Well, the battle had been joined over the SOPA/PIPA legislation and the people “won” and the bad, bad legislators in Washington retreated back to the dens of inequity from which they came. This is not a defense about the legislation itself – it was flawed and over the top (God help us if the word “draconian” is going to be overused like the word “disenfranchised”) – this is a proverbial pointing-of-the-finger at the dimwits who actually were defending stealing images as “fair use.” As a content creator myself, I see this entire argument as one about honesty and value and I don’t feel that anything was “won.”
Much of the argument against SOPA was couched in the fear of governmental control of the internet; a fear that I share. However, the other part of the argument sounds like people who are ignorant of copyrights (deliberately or otherwise) or the disingenuous rationalizations of those who just want something for nothing: a true American value. I have read one of the most ignorant comments about SOPA I have ever seen about anything – that once something is on the internet, it is free. Nothing could be further from the truth and it doesn’t take a “circle C” to make it legal. If you didn’t create it, it isn’t yours. Period. It isn’t up to you to decide what you can or cannot do with the material in question. It isn’t yours and all the right-clicking in the world doesn’t change that fact. This is no different than plagiarizing from an encyclopedia to write a term paper or a comedian who tells jokes that came from some other comedian’s act. It is stealing. It is stealing because you took something that you have no right to and used it to enrich yourself, whether it is to make you seem like a more clever writer, artist, or comedian than you actually are or to make your blog more visually interesting through someone else’s artwork. And this is where “value” comes into play.
As the old marketing aphorism, that I despise, says, “Perception is reality.” So why would someone upload a pirated Led Zeppelin video, for example, to YouTube or use a photo on their blog that they did not have permission to use? Because it enhances the perceived value of their presence, whether through more views on YouTube (which can, in fact, turn into money if you are in a partnership with them) or draw people to your blog article just as an interesting cover photo does for a magazine. Whether you are charging for your services or not – and isn’t that an ironic thought: stealing copyrighted work so you can make money – the bottom line is that you perceived value from what you took. And it doesn’t matter whether or not you think that Led Zeppelin is rich enough, so this won’t hurt them financially. Led Zeppelin has been around a long time and certainly has had a chance to make their money (the record company, as well), but you can claim that until you are blue in the face and it will never change the fact that you had no rights to do ANYTHING with their music or video! The simple rule is this: if you didn’t create it or have permission to use it, it’s not yours to do with what you will. Period. Yes, it is just that simple. And, yes, there are exceptions for critical review or commentary, but that isn’t what this is, so don’t hand me that BS!
So now we have the apprehension of some jokers who were running an outfit called MegaUpload.com and they were doing, from what I gather, pretty much exactly what Napster was doing before they got their pee-pees whacked. The site exists solely for the unfettered exchange of copyrighted material by those who have no rights whatsoever to ownership or distribution. They knew what they were allowing and they were making money off of it and the people who were utilizing the site didn’t care about stealing or anybody else’s rights. They only cared about what they themselves wanted. As much as anything, that mindset is as big a problem as the actual violation of copyrights and ownership. When you don’t care about fairness, creator rights, or the law, you are encouraging criminality and, at the very least, a disrespect for the creators of that thing you value enough to steal. What MegaUpload was involved in was deliberate and it was criminal and I hope they are punished to the fullest extent of the law and I hope it hurts – a lot.
The internet is not the marketplace for the untalented or the lazy. I can go on and on about the dreck that is music sampling and the dishonesty of places like YouTube who claim to honor artistic integrity while not truly policing their site, or the habitual laziness of people who can’t or won’t hinder their brains with grammar or spelling concerns, but I may save that for another article, but it’s all cut from the same cloth of laziness. If you can write and you need an illustration for your piece, draw it yourself. If you can’t draw, find someone who can. If it means that much to have a picture, do it right and don’t steal somebody else’s work to enhance your own. You should also expect to have your original work respected and not co-opted by thieves who claim they are “giving you attention.” They are only in it for themselves. And if you are thinking to yourself “if I do it, it won’t make any difference. I’m just one person,” congratulations on your own insignificance in your own mind – that kind of thinking is how water and air get polluted. Doing the right thing has nothing to do with how small you think you are. Just remember: one person thought enough about SOPA to organize a protest … and where did that lead?
As wrong-headed as the SOPA legislation was, it was introduced for a reason: there is a problem. Here’s another aphorism: “It’s not a crime if you don’t get caught.” That’s the kind of thinking that comes from greedy corporatists and corrupt politicians – just the kind of people that the railing against SOPA was supposed to oppose. Could this actually be just a case of the-pot-calling-the-kettle-black?
*For Part Une of the Napster Generation: Visit my article, Putting A Value On Value
©2012 James Montgomery