This might disappoint some of my clients who've been tweeting about the on-line petitions against, but I find myself sympathizing more with the content providers than the internet providers on the SOPA/PIPA question.
Well, this weekend somebody e-mails me with a listing on eBay for a seller hawking complete sets of Sookie Stackhouse audios for £3.99. These are not legal. These are the copyrighted works of my client Charlaine Harris, and the sound recordings themselves are (p) Recorded Books, Inc., and the rights to sell these in the UK belong to the Orion Publishing Group. I don't believe for a single solitary second that the person who's putting up these listings thinks it's legal to run his/her own duplicating operation and to sell them on eBay for £3.99. And for that matter, I don't think the people buying these if they have half a brain or have ever been taught the "if it's too good to be true" think it's legal, either. And no, the seller isn't selling their one copy of the audios at whatever price they can get, they're selling multiple sets on this listing, and when this listing goes down they put up a new one with another batch.
You can't take the most basic step of reporting the seller by clicking the "report" link without being a registered eBay user. I have never been and have no desire ever to be a registered user of eBay, get along just fine without, thank you. And you can search high and low and up and down and left and right on eBay for an awfully long time without finding any depository e-mail for sending DCMA notices, there is no such thing, they just don't want to hear it.
Let me be blunt: eBay simply doesn't give a shit that it is aiding and abetting in the violation of copyright law.
So I don't want to hear eBay telling me about how I should oppose the cruelties of SOPA.
And of course, eBay is one of the good guys, a major corporation that theoretically has a reputation to care about.
What about the bad guys? As an example, a site that I was told about two weeks ago that has a raft of pirated A. Bertram Chandler e-books. This site is allegedly to help readers buy textbooks, what a generous kind group of people to help students. Oddly enough, their #1 category is science fiction and fantasy. The site doesn't have any depository e-mail for DCMA notices, or any contact information at all, for that matter. A request to their hosts, based in France, reveals that the registry is with group based in Poland. I decide I don't even want to try and complain, why not just draw a target on my back for Eastern Europan hackers to take their revenge. This site exists for no other purpose than to help in the infringement of copyrights, and the people who set up the site know it, and they're hiding behind their offshore addresses.
And guess what, I don't need eBay to run about running interference for these pirates. Or Yahoo, or Facebook, or Google, or whomever.
None of these major internet companies are our friends, they aren't my friends or your friends or your friends friends. There are big corporations, making huge sums of money, just like the big music companies and the big motion picture studios that have been trying to get SOPA passed.
I want to go after these people. I want the government to assist me in this. I want that copyright violators like this can at least be protested the same way that I can file a report about an illegal telemarking call to the FTC, maybe my one complaint won't do anything but if enough people complain, at least there's this sense that you can do something to fight people who are going around happily and knowingly breaking the law.
Now that I've vented, let me say that SOPA does go over the top. I don't like the idea of censoring search results. I don't think you should get zapped because you have one link somewhere to one person doing bad things.
So in that regard, it's good to have an opposition that might help to shave some of the rough edges off of the legislation.
But we need to make the criminals work a little harder.
I don't think, by the by, that these pirates are going to kill book publishing the way they killed Big Music. If for no other reason, than that people want whole books more than short stories, and the industry sells whole books at very reasonable prices. This is the exact opposite of the music industry, which thrived on selling whole books at high prices to people who really just wanted the short stories.
But even though I don't feel this person on eBay selling illegal copies of Charlaine Harris audios is going to kill the livelihood of Charlaine Harris or her agent, I don't think it's a good idea to treat laws like they are disposable, or things for us to ignore. I can't have a reader who's kind enough to tell me about the eBay listing and just shrug my shoulders and say, no, not worth worrying about. eBay shouldn't make it a challenge to report a crime in progress. It's a matter of principle to me.
And that's the kind of guy I am. I'm the kind of guy who called the NYFD to complain that a gym had a huge hamper of towels parked directly in front of the main fire exit. No, I didn't really expect there was going to be a fire, but fires do happen, and dozens of people die when those fires happen in places that have the fire exits blocked or locked.
So even though I don't think the pirates threaten me in a serious or urgent or immediate way, I want to have the might of law a little more on my side when it's necessary to go after them.
A lot of people disagree with me, some of my own clients. It happens, especially in these sorts of situations where we are trying to muddle through the fast-changing publishing industry. I had respectful disagreements with some of my clients on the proposed Google Books settlement, interestingly on that one I was siding with the Google Empire, on this one it's the clients siding with Google and the other big internet companies.
This is my personal opinion, it isn't an official opinion of the agency.
- The Brillig Blogger
- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.