Blocked websites. Infinite copyrights. Draconian entertainment industries. Judicial targeting of "pirate" sites. Users' loss of Internet access.
If you've followed the news of the metastatic Stop Online Piracy Act in the United States, you're probably familiar with the above dystopian possibilities. But I'm not talking about SOPA or the United States.
Those descriptions were of Bill C-11, the Canadian equivalent to SOPA and PIPA in the U.S.
On the heels of SOPA's (temporary) delay, the entertainment industry has stepped up their lobbying efforts in Canada to persuade the government to accede to their demands for highly punitive restrictions on copyrights.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who has kept a trained eye on the SOPAs of the world, wrote about the demands from the music and movie industry that could be included in Bill C-11's revision. These changes would include blocking of websites and, more frightening, extreme government responses that could result in the revocation of Internet access by users found to be "repeat infringers." Geist noted that within the bill's langage there is "no indication of due process or even proof of infringement."
In other words, if the government, sitting like a puppet upon the fat cobby fingers of the entertainment industry, says you're a repeat offender, then you're a repeat offender. Say goodbye to your Internet. And if you don't lose your Internet altogether, you will certainly see drastic if not crippling effects on a site like YouTube, the Fertile Crescent of viral videos, memes, parodies, remixed movie scenes, and so on.
Geist put together a revealing comparison between the claims of one media company, Viacom, and the "enabler" provisions that have been proposed in order to limit the reach of so-called pirate sites. The invective language Viacom uses in their claims to criminalize YouTube ("YouTube’s founders built an integrated media entertainment business, in the district court’s words, by 'welcom[ing] copyright-infringing material'" and "Google’s financial advisors stated that 60 percent of YouTube’s views were 'premium' —i.e., copyrighted—and only 10 percent of the premium videos were licensed") is grating and reflects the contempt that the entertainment industry has for sites like YouTube as well as a complete lack of understanding in disambiguating between "copyright infringement" and participation within the culture you live in. The purpose of uploading videos onto YouTube isn't to circumvent the process of paying to view clips of shows or movies. The sharing of video content facilitates discussion (albeit horribly, if you've ever read some of the YouTube comment threads, but hey - that's their democratic right to say stupid things) and discovery of other material that might not be otherwise accessible to users. What is to distinguish between someone uploading a segment of a movie onto YouTube that prompts discussions among other YouTube users and a library providing a free showing of a movie and then hosting a discussion of the movie afterwards? Nothing.
And if you think the effects of a site like YouTube going away are limited only to cultural ramifications, you may be sorely mistaken. According to Geist's speculation, the result of Bill C-11's passage could likely effect preventive measures that would be detrimental to the growth of the technology sector within Canada:
Reading the Viacom claims makes it clear that applying its arguments to a SOPA-version of the Bill C-11 enabler clause (which content groups want expanded to include operating or inducing infringement) could create a huge chill in the investment and technology community in Canada. Online video sites, cloud computing sites, and other online services may look at the Bill C-11 and fear that even a lawsuit could create massive costs, scare away investors, and stifle new innovation. Indeed, a recent study by Booz & Company found this to be a very real problem, with a large majority of the angel investors and venture capitalists saying they will not put their money in digital content intermediaries if governments pass tough new rules allowing websites to be sued or fined for infringing digital content posted by users. The U.S. has dropped SOPA, but now incredibly Canada may consider the very provisions that causes investors to become skittish.
And on a final note, entertainment industry: If you truly do insist on making sure that everybody pays for every single use of every single frame or note from your precious copyrighted material, even at the expense of annihilating the global culture, consider this: if you weren't manufacturing music and movies that are reminiscent of the feeling one gets when flocks of giant mutated pigeons drop cargo bay-sized lumps of nuclear turds upon the exposed brains of your consumers, you might actually be able to persuade a few people to see your side in all of this. But you insist on this path and, because you're dead-set on producing mind-rotting material that only promotes the death of creativity, you've decided to take it out on us. You should be applauding us, though, not sniping us because you think we're stealing your material. We're not. Through the use of sites like YouTube, we're actually doing our best to make your incessant drivel more entertaining for us.
And you don't have to pay us a dime for our services.