How SOPA Changes Current Law
SOPA has been making the rounds of headlines across the internet and print media this last couple weeks. It is a bill to criminalize “illegal” content online. So, someone posts a snippet of a song owned by a record company on your website, and you are now a criminal. You are not just a person with a legal dispute between you and someone else. The Federal Government is also standing between you and that someone else.
This represents a dramatic shift in copyright law in recent years. At its inception, copyright law was designed as a civil matter. If a copyright holder felt their material was used illegally, the holder was granted the right to take any offenders to court, at their own expense, as one would do over a contract dispute.
Criminal matters are intended to be those issues that threaten the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of the general public. For issues where the interests of only a few select entities are at stake, our once wise Constitutional legislators designated those issues as civil matters.
By rightly applying civil law to copyrights it allowed a means for creative industries to protect themselves from other people within creative industries. It was never intended as a legal bludgeon to be wielded by copyright holders against the general public who did not profit off of their contact with the copyrighted material. The idea that an individual obtaining a copied version of copyrighted material equaled theft was never a part of the design of copyrights.
Copyrights and Capitalism
The reason copyright laws were designed as a civil matter, is that otherwise the heavy (and politicized) hand of government would become an over-bearing force on our Free Market system. For real Capitalism to thrive a Free Market must be allowed to define how the economic system of any given period of time is formed. By allowing the fair system of a Free Market to decide which business models fail and which business models succeed, we prevent the often ignorant and short-sighted influence of a powerful government from making wrong decisions about who should be allowed to succeed.
In other words, if a government were to make a decision that a current business model was the correct one, and begin passing laws that cement that business model in place forever, then that government does not have the best interest of the entire economy at heart. Instead a true Capitalist system encourages any and all business models to exist. And a government that wishes to promote the ideals of Capitalism does not lend itself to any industry as its personal strong-arm to prevent competitive threats. Instead, such a government would stick to its original purpose of promoting freedoms of its people.
How Did We Get Here?
The reason we have come to the point where a government intended to protect individual liberties is asserting itself as the unpaid bully of select business models is that we have gradually slid far from the ideals of Capitalism and into the morass of Corporate Socialism. We have allowed ideas like “too big to fail” and “vital industries” to slip into our vernacular. We have fostered the socialist idea that the role of our government is to make sure certain favored entities remain unscathed.
The idea that we reduce government’s power in our lives, and thus in our economy, has been replaced with the idea that our government is responsible to see that people and entities succeed. If only we could return to the morally superior value of laissez faire, we might have a chance to form a new media industry that learns to compete in the technological world we have evolved, instead of needing a thuggish government to protect its interests with the threat of imprisonment.
Right now, we have given ourselves a government that is not bright enough to see past the whining of the music and movie industries, at their real purpose–maximizing personal liberties. We should start looking for candidates to get us out of this mess as soon as possible.