Tim O'Reilly on SOPA: it protects the wrong people

In an interview with GigaOm's Coleen Taylor, publisher Tim O'Reilly explains what's so wrong about SOPA:

I talked with Nancy Pelosi about SOPA the other day, and she said that the experience with piracy is different for people in the movie industry. Maybe — I’m not a movie producer. But I do know that right now the entire content industry is facing massive systemic changes, and to claim that declining sales are because of piracy is so over the top. Any company that is providing great content online in a way that’s easy to use with a fair price has a booming business right now. The people who don’t are trying to fight that future.

So here we have this legislation, with all of these possible harms, to solve a problem that only exists in the minds of people who are afraid of the future. Why should the government be intervening on behalf of the people who aren’t getting with the program?

Tim O’Reilly: Why I’m fighting SOPA (via Beth Pratt)


  1. The major pieces of the content industry have been on the wrong side of technology, every single time. Eventually they wise up and start making money from it, but only after dragged kicking and screaming.


    Why are they believed for what they need again?

  2. Good news this AM –    http://www.examiner.com/computers-in-denver/house-kills-sopa
       Representative Eric Cantor(R-VA) announced that he will stop all action on SOPA, effectively killing the bill. 
    The Senate version (PIPA) still lives on. The online fight and white house veto threat probably killed SOPA.  Lets hope the senate gets wise too.  And they dont try to sneak this stuff thru some other way… you know the backers will try something.

  3. That analysis might be true for the rightsholders and content producers. But I don’t think it’s true for the US government.

    I think the governments and Big Content have IP goals that have similar outcomes but spring from somewhat different sources.

    Content producers want to protect their bottom line from piracy, the future, whatever. That’s clear. What’s not clear is why the government is with them on this, and I’m not sure that the answer is (as it always seems to be) big bags of cash.

    I think some smart people in government are taking a close look at the future of the US and the world economy and they’ve concluded that the US simply can’t compete with the overseas manufacturing titans. All that’s left is cultural exports. Music, movies, tv, books. These things are hard to protect especially when they become digital and production constraints largely no longer apply.

    So we need a worldwide IP regime that limits copying. It’s that simple. SOPA is one aspect of that, but there are many others. Notice how hard the US works to get DMCA-style legislation passed across the world. The whole point of the that legislation is to make sure the dollars are flowing across the ocean in the US content economy.

    We’re just looking at the tip of the spear with SOPA and PIPA.

    1. Precisely. The purpose of copyright (so important that it is specifically named in the US Constitution) is to encourage creation of works by allowing them to be profitable for the creator. It wasn’t about creating a permanent property right or guaranteeing profitability.
      Intellectual creations are protected precisely because they have social value. And copyright protection is temporary for the same reason – so that those works belong to the public after it has been made a worthwhile endeavor to the creator. To an extent, profitability is incidental.

      And now copyrights are transmuted into trademarks by corporations who use IP law more and more to profit than to create. In the music industry, touring is becoming a bigger source of revenue. Should we pity the musicians who can now self-publish on the internet? Those who must perform their craft live more often, rather than have it imprinted on discs by a machine? The model is changing. Today’s creators do not have it as difficult as Moliere in terms of making money. The technology and ability to attract national/international audiences now allows creators more opportunity than they would have ever had.

      Politicians like Pelosi only think it’s about the money. They misapprehend the real purpose of copyright law and fail to consider whether there really is a problem to be addressed – ie does the current state of affairs discourage creation?

      I don’t think any of us are saying IP holders should not be able to sue when others violate the protection afforded to them by law. We do observe when that process is abused – but that’s another matter.

      Politicians need to wake up and realize that not all potential violations of IP protection = loss revenue. As has been revealed time and again, most who download were not going to purchase anyhow. And despite this fact, current law allows numerous routes for IP holders to assert their rights.

    2. government finds it hard to control comment on the Internet. Imagine if they could just have made Wikileaks go dark.. 

  4. I don’t think any of us are saying IP holders should not be able to sue
    when others violate the protection afforded to them by law. We do
    observe when that process is abused – but that’s another matter.

    The problem comes down to the fact that due to the technology, there really isn’t any way to prevent large scale copying efforts except by draconian and unpopular measures such as SOPA and the RIAA lawsuits, etc.

    Nor is there any real assurance that a cultural industry has to exist.  Hong-Kong and China are unfortunate examples where the cultural industry is miniscule compared to the population because it’s almost impossible to make sizable profits that are required sustain the cultural behemoths that enjoy widespread popularity.

    With luck, SOPA and PIPA will die on the legislation floor, but I think we have to accept that there are going to be continual efforts to at the very least throw sand into the wheels of  piracy.  Without that sand, it’s pretty clear that if the convenience of piracy and the convenience of purchasing is equal, the majority of young consumers (who are the principal consumers of culture), will choose “free”. 

    In order to stay in business, media organizations need to make piracy significantly less convenient, and legislation and lawsuits are their main means to do so.

  5. While I don’t want to mount a defense of SOPA, I find the quoted attitude of “get with the program, Grandpa” to be a bit too caustic for my liking. What exactly is the program that O’Reilly is advocating? From the withering tone it seems apparent that he believes there is an identity between recognizing the necessity of change and understanding the best direction to take because of it. A storm has forced these industries from their hilltop, but below them may lie either sanctuary or death. And it isn’t obvious to me what a major movie studio “needs” or “ought” to do, in re a monumental change like the introduction of the Internet. Fearful, perhaps, but these are large organizations with many stakeholders involved, not nimble startups composed of the young and ambitious.

    So: to O’Reilly and others, what would you do, to lead these organizations like Moses through the wilderness? To what promised land do you intend to take them?

  6. “I talked with Nancy Pelosi about SOPA the other day, and she said that the experience with piracy is different for she gets tons of money from people in the movie industry. ”

    There ya go, Nancy.

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