Me and SOPA and the Romanian Protests

I’m sure just about everyone reading this has heard about SOPA and knows (roughly) what’s been going on with that. Unlike most of you however, this actually affects me personally.

First from Pirate Bay:

Over a century ago Thomas Edison got the patent for a device which would “do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear”. He called it the Kinetoscope. He was not only amongst the first to record video, he was also the first person to own the copyright to a motion picture.

Because of Edisons patents for the motion pictures it was close to financially impossible to create motion pictures in the North american east coast. The movie studios therefor relocated to California, and founded what we today call Hollywood. The reason was mostly because there was no patent.

There was also no copyright to speak of, so the studios could copy old stories and make movies out of them – like Fantasia, one of Disneys biggest hits ever.

That’s slightly skewed but is mostly true. Edison owned the patent for the equipment used to film movies and a lot of directors moved to California partly to escape having to pay Edison a royalty. They also moved there because of the weather (it’s almost always warm and sunny) and those two things combined were what launched Hollywood and the American movie industry.

Now the corporate descendants of Hollywood (as well as many other industries) were pushing for SOPA in an effort to stop people “illegally” copying their material. I won’t rehash the argument because you all know about it quite well.

I don’t know a single Romanian who doesn’t get the vast majority of their video entertainment (and other digital things like games) from pirate sources on the internet. I’ve heard every justification for it under the sun from “I don’t care even if it’s stealing” to “I couldn’t afford it otherwise” to “who cares if it hurts corporations, they will be fine” to many more in the same vein.

What’s interesting is that technically I own an American copyright – it’s on my book The Complete Insider’s Guide to Romania. Because of some bullshit I had to go through with Amazon (dot com), I ended up copyrighting this book no different than any Hollywood movie or famous musician. Except of course I am not some international corporation and certainly not “evil”. I wrote that book and it took me a lot of time to do it and I put a lot of effort into it.

So what do I think of SOPA? As someone who actually has a copyrighted work, the fruit of my own intellect and therefore valuable property under the law? After all, a decent chunk of my income comes from selling my books. So what’s my opinion?

Well, to answer that, I will tell you that a reader recently pointed me to a post on Reddit, written by someone I do not know. Someone on there went through the trouble of assembling (seemingly) random passages from my book and posted it on there, free for everyone to read. In essence they “pirated” my book since they didn’t ask me for permission and didn’t even credit me.

What’s my opinion on that? I’m fine with it. Honestly, I’m flattered someone went through the trouble of “chopping and screwing” my book. There are all kinds of comments on the thread, both in praise and in criticism of what I had to say. And that’s fine with me. That’s really kind of what the internet is about. You find something interesting and you tinker with it, you tweak it, you chop it, you mix it, and you pass it on.

So my opinion is the same as every Romanian I’ve spoken to – SOPA was and is evil and should be stopped and I say that as the holder of an American copyright.

Now, in a seemingly unrelated topic, I now have a television and while I don’t have time to listen to it, I have been leaving it on and I’ve been watching the protests here in Romania. And I could see that they were going to “fail”, in the sense that nothing truly new or revolutionary is going to come out of them. I am glad to see the people in the streets and having a chance to voice their opinion (that “pesky” freedom of speech which I like) but in the long run they will fail.

How do I know? I could see it on the TV with the sound off. It’s because the protests are all vertical. They are all “we the protesters are sending a message to you in power”, the people at the bottom with a message to those at the top, a vertical progression. I had the TV on all day and the channel had hours of live footage of downtown Bucharest. The protesters were “talking” to the people in power but not to each other.

Now if you go and look at the recent spate of “Occupy” protests in the United States, you’ll quickly realize they had one key difference. They were horizontal. Yes, the Occupy protesters had signs and did some marches, etc, but they spent the vast majority of their time talking to each other. They were educating each other and taking care of each other and communicating with each other. This is why they lasted more than two months and this is why they had to be smashed by overwhelming force from the state – they were simultaneously enduring and threatening because they were horizontal in nature.

What’s even more interesting is that for several weeks, these Occupy protests were going on with virtually no media coverage (television, newspapers, etc). The way that all of us ever heard about them was due to the internet. The people physically involved in the Occupy movement reached out horizontally through the internet and finally it became big enough that the regular media had no choice but to cover it. Romania’s protests, on the other hand, were being covered from the beginning by the regular media.

Once overwhelming legal force was used to break up the Occupy protests, a lot of people involved predicted that the state would then make a pre-emptive move to control the internet to prevent another horizontal movement from happening again. A short while later, SOPA appeared on the scene and we now get to where we are today.

Folks, I support all expressions of free speech, whether on blogs or in the streets. But it’s not enough to hurl your words at those in power. They don’t care and at most they will make slight cosmetic changes to accommodate you and then go right back to doing what they want. If you truly want a change, you have to make it horizontal. You’ve got to communicate with and educate and share with your fellow people “at the bottom”.

Ok, so the pensions are too low and the salaries are too low and taxes are too high. Got it. But what is it you want instead? What is your plan for servicing these crippling loans to the IMF (about which I’ve written several times), which is what is behind all of these “austerity” measures by the government? What’s your long range plan for the Romanian economy? Education? Health care? These are the kinds of conversations we all need to be having with one another, not just standing in the cold and waving signs. Yeah the current government sucks but the next one isn’t going to be any better until you and I and all of our neighbors know what we want. And that means we need to talk to one another, not just shout at politicians and the media cameras.

Hint: You’ll know we’re on the right track when the media refuses to cover it.

I’ve said it a million times before but I’ll say it once more because I believe in it:


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