The Graceless Death of Copyrighting
Today, the sponsors of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) withdrew their support of the two bills. This action has been largely credited to vehement opposition by websites and other technology companies, including a widespread “internet blackout” and information campaign.
Preemptively depriving people of property and liberty in order to prevent copyright infringement would not have been a valid solution, but a new offense in itself. Those pieces of legislation represented an assault on civil rights that are already besieged from multiple angles. Their abandonment is definitely cause for celebration. Hurrah!
However, while this triumph is laudable, it resolves nothing. The real problem is that, particularly since the advent of peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing, copyrights have become unenforceable—whether for music, film, software, or printed material. The internet effectively makes copyrighting obsolete, and the entertainment gurus cannot abide this change in the game. It turns their golden goose into just another bird.
The internet takes communication and innovation to a whole other level. The birth of the internet was the beginning of a new age into which we have been steadily progressing. It is an age of free information and worldwide, real-time communication, incompatible with institutions whose profits rely on copyrights and other such restrictions. Those institutions are part of an old order that has no place in the new age. They cannot coexist with free communication, and no amount of arguing will convince the world to sacrifice such a valuable asset to keep their industry afloat.
Of course, in this light, the old order will use every resource at its disposal to stunt free communication. As long as they still have means to do so, corporations and trade organizations will try to prevent this new age from coming to fruition, at any expense. It doesn’t matter if the price we pay is the elimination of basic civil rights, if the alternative is death of the institutions. If they can’t be part of the new age, no one will.
As with many major political issues, there is a massive underlying problem at the core of the copyright controversy and many others: too many of our institutions are set up to be permanent. The self-deified leaders of industry, rather than adapting to a changing world, become obsessed with crushing any innovation that threatens the eternal life of their business models.
We see this phenomenon not only in the dying premise of copyrighting, but across the board. The petroleum and automotive industries expend a great deal of money and resources to suppress alternative vehicles and fuels. The Democratic and Republican parties use every means at their disposal to keep outsiders from establishing a meaningful political presence. Central banks incite wars and threaten the stability of the world to prolong catastrophic monetary policies. Religious organizations denounce scientific advancements that shine light through the gaps of faith. The list goes on and on.
As new technologies enable new abilities—a process that has accelerated across human history—old orders will continue to fiercely struggle against their impending demise. Fortunately, they will always fall behind because they’re on the wrong side of a futile conflict. They are medieval cavalry trying to trample a fleet of tanks and helicopters. Today, two of their best-suited horsemen were unceremoniously crushed.
Despite this victory, we must remain vigilant. We have won a battle, and we will win the war, but this old order will never resign peacefully. We must strike it down every time it stands up, again and again, until it has no choice but to assume its proper place—in the past.