Congress in the USA have been thrusted to the front page of both online and printed publication recently with a proposed new act to protect the owners of copyrighted material, remarkably acronymed PROTECT IP. This act, which stands for Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property, gears the existing legislation to allow the copyright holders the ability to control any suspected internet content and site without monitoring or feedback. Guidelines as to what constitutes as illegal content are poorly written, and many fear this will mean the end of a free internet as we know it.
Copyright infringement is a common occurrence online, but the rate at which it occurs and the reasons for it occurring means that anti-copyright measures are rarely enforced. Companies recognise the need for copyrighted material to be posted online and, as long as the material in question is not an entire piece of copyrighted work or is offensive against the company in question, are accepting. Most even notice the positive effects that the free use of copyrighted material can have on a business. Gaming developers, in particular, prosper from having their works shown online in a matter which technically infringes on copyright laws. 'Let's Play's are popular walkthroughs/playthroughs of game typically posted on internet video sharing sites like YouTube, in which a player progresses through a title providing often humorous commentary and insight. Assuming that they do no critical analysis, this is an illegal act and they could be prosecuted, but video games are interactive and thus a video demonstration of gameplay is not parallel to the gameplay itself. Consumers watch these videos, become interested in the title and likely buy it. LPers (Let's Play-ers) make a personal gain from uploading this content, but so benefits given to the creators of the game.
More good examples are internet boards and image sharing sites. Tumblr, the microblogging platform, has a reputation for containing large quantities of images which are taken from popular works and modified to add a humorous or artistic angle. Again, copyright infringement is taking place here, but it is not enforced. According to this new legislation, Tumblr Inc. would take responsibility for the actions of its millions of users, an absurd concept, and one which promotes freedom of speech restrictions and impairment.
Control like this should never be put in the hand of the corporations. The effect that shutting down an internet site, even for a day, can be devastating and costly for the company running it, and with little in the way of third-party tracking of corporation's actions, it is likely that many small time companies will be put out of business for material they did not produce. This will only lead to scaring off legitimate users whilst doing nothing to stand in the way of real violators, who will have the knowledge and tools to bypass any blocks put in place by the government. Should this stifling of creativity be passed, then it will be a sad day for internet users, and the last we see of online freedom.