The Economist is well and known and well regarded for its intellectual and stridently capitalist takes on everything from healthcare to governance. But when considering the new Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that is currently being debated by Congress, the magazine’s editors took the unusual stance of siding against America’s big entertainment industries.
“Compared with other countries’ anti-piracy laws, SOPA is indeed draconian,” they wrote. It’s not that international, online piracy isn’t a serious problem. But targeting the companies like AT&T and Google which provide the infrastructure for web service and search is far more damaging to consumers and the internet economy than the problem demands.
The Economist points to methods that have worked in Europe and Asia, the “graduated response” laws, which ask ISPs to shut off service to individual users who are downloading illegal files. Consumers get two warnings first. In South Korea, most consumers stopped downloading pirated files after the warnings.
As the folks at BitTorrent recently pointed out, even if all the users currently downloading files through Bit Torrent sites switched over to paid streaming services like NetFlix, it wouldn’t add up to the yearly budget of the MPAA, the industry’s leading crusader against online piracy.
And yet independent artists are finding new ways to thrive. Kickstarter is on pace to pass the annual endowment for the arts in terms of the capital they raise for creative projects. The Economist takes a dour view of attempts to regulate piracy out of existence. “Neither piracy laws nor newfangled ideas offer creative types a reliable path to prosperity. Services that provide legal music over the internet pay out little in royalties. Only the biggest bands really do well out of touring—and to become big they need to sell albums, says Mr Mensch. No law can do much about that.”
What these industries need is increased investment in new legal technologies that will encourage consumers to pay for their music, movies and television to be delivered in fast, flexible ways that truly satisfy their current digital lifestyle.