Big game names shun new Stop Online Piracy Act changes

Top game companieshave removed their support of the SOPA legislation that is meandering its way through Congress. Despite an attempt to leverage existing governance via the International Trade Commission (see this previous post) tthe latest mods to the bill instead take the idea of monetary attack ON TOP of the already onerous censorship and delisting threats.

The scariest part of this bill is the fact that those supposedly crafting it admit they have no idea what they are doing…(see Wash Post)

If I had a dime for every time someone in the hearing markup used the phrase “I’m not a nerd” or “I’m no tech expert, but they tell me . . .,” I’d have a large number of dimes and still feel intensely worried about the future of the uncensored Internet. If this were surgery, the patient would have run out screaming a long time ago. But this is like a group of well-intentioned amateurs getting together to perform heart surgery on a patient incapable of moving. “We hear from the motion picture industry that heart surgery is what’s required,” they say cheerily. “We’re not going to cut the good valves, just the bad — neurons, or whatever you call those durn thingies.”

The Heritage Foundation has chimed in on this recently with a “beware of unintended consequences” warning that seems to be going unheeded. THis report points out the some of the provisions in previous versions that allowed intellectual property owners to file “takedown” notices directly to offending websites, without court involvement have been removed, but this may open the door to overzealous and lawyer-rich IP holders to use the threat of court action in private communication to cause much of the previously reported mayhem, without the ability to file counteraction. Deep pockets will be able to force expensive court action on the “little guys”.

THe question is, will this really have the chilling effect claimed by doomsayers? To some extent, but as we have seen with the record industry, attempts to sue random teenager’s families for 100s of thousands in piracy damages caused more backlash than it was worth and has mostly run its course as the record labels spent by 1 account $17 million to get less than 400K in settlement money. Even the deepest pockets can’t keep that up for long.

So where do we go from here? Piracy has always been a major problem, but one that has been blown WAY out of proportion by the IP holders. Having been an online software vendor, and one with threadbare pockets, we found that our bottom line suffered with onerous anti-piracy schemes and improved when we made customers feel like their satisfaction and ease of use was more important than trying to eliminate piracy. Did we lose more sales to piracy with the latter strategy than the former? Yes! Did every pirated copy represent a lost sale? NO! Most pirated games are never played more than once or twice if at all, and in many cases sit on a pirates “trophy shelf” as proof of his street cred. Same with music. If I had ever used a file sharing site to find a song, it would have been a one time deal, often to find and play a song while sitting around with friends that I actually owned, but could get quicker online than ruffling through my CD collection (3-400 accumulated over the years). The notion that every pirate event is a lost sale is preposterous, and Matrix Games demonstrated that you increase sales with good customer service and allowing paying customers to have a game they paid for on multiple computers they own (or maybe a friend or two own) than you do locking things down with things like STEAM and making customers feel like proto-criminals. Maximizing sales, not minimizing piracy should be the success metric. Legislation like this needs to recognize this and be structured to balance “fair use” against no kidding wholesale IP theft.

The bottom line is that trying to stop piracy with a legislative shotgun will end up doing more harm than good. The proof is in the pudding – if the IP owners are against it – the people you are trying to protect – then you can be pretty sure you have a BAD solution. Look at physical “piracy” the sale of knock-off goods with “designer labels”. You stop that through the ITC and by making it financially risky to deal in such goods. Losing the ability to process credit cards because of repeated abuse has been effective in addressing large-scale offenders. Street corner cash sales will always be there, like any black market, and in many cases become gateways were young women in particular who start buying knock offs, go to the real thing when they are successful enough to afford it. These streetcorner sales to those who can’t afford the real thing anyway can be looked at as “diluting the exclusivity” of the brand, or as a form of viral marketing that leads to young women developing brand loyalty in the knock-off market that translates to real brand loyalty when they mature. Much like Apple’s attempts to inculcate brand identity by donating computers to schools.

Effective legislation will focus on large-scale foreign offender’s in a way that does not leave the door open to abuses of the types the articles linked to warn against. The current legislation needs to be thrown out and redone by a task force composed of those intended to be protected, tech policy experts, and bi-partisan legislators, with an eye to empowering the ITC to do the job it already does regarding “real world” piracy of goods.


About Paul Vebber

"If you read about something, you have learned about it. If you can teach something, you have mastered it. Designing a useful game about something however, requires developing a deep understanding of how it relates to other things."

Posted on December 31, 2011, in Tech Policy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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