To be specific, the Internet industry hates these bills.
The Internet industry is huge, but it makes it sound like they are the little guys, fighting rapacious capitalists. According to ABC News, Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing said, "If you want an Internet where human rights, free speech, and the rule of law are not subordinated to the entertainment industry's profits, I hope you'll join us."
As you might guess, I have a different view.
Let's be clear: I am not endorsing SOPA or PIPA. The bills are still being amended, and we don't really know what they will ultimately do. Personally, I think Congress should focus on stopping the flow of money to pirates, rather than shutting down websites. But the details of the bills don't matter to the Internet giants. They don't think piracy is a problem. They are trying to dupe you into thinking that any attempt to stop piracy is hostile to freedom of speech.
And that has it exactly backwards.
First, drop the demagoguery about the movie and music industry. Yes, they have by far the biggest amount of money in play, and sure, many of them are big businesses. I'm not here to defend them, but to shift the focus. My point is that they aren't the only ones hurt by piracy. Piracy actually damages the little guy, the individual author, more than anyone. Big movie studios can absorb some piracy. An author can't.
The fact is, piracy destroys freedom of speech. By stealing my work, distributing it for free, you make it impossible for me to profit by writing. Yes, to profit: If you can create a completely new economic system, under which I will have all my worldly needs taken care of so I can write without worrying about money, great! Give it to me. In the meantime, I have to make money from writing to keep writing.
I spent close to seven years working full-time on The First Tycoon. Amateurism wouldn't allow that kind of effort. If I was an academic, I would have taken at least twice as long to finish it, and it would have been a very different book, since it would have had to serve my scholarly career; it would have been written first and foremost for academics. I like to think my book has some value as it is—as the product of professional writing, not academic or amateur.
I will be the first to say that copyright has been distorted in recent years—yes, thanks to the lobbying of the entertainment industry. It should be for a limited period, not life of the author plus, what is it now? Seventy years? Fifty? But the excessive extension of copyright doesn't negate the need for copyright itself. It is specifically listed as a responsibility of Congress in Article 1 of the Constitution. The purpose, the Constitution says, is "to promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."
Internet millenarians—the Information Wants to be Free crowd—claim that making writing free is actually good for writers . . . somehow. I support the right of any author to publish his or her work for free. Go to it! But why should you impose your model on me? Why deny me the right to get paid for my work? Why are you allowed to strip away my "exclusive Right to [my] respective Writings and Discoveries"?
Look, there's never been any difficulty in giving away your work for free. In the Internet age, anyone can publish for the public with minimal cost. The problem is keeping it from being only free—to protect authors' rights to their work. It's a real dilemma. Unfortunately, it is in the business interests of Internet giants to promote piracy, and convince readers that it's a good thing. More traffic, less hassle. Google makes more money—but authors get crushed.
If you take away copyright protection, you silence me. You take away my freedom of speech. I write research-intensive projects that take years to complete. I try to create works of literary art that also add to our knowledge. I can only do that if my intellectual-property rights are protected, so I can make a living at it.
Freedom of speech does not include the theft of someone else's speech. What it means is that I have the right to speak as I wish, where I wish, when I wish. If I choose to charge a price for access to my work, that is part of my freedom of speech, and taking away that choice is denying me my liberty of expression.
SOPA and PIPA may well be the wrong way to protect copyright. I'm not speaking up for them specifically. What I am saying is something that has gotten lost in the furor: piracy destroys freedom of speech.