Why SOPA is a bad idea | Defend our Freedom to Share

Just a few days ago I talked to a well-known photographer and a good friend of mine about the SOPA protest and Buck 2-ten blackout post. We didn’t share the same opinion on the consequences of allowing the bill to be approved, such as internet censorship or restricted freedom of speech.  He has obvious and very valid reasons to support a law intended to protect copyrighted material.  And so do I.

But I am convinced that neither SOPA nor PIPA are the right laws to make that happen. I agree with Clay Shirky when he says:

“So what PIPA and SOPA risk doing is taking a centuries-old legal concept, innocent until proven guilty, and reversing it — guilty until proven innocent.You can’t share until you show us that you’re not sharing something we don’t like. Suddenly, the burden of proof for legal versus illegal falls affirmatively on us […]”

And, as a matter of fact, neither is the next threat approaching, ACTA, the right law to make that happen.

But don’t take me wrong, copyright laws are good.  I believe copyright laws are needed as much as they need to be reviewed and up-to-date. If you would ask me, we should go even further and review some of the patent laws that we have now (!). But that would be the subject of another post.

I agree, there are way too many illegal copies of Photoshop as well as music, movies, documents (etc) violating individual’s fundamental rights. What I call illegal copies are those used to make a profit without the proper license. A professional photographer should buy himself a Photoshop license. You can’t run a movie theater with illegally downloaded movies. Radio stations must get a licensing deal to play music.  You should not be allowed to run a website or blog —with ads— and Copy-Paste copyrighted content. It is paramount to guarantee that authors are credited and rewarded.

There is a difference between sharing opinions, knowledge or information and stealing someone else’s work. It is paramount that ideas, opinions and knowledge are shared freely. If I clip a post from the NYT, I am sharing ideas with my friends and readers. It’s about sharing knowledge and information  (Okay, there might be my opinion in there too —which I also hope is considered valuable for some). But I am not making any money out of this. I read and find information, opinions, knowledge and art expressions that I think people should know about. I communicate. I convey information, issues, subjects and matters that I think are worth a thought, a debate, a discussion or simply to be known. Like for example, what I think about SOPA as well as what others think of it.

Actually, I think that NYT is happy to see the influence they have on people’s lives. I also understand that they might not be too happy if they think that, by other people reading (some or part of) their content in my blog, they are losing money or writers are not getting paid for their intellectual work or they are receiving less revenue from paying advertisers (per clicks). But, if you have noticed, I started my sentence with “might”. Because, how do they know that my readers would have been their readers in the first place? Or, did they count how many of my readers have clicked on my links taking them to the document source? And could they tell me how many of those were first time visitors? Readers that would have never visited their site if not for my non-profit blog. (Yes! Non-Profit blog. There are no ads on my site — isn’t that nice!?) Would they give me credit for that? After all, I AM a NYT’s paying subscriber as well. 🙂

Let me share another piece of my mind with you. Lets say NYT decides to take me to court for (illegally) sharing, and I lose (busted, fined and locked away). That would mean that beyond any reasonable doubt, the above considerations are not valid and therefore, they are only publishing a newspaper to make money, just money.  How would you consider that? Journalism is not about making money. Culture is not about making money. Art is not about making money. Medicine is not about making money. There are some things that we do not do just for the money. The fact that you can make money is a collateral return. Money is an incentive to produce more.

Bob Dylan didn’t decide to be a songwriter to make money. He did it because that was his dream and he had the talent. If money would have been the only reason behind why he wrote his songs, I seriously doubt he would have wrote the lyrics that he is credited for.  Or, do you mean Lennon’s “Imagine” was written for a check? What about the “Guernika” painting by Pablo Picasso? And penicillin, how did we get that? And you will be wrong if you try to argue that the cure for AIDS will only be produced because there is money to be made from it.

You will only invest in a medical company, an insurance company, or media corporation for money. Which explains why investors, and ultimately, the corporations are behind PIPA, SOPA and ACTA. All these laws are about corporations lobbying to control what we share, we write, listen to or read. It is not about the rights of the individual; it is about money, even at the cost of freedom of speech.

So let’s not be confused about this protest. Let’s not allow ourselves to be mistaken about what SOPA is or is not.  And let’s not abuse labeling all protesters as thieves, although it sure is faster and easier than reading the documents and doing the research! (Oh! Maybe you were counting on the corporate media group to feed you the scoop of what is SOPA about? Very smart!. I am sure you can rely on Rupert Murdoch, Jack Valenti, Ted Turner or any other media mogul to explain you about the full implications that PIPA, SOPA or ACTA will have in your life. Too bad Robert Maxwell fell off his yacht, did he?).

Do we need a better way to protect copyright? Yes. Should we find better ways to enforce the legal rights of those who create? Yes. Should we define a better law to fight against those who steal intellectual property? Yes.

But we shall do it, mainly, because all laws need to be adapted —every now and then— to Zeitgeist: the world we live in. Laws, like most things we —humans— create become obsolete over time. Education was the privilege of the social elite during most of our history.  Today, it  is a keystone of modern societies (although it is still argueable that equal access has been completely achieved).  Justice is a universal right as well (which also seems less “universal” nowadays, btw. Read post “You Can’t Read This Book” —or read the damn book!).

What about Knowledge?



Clay Shirky: Social media theorist

Subtitles available in 5 languages.

Clay Shirky believes that new technologies enabling loose ­collaboration — and taking advantage of “spare” brainpower — will change the way society works.

Clay Shirky’s work focuses on the rising usefulness of decentralized technologies such as peer-to-peer, wireless networks, social software and open-source development. New technologies are enabling new kinds of cooperative structures to flourish as a way of getting things done in business, science, the arts and elsewhere, as an alternative to centralized and institutional structures, which he sees as self-limiting. In his writings and speeches he has argued that “a group is its own worst enemy.” His clients have included Nokia, the Library of Congress and the BBC.

Shirky is an adjunct professor in New York University’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program, where he teaches a course named “Social Weather.” He’s the author of Here Comes Everybody, about the power of crowds, and the brand-new Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. 

“Shirky is one of the handful of people with justifiable claim to the digerati moniker. He’s become a consistently prescient voice on networks, social software, and technology’s effects on society.”




  1. nobody is tying to stop free speech just assholes who steal artist hard work for their own profit.

  2. mokingbird

    i don’t condone piracy but there must be better ways of achieving copyright protection. the real problem is, people no longer trust authority to act without bias because we all know how big brother works….start with little bites and slowly eat the whole cake!
    awesome post, btw

  3. Britt

    I totally agree. Our biggest issue is that no law protects us.
    There is a need to amend the legislatio­n so it protects copyrights without creating a framework that could be used to infringe upon free speech.
    This is all about money: campaign money, lobbyists and all those
    political debts being called in. But more than that – this is the USA again exercising illegal extra-territorial powers.
    Nice post!

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