedicated to the theft of US property." How do you get that label? Doesn't take much: Some portion of your site (even a single page) must:
1. be directed toward the US, and either
2. allegedly "engage in, enable or facilitate" infringement or
3. allegedly be taking or have taken steps to "avoid confirming a high probability" of infringement.
How would SOPA affect Online Video Platforms (OVPs) like Blip, and their members?
SOPA puts any web site that accepts user submissions at fatal risk. Online Video Platforms (OVPs) would have to lock down and preview every submission uploaded. This would balloon labor requirements and still only filter the obvious violations: there's no way to positively verify ownership of a piece of content until it's too late.
According to proponents of the bill, they say SOPA is primarily intended to stop online piracy overseas. Isn't that a reasonable and responsible thing to go after?
Laws don't always remain confined to the narrow intentions of their makers. All too often they are interpreted creatively, sometimes in ways that boggle the civilian imagination. The classic case is the Commerce Clause, which very reasonably gave Congress the power to settle interstate trade wars. This has since been aggressively interpreted to give Congress the power to regulate all economic activity, even including that of a farmer growing wheat for his own consumption!
With the precedent that SOPA will bring (if passed into law), it is certainly reasonable that established companies could use this legislation to crush emerging competitors who lack the deep pockets for a protracted court case.
If SOPA and PIPA aren't the answer to online piracy, then do you believe what we currently have with the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is sufficient to handle legal issues of today with its takedown notices and due process? Or do you think something more is needed, and what would that be?
While it's tempting to blame decreasing media margins on piracy, "Old Media" has dragged its feet in responding to the changing consumption habits of the public. To take an example from the music industry, pundit Bob Lefsetz had been advocating the Spotify style rental business model for year after year, while music profits plunged, CD sales dried up, and music industry leadership buried their heads in the sand.
Meanwhile, labels have stopped developing talent over the course of several albums, and instead now focus on hits, using teams of producers who tweak sounds for weeks and construct synthetically perfect tunes that are catchy and push product, but lack authenticity and will never be remembered in 20 years. Could this have anything to do with plunging profits, do you think, maybe?
So I believe what's needed is not legal innovation, but business innovation. Old Media must accept the inevitable disruption, and find new business models that work for them in a high-bandwidth society.
What do you recommend for others in the online video space to get involved and participate in the political process?
We are hearing that the bill is dead, and that we can all go home now. This is not true. The House bill, SOPA, is simply on hold for a while. The Senate bill, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) , is very much still alive; and the White House has made clear their desire for new antipiracy legislation this year. You must contact your legislators – they really do pay attention. Washington must learn, unequivocally, that Internet users are more powerful than Old Media.
What Everyone U.S. Resident Can Do To Get Involved RIGHT NOW (FOR JUST 30 SECONDS)
Go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)'s landing page, Stop The Internet Blacklist Legislation, or go to https://blacklist.eff.org/. (Screenshot provided below.) Enter your just your basic contact information and a petition to your elected representatives in Congress will be sent on your behalf.
Want more information on SOPA?
I recommend checking out the most recent Mashable article in their SOPA series, "Why SOPA is Dangerous." The article provides a good overview of the bill, and a slideshow timeline.
About Charles Hope, Blip.TV Founder and Online Video Pioneer
Charles Hope is the Founder of Blip.TV, the popular video platform and original web series site he joined in 2005, and served as its Director of Research and Development. You can follow Charles on his blog.
Photo provided courtesy of iStockphoto, ©Pashalgnatov #16559963