Using Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as an example, Frangicetto points out the role money plays in this legislation. The politician has “supported gay rights, women’s rights and criticized the Patriot Act,” but is for PIPA, according to Frangicetto. “It’s strange and perplexing [that Leahy supports PIPA] until you look at his campaign and the people who contribute the highest,” he says, citing Time Warner and Walt Disney Co. as two examples of generous campaign donors. “Anyone that thinks our political system isn’t bought and paid for by lobbyists, then they should just look at that. Why would this person who has fought for all these other things then turn around and support a bill like this that could so obviously damage the freedoms and infrastructure of our economy in a lot of ways? It’s right there in the writing: it’s money.”
Beyond giving more control to the powers-that-be, Frangicetto also touches on the importance of social media, which could potentially be crippled under SOPA, and how the vague language of the bills could take down just about any site. “When you look at the Occupy movement or any large-scale descent/protest kind of movement, they’ve been vastly more successful over the last few years because of social networking and because of sites that are unfiltered and uncontrolled,” he says. “If it got to a place where they were able to take down a site just because it had a link to some album download, you could basically use that as an excuse to take down any site—and that’s where it starts to get really hairy.”
While the two-party system tends to bleed into how we view issues—only having two options for how to view a law—things aren’t so black and white. Rob Sheridan, a visual artist most notable for his extensive work with Nine Inch Nails, sees an old regime trying to cling to their archaic business models. “The first route [to fix piracy] needs to be adapting business models to adjust to the Internet,” he says. “The most effective way to stop piracy is simply in providing better services. You have the entertainment industry now run by lawyers and accountants and CEOs, and not by people who are forward-thinking. They only want to protect the way that they do business now.”
History seems to agree with Sheridan, as well. “If you look back historically, they fought the same battle against VCRs and cable TV and cassette tapes and CD burners,” he points out. “They’ve fought every single technology that’s come along that they thought could damage their business at the time.” Going all the way back to the introduction of recorded music, Sheridan points out that musicians who were freaked out over the phonograph’s invention are reacting in the same way artists who aren’t adapting to internet culture are freaking out today: “How are we going to make money now?” The way they made money at the time was based on live performance, so with the introduction of recorded music, who would go see live performances for musicians to make money? “We all know how that turned out—the business transformed and they made a lot more money selling records,” he says.
Throughout his time working with Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, Sheridan has been a part of one of the most innovative business approaches to music. Prior to the release of several of their records, fans have had the opportunity to listen to them in their entirety—2005’s With Teeth hosted 13 different listening parties across America, and 2008’s Ghosts I-IV and The Slip were both released for free online before any physical distribution. “Our albums don't leak. Why? Because we don't send them to anyone until we release them online. This allows us to control our release and make the most of its impact.”
“It’s the shortsightedness that frustrates me,” Sheridan adds. “There are too many examples out there of people whose works are being pirated and are succeeding because they’re flexible enough to come up with new business models and engage their audience. The old media industries aren’t flexible enough to do that and they aren’t interested in doing that.”
Finding a balance between fighting piracy and allowing innovation is no easy task, especially for legislators. But with the help of the industries SOPA and PIPA affects, along with the consumers, a consensus can come. Support has waxed and waned for the bill; web host Go Daddy changed its stance after pressure from internet communities, and 13 Congressmen dropped their support for PIPA after the January 18 internet blackout protests. Some aspects of the law, including domain black listing have even been pulled before it reaches a vote. The bills bring up tumultuous and convoluted issues affecting a large number of people—including music consumers.
After these January 18 Internet protests—which included a blackout of Wikipedia, Reddit and countless other sites raising awareness about the laws and their potential effects if passed—pressure is on lawmakers and industry leaders everywhere to find compromise in the near future. No matter which way you feel, it’s important to make your voice heard before the bills come up for vote. Find contact information for your representatives right here. “These congressmen barely even know how to use the Internet,” Sheridan says. “They’re not going to stop. They’re just going to keep going at this.” Do not be silent—let the voice of a tech-oriented youth’s voice be heard.