This morning, I read about the bill that Senator Patrick Leahy is attempting to push through the US legislative system that attempts to clamp down on all piracy and websites considered by some to be a threat to their copyrighted material. This could kill everything from innocent filesharing sites to YouTube, and it might not even stop there. The same feeling of outrage and disappointment with US politicians had sifted its way through my mind last year when rumours flew about that the UK government were after the same thing.
YouTube is a godsend. Every indie film-maker who has ever lacked an outlet or a website-streaming system must’ve seen God the day they discovered it. Around a decade down the line, it’s the biggest media streaming site on the planet. Unfortunately, countless uploads mean the odd TV show that’s still in copyright will slip through the net, but the corporations responsible will usually take it down pronto.
But when promoting products, films, music or brands through social media (YouTube can make a claim to all this is occurring through its channels and vlogging/video responses systems), word-of-mouth is crucial. Fan pages, status messages, Tweets… what happens when people start quoting songs? Or using clips from copyrighted films for a top ten video? Are they banned then? Where does the line get drawn?
Mashable made an interesting point today, that one of the biggest brand trends on Facebook was getting the community to join in on product promotion. “30,000 fans,” says Ford, “and we’ll give away a new car.” But what happens when someone starts copying their idea or their text? Is it infringement? Is there no longer a tolerable grey area? Free speech, to the Americans, is arguably one of the most important aspects of the US Constitution, and a beacon of light across the world. But how free is our expression when the government are knocking on our doors rather than Sony BMI?
What’s worse is that company lobbyists are now trying to push a bill through that wouldn’t need to exist if consumers weren’t constantly pushed towards piracy. Last week, I bought a series pass for series seven of Grey’s Anatomy. I plugged my Macbook into the HDTV and it tells me the program isn’t allowed to play in HD on a non-compatible (non-Apple, let’s not go around the houses here, Steve Jobs) display.
Now, I’ve paid my money, so I’m not about to go grab it off a torrent site. But honestly, will other people? Yes, and you can’t blame them for it. If someone consumes, and by consumes I mean buys a television that should be able to play a programme they paid for, why stop them? Apple are a particularly bad example of this, and notorious for their aversion to third-party compatibility. But if you’re going to ban people from choosing their own clothes, the Marxist “any shirt, so long as it’s red” technique isn’t going to do you any favours.
It calls into question the future of social media. How much can we reasonably discuss? Will libel now come into play when someone moans about their job on a forum, or on Twitter? What if someone manages to upload a film to Facebook? Does Facebook then appear on the US government’s hit-list? Are Google really going to let their own government destroy a significant chunk of YouTube’s traffic?
Do me a favour, American citizens. Find a petition, and sign it, now. If you work in social media, or at any company where free speech or the odd dodgy upload might appear, fight for your right to exist. Or prepare for the internet to resemble Victorian England.