Larry Downes, author of the book, The Laws of Disruption
, has an excellent (if lengthy) column discussing why the PROTECT IP Act is about the legacy media industry going to war with the internet
It is now clear that the true enemy of traditional media, still unbloodied, is the Internet itself. The remarkable ability of digital technology to reduce the transaction costs of information exchanges of all kinds has destroyed the business models, if not the businesses, on which content providers have operated successfully since at least the 18th century. Thatís when the first copyright law was passed in England.
The focus on "media" in the very name of the industry belies its reliance on the limited life of physical copies as the key control mechanism. But as physical copies are replaced by faster, better, and cheaper digital alternatives, control becomes more illusory. The entrenched providers are growing desperate.
A full-scale war between content distributors and everyone else has been raging in earnest for over a decade. Both sides have seen theirs share of victories, defeats, and casualties--some in the market, others in the courts. Like many messy conflicts, it has dragged in many once-neutral parties, including device manufacturers, network operators, and consumers.
He goes on to note that what this and other recent attempts to change copyright law in favor of those industries are really attempts to break the internet in order to protect some old business models. Yet, because we believe in free speech, we can't just completely stop the spread of content online, and so the silly set of laws we keep seeing are really attempts to take convoluted paths to break the internet, while being able to pretend they're just trying to stop "criminals." The real problem, however, is that these laws are being driven by the industries they help the most, and being passed by elected officials who don't understand what they're doing to the internet:
There's more, but let's cut through the unpleasant details here for a moment. In essence, what PRO IP, COICA, and now Protect IP all try to do is disrupt sites that infringe copyright and trademark without removing them, largely in cases where actually taking them down is both legally and technically impossible.
Their attenuated tactics, taken together, try to effect the removal of the site from the Internet when law enforcement canít easily exercise jurisdiction over the site itself or the people who operate it. Doing so, of course, leaves the actual site and those who operate it untouched, free to use their own tactics to avoid erasure or simply reappear nearby. And it requires the forced conscription of a dizzying jumble of Internet service providers, some large and some very small.
But the more indirect the solutions, the more the technical integrity of the Internet--its openness, its least common denominator protocols--is compromised. It may ultimately break. In an effort to disrupt illegal uses of technology, these laws may succeed only when they unintentionally disrupt all uses, legal and illegal.
How did we get so quickly to the brink, where Congress is wading so deeply into technical details it clearly doesn't understand? Why are the combatants in this war willing to resort to increasingly incomplete, ineffective and dangerous tactics? (Dangerous to the infrastructure, to the law, and otherwise.)
Law is often the last refuge of an industry in transition. Rather than change, or change as quickly as innovation makes possible, industry incumbents sue, first to slow the pace of progress and then, ultimately, simply to survive.
The full article is a lot longer, but really does a great job framing the entire argument that shows what's really at stake: an old industry that's being disrupted, and which is seeking (whether consciously or not -- and I'd actually argue that they don't realize what they're doing) to break the internet, because it upsets the ways they used to make money. What's unfortunate, is that politicians don't recognize that they're merely helping to prop up an unnecessary legacy industry, when there are plenty of new, better, more efficient operations able to take their place instead.