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Commentary: SOPA presents the wrong solution for honest problem

Courtesy of MCT

Wednesday might well be the day the lights go out on the Internet.

Though it sounds like residual crazy left over from the Y2K scare, more than 12,000 websites — led by big names such as Wikipedia — have opted to darken their servers in protest of a bill introduced in Congress: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

For those who have missed the torrent of apocalyptic forecasts swirling around this bill, it is one that aims to expand the power of the U.S. government in fighting copyright infringement by targeting websites that facilitate piracy.

For all the concern that this might result in unprecedented governmental power to censor the Internet, the stake for owners of intellectual content is worthy of much more support than what has been mustered thus far.

In the tumult of the digital age, as more products appeared on our computers with the click of a button, it has become easy to download an album that would normally cost $14. After all, the user probably wouldn’t actually pay for it with alternatives such as YouTube available and the massively rich musicians who have now lost their cut of his or her hard-earned money are hard to imagine as victims.

But this issue is about more than a single $14 theft. Every song, video game or movie downloaded perpetuates an age of one-click piracy and has given rise to a culture of indifference to the true value of our cultural artifacts. While it is doubtful that celebrities will be left panhandling on the shoulder of I-270 this time next year, it is completely realistic to consider the increasing percentage of revenue lost to piracy in the board room when the suits at the top of production companies are deciding which projects to green light.

Essentially, the formulaic tripe that comes down the Hollywood tubes reflects an increasing unwillingness to take chances on a project that might push the boundaries of modern cinema because these flicks seem equally likely to end up in the 99-cent bin of a video store chain — and those titles and themes with which the public is already familiar have become the only ones that will make enough money despite rampant piracy to result in some sustainable profit.

Granted, it is hard to defend legislation like SOPA, which is a dim-witted attempt to hammer a nail with a sledge hammer that clearly missed the nail altogether. There is little defense for an out-of-touch Congress that seems to know as much about how to best mold Internet culture as kids these days know about life before the Internet, but their feeble attempt to address the issue does not invalidate the it altogether.

So while major Internet websites might be going dark to combat the threat of government censorship, perpetuating a world in which the movie, TV and music industries can count less on the value of their products will leave the prospects for the growth of our culture equally dim.

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