Defend our freedom to share (or why SOPA is a bad idea) | Clay Shirky

I’m going to start here. This is a hand-lettered sign that appeared in a mom and pop bakery in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn a few years ago. The store owned one of those machines that can print on plates of sugar. And kids could bring in drawings and have the store print a sugar plate for the top of their birthday cake. But unfortunately, one of the things kids liked to draw was cartoon characters. They liked to draw the Little Mermaid, they’d like to draw a smurf, they’d like to draw Micky Mouse. But it turns out to be illegal to print a child’s drawing of Micky Mouse onto a plate of sugar. And it’s a copyright violation. And policing copyright violations for children’s birthday cakes was such a hassle that the College Bakery said, “You know what, we’re getting out of that business. If you’re an amateur, you don’t have access to our machine anymore. If you want a printed sugar birthday cake, you have to use one of our prefab images — only for professionals.” So there’s two bills in Congress right now. One is called SOPA, the other is called PIPA. SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act. It’s from the Senate. PIPA is short for PROTECTIP, which is itself short for Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property — because the congressional aides who name these things have a lot of time on their hands. And what SOPA and PIPA want to do is they want to do this. They want to raise the cost of copyright compliance to the point where people simply get out of the business of offering it as a capability to amateurs. Now the way they propose to do this is to identify sites that are substantially infringing on copyright — although how those sites are identified is never fully specified in the bills — and then they want to remove them from the domain name system. They want to take them out of the domain name system. Now the domain name system is the thing that turns human-readable names, like, into the kinds of addresses machines expect — Now the problem with this model of censorship, of identifying a site and then trying to remove it from the domain name system, is that it won’t work. And you’d think that would be a pretty big problem for a law, but Congress seems not to have let that bother them too much. Now the reason it won’t work is that you can still type into the browser or you can make it a clickable link and you’ll still go to Google. So the policing layer around the problem becomes the real threat of the act. Now to understand how Congress came to write a bill that won’t accomplish its stated goals, but will produce a lot of pernicious side effects, you have to understand a little bit about the back story. And the back story is this: SOPA and PIPA, as legislation, were drafted largely by media companies that were founded in the 20th century. The 20th century was a great time to be a media company, because the thing you really had on your side was scarcity. If you were making a TV show, it didn’t have to be better than all other TV shows ever made; it only had to be better than the two other shows that were on at the same time — which is a very low threshold of competitive difficulty. Which meant that if you fielded average content, you got a third of the U.S. public for free — tens of millions of users for simply doing something that wasn’t too terrible. This is like having a license to print money and a barrel of free ink. But technology moved on, as technology is wont to do. And slowly, slowly, at the end of the 20th century, that scarcity started to get eroded — and I don’t mean by digital technology; I mean by analog technology. Cassette tapes, video cassette recorders, even the humble Xerox machine created new opportunities for us to behave in ways that astonished the media business. Because it turned out we’re not really couch potatoes. We don’t really like to only consume. We do like to consume, but every time one of these new tools came along, it turned out we also like to produce and we like to share. And this freaked the media businesses out — it freaked them out every time. Jack Valenti, who was the head lobbyist for the Motion Picture Association of America, once likened the ferocious video cassette recorder to Jack the Ripper and poor, helpless Hollywood to a woman at home alone. That was the level of rhetoric. And so the media industries begged, insisted, demanded that Congress do something. And Congress did something. By the early 90s, Congress passed the law that changed everything. And that law was called the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992. What the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 said was, look, if people are taping stuff off the radio and then making mixtapes for their friends, that is not a crime. That’s okay. Taping and remixing and sharing with your friends is okay. If you make lots and lots of high quality copies and you sell them, that’s not okay. But this taping business, fine, let it go. And they thought that they clarified the issue, because they’d set out a clear distinction between legal and illegal copying. But that wasn’t what the media businesses wanted. They had wanted Congress to outlaw copying full-stop. So when the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 was passed, the media businesses gave up on the idea of legal versus illegal distinctions for copying because it was clear that if Congress was acting in their framework, they might actually increase the rights of citizens to participate in our own media environment. So they went for plan B. It took them a while to formulate plan B. Plan B appeared in its first full-blown form in 1998 — something called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It was a complicated piece of legislation, a lot of moving parts. But the main thrust of the DMCA was that it was legal to sell you uncopyable digital material — except that there’s no such things as uncopyable digital material. It would be, as Ed Felton once famously said, “Like handing out water that wasn’t wet.” Bits are copyable. That’s what computers do. That is a side effect of their ordinary operation. So in order to fake the ability to sell uncopyable bits, the DMCA also made it legal to force you to use systems that broke the copying function of your devices. Every DVD player and game player and television and computer you brought home — no matter what you thought you were getting when you bought it — could be broken by the content industries, if they wanted to set that as a condition of selling you the content. And to make sure you didn’t realize, or didn’t enact their capabilities as general purpose computing devices, they also made it illegal for you to try to reset the copyability of that content. The DMCA marks the moment when the media industries gave up on the legal system of distinguishing between legal and illegal copying and simply tried to prevent copying through technical means. Now the DMCA had, and is continuing to have, a lot of complicated effects, but in this one domain, limiting sharing, it has mostly not worked. And the main reason it hasn’t worked is the Internet has turned out to be far more popular and far more powerful than anyone imagined. The mixtape, the fanzine, that was nothing compared to what we’re seeing now with the Internet. We are in a world where most American citizens over the age of 12 share things with each other online. We share written things, we share images, we share audio, we share video. Some of the stuff we share is stuff we’ve made. Some of the stuff we share is stuff we’ve found. Some of the stuff we share is stuff we’ve made out of what we’ve found, and all of it horrifies those industries. So PIPA and SOPA are round two. But where the DMCA was surgical — we want to go down into your computer, we want to go down into your television set, down into your game machine, and prevent it from doing what they said it would do at the store — PIPA and SOPA are nuclear and they’re saying, we want to go anywhere in the world and censor content. Now the mechanism, as I said, for doing this, is you need to take out anybody pointing to those IP addresses. You need to take them out of search engines, you need to take them out of online directories, you need to take them out of user lists. And because the biggest producers of content on the Internet are not Google and Yahoo, they’re us, we’re the people getting policed. Because in the end, the real threat to the enactment of PIPA and SOPA is our ability to share things with one another. So what PIPA and SOPA risk doing is taking a centuries-old legal concept, innocent until proven guilty, and reversing it — guilty until proven innocent. You can’t share until you show us that you’re not sharing something we don’t like. Suddenly, the burden of proof for legal versus illegal falls affirmatively on us and on the services that might be offering us any new capabilities. And if it costs even a dime to police a user, that will crush a service with a hundred million users. So this is the Internet they have in mind. Imagine this sign everywhere — except imagine it doesn’t say College Bakery, imagine it says YouTube and Facebook and Twitter. Imagine it says TED, because the comments can’t be policed at any acceptable cost. The real effects of SOPA and PIPA are going to be different than the proposed effects. The threat, in fact, is this inversion of the burden of proof, where we suddenly are all treated like thieves at every moment we’re given the freedom to create, to produce or to share. And the people who provide those capabilities to us — the YouTubes, the Facebooks, the Twitters and TEDs — are in the business of having to police us, or being on the hook for contributory infringement. There’s two things you can do to help stop this — a simple thing and a complicated thing, an easy thing and a hard thing. The simple thing, the easy thing, is this: if you’re an American citizen, call your representative, call your senator. When you look at the people who co-signed on the SOPA bill, people who’ve co-signed on PIPA, what you see is that they have cumulatively received millions and millions of dollars from the traditional media industries. You don’t have millions and millions of dollars, but you can call your representatives, and you can remind them that you vote, and you can ask not to be treated like a thief, and you can suggest that you would prefer that the Internet not be broken. And if you’re not an American citizen, you can contact American citizens that you know and encourage them to do the same. Because this seems like a national issue, but it is not. These industries will not be content with breaking our Internet. If they break it, they will break it for everybody. That’s the easy thing. That’s the simple thing. The hard thing is this: get ready, because more is coming. SOPA is simply a reversion of COICA, which was purposed last year, which did not pass. And all of this goes back to the failure of the DMCA to disallow sharing as a technical means. And the DMCA goes back to the Audio Home Recording Act, which horrified those industries. Because the whole business of actually suggesting that someone is breaking the law and then gathering evidence and proving that, that turns out to be really inconvenient. “We’d prefer not to do that,” says the content industries. And what they want is not to have to do that. They don’t want legal distinctions between legal and illegal sharing. They just want the sharing to go away. PIPA and SOPA are not oddities, they’re not anomalies, they’re not events. They’re the next turn of this particular screw, which has been going on 20 years now. And if we defeat these, as I hope we do, more is coming. Because until we convince Congress that the way to deal with copyright violation is the way copyright violation was dealt with with Napster, with YouTube, which is to have a trial with all the presentation of evidence and the hashing out of facts and the assessment of remedies that goes on in democratic societies. That’s the way to handle this. In the meantime, the hard thing to do is to be ready. Because that’s the real message of PIPA and SOPA. Time Warner has called and they want us all back on the couch, just consuming — not producing, not sharing — and we should say, “No.” Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Defend our freedom to share (or why SOPA is a bad idea) | Clay Shirky

  1. "Time Warner called and they want you back on the couch consuming not producing and sharing." WOW I just LOVE that!! That was BRILLIANT dude!!

  2. Go to to sign a petition to stop this guys. it seriously takes 30 seconds. im sure we can all take 30 seconds to save our freedom

  3. @SWECKHOFF If that doesn't go, we can go VICTORIAN on their asses and do it like they did on the history channel.

    Guillotine like in the French revolution, to be precise.

  4. @Jotto999
    I'm not sure that's what it means. I think 34 out of 34 + 9386 (=9420) – i.e. 0.3% – might be a correct representation of the share of people who might actually benefit from SOPA/PIPA. It's interesting to see how many politicians these 0.3% have representing them…

  5. @ilsennodipoi I think it's much smaller than that, though it is speculative to be fair. Are we including anyone who owns stock in a media company, or just the execs? Or is there someone else I'm not factoring?

  6. SOPA & PIPA are not the end to the fight against freedom on the interent.. an agreement called ACTA has been made, and could very soon be implemented. ACTA is GLOBAL and has been signed by many countries including US, UK, Canada, Australia, and most EU countries.
    Please watch this video, thumbs up this comment so people can see, and paste it to other videos to spread awareness of ACTA. /watch?v=citzRjwk-sQ Thank you.

  7. @Jotto999
    It is speculative indeed. I'm really guessing here (the number 0.3% came sort of out of the air put when I think about it I imagine that might be about right). I think there will be a few people who have portfolios biased towards the media industries who will benefit. This will make up the lion part of the 0.3%.

  8. @AbuseDaForce
    That doesn't sound right. Would you care to elaborate? Do you mean that SOPA/PIPA-adverse clips in general are censored from Stumble Upon. (Not that you said so, but I'm concerned that this might be the case.)

  9. The greed of the corporate world is sickening.Our elected officials are downright criminals.Bought out by the lobbists.They go to work with 10 lobbists on either side of the door stuffing money,dinners,vacations in the officials pockets,by the time they get to the door to go to work they forgot why they even came! VOTE THESE PEOPLE OUT OF OFFICE.– AND IF YOU DONT VOTE DONT BITCH-YOU GOT WHAT YOU DESERVE

  10. @ilsennodipoi no, i thought that was the case, but turns out i just had to reload the page. still entirley accessable. excuse me for the false alarm

  11. 35 people down voting are working as law firm vultures that bully the fans, but doesn't forward their court winning to the artists.

  12. I hope they change it so then maybe we will get mad enough and actually do something to change all the bullshit.

  13. Probably one of the greatest informative speeches I've heard. Great stuff Clay, or Tom. I'm confused by which one to choose.

  14. Excellent! Right on the nail! The small profit big media can reap from this draconian act is nothing compared to the censorship, control and surveillance ACTA will bring.

  15. Great talk. I think the most important message in this now is that we should be 'ready' for more assaults on our internet freedoms. (ACTA is already on its last dying breaths) Its sad to see that greed and fear can so easily manipulate human minds. It is, however, empowering to see enlightened minds speaking out against injustices to the human race. We are poised on the edge of a knife right now, which way will you chose to sway. We the people, united, forever.

  16. For those of you in Canada, Stephen Harper is trying to pass SOPA under a disguise name (which is known as "Bill C-11"). It will take away Canadian rights and freedoms of the Internet. Canadians, search "Open Media Internet Lockdown" and sign the petition to prevent the passing of the Canadian SOPA in Canada.

  17. How funny is it? we preach freedoms to other countries, to the point we invade them (lets forget about the oil for a second), so they can share and bask in our way of life!

    and yet….. we live in one of the most restrictive societies on the planet. every thing we do is monitored. we have freedom of speech…. as long as we don't offend other or the institutions. if you think we are free, you are very much deluded. i am not a conspiracy theorist btw. just call it like i see

  18. I agree with drew2pac… Look what is happening to the G8 summit, the protest that will take place will have thousands of police officers, and EVEN SNIPERS. What happen to the freedom of speech and assemble? Is this a truly democratic country?

  19. Can any1 tell me who the fucking idiot was that came up with these "ideas"?

    I wanna bang some shit in him.
    Im sorry for my language, but "they" want to end our freedom

  20. Defend our freedom(desire) to share(steal other people's idea's, time and work) (or why SOPA(would penalize our theft) is a bad idea)

  21. Theft means that someone takes someone else's property without their consent. It means that the owner doesn't have it anymore. Sharing, copying, pirating, whatever you want to call it, means that he still owns it. There is no such thing as intellectual property.

  22. I am a firm believer in the non-aggression principle. I think theft is so immoral that I even reject the state on that basis. But copying is not theft!

  23. By your logic, if YOU spent $10 million developing a piece of useful software and then sold 1 copy for $100, then that person made it freely available for everyone on the internet to copy, then no one ever needs to pay for your work because copying is not theft. Remember, this is YOUR $10 million investment that just went poof into the wind not some anonymous corporation that you think doesn't consist of real people who want to feed their kids. You're cool with this?

  24. Yes. If I don't want others to copy it, I can either not sell it or put some kind of programm on it that makes it harder or impossible to copy it. Also, most people want to support inventors of something and want to encourage more of it so they buy the actual product.

  25. Other things that are legit by your logic:
    Buy a hybrid car, duplicate exactly, sell as many copies as you wish. Result, car manufacturers no longer invest in developing green technology, millions unemployed.
    Buy an Iphone, duplicate exactly, sell as many copies as you wish. Result, Apple no longer invests in developing or producing new products. Result, millions unemployed.
    Buy 1 of any conceivable product, duplicate exactly, sell as many copies as you wish. Result, no one bothers to invent.

  26. That is literally what happened to cars. Is no one producing cars anymore? There's still an interest in producing higher quality products and it still happens without "IP laws".

  27. No it hasn't. That would be a result of copyright and patent laws that protect people's work.
    So how do you morally/legally get beyond the agreement you make when you install software or use any other digital product that you will not copy or distribute it? Does your word mean nothing as long as free stuff is available, even if it hurts the people that invested in and created the product?

  28. Henry Ford, the first mass producer of cars, was sued for patent infringement. Thanks to patent laws mass production of cars was only really possible after Selden's patent ran out. And it still happened.
    If you install a software and agree not to share it, you enter a contract. If you do share it, that is a breach of contract and should have consequences. The bad thing that was done in this scenario is however not the sharing but the breach of contract.

  29. As vezes eu fico triste com o meu despreparo técnico,mas eu sou professora de História eu preciso provocar o debate com pessoas especializadas no tema que foi proposto.Volto a dizer um ditado bem gauchesco "Cada macaco no seu galho",mas eu continuo com uma dúvida aonde tem maldade nessa proposta ?Eu só quero entender.

  30. Megaupload got taken down right after SOPA failed. It was the media giving a big "fuck you" to consumers. So yeah, it did get taken down because of sopa.

  31. Megaupload, bitjunkie, PirateBay have become martyrs because of these bills. The internet needs to exercise its power again.

  32. The point of the vid is not just to inform the laymen about these two bills and why theyre bad, but that new iterations will be introduced, and that it is important to stay vigilant and informed about such bills that have not yet come to pass.

  33. They are still being attempted to be shut down, just recently they switched their servers to the cloud to prevent risk of being shut down. Sure, they are still operating just fine, but they are now viewed as "felons" and "rebels," and are becoming immortalized for it.

  34. PIPA/SOPA are a means of insane control this is insane I normally never get angry but
    this this gets me very angry DAMN OUR GOVERNMENT.

  35. Great TEDTalk. He avoids the trap of dullness that so many technical talks fall into and managed to make the issue of human concern without being overly-sappy or appealing too much to emotion. Well done.

  36. They weren't just preventing the risk of being shut down, they were making it near impossible. TPB is a completely self-sufficient system that does not exist in our physical world. You can't shut it down, haha.

  37. This comment was posted a long time ago, 3 months to be exact, the news had just come out so I hadn't quite looked into it the finite details yet, and no one even knew how successful that decision would be.

  38. I totally agree, "we have freedom of speech…. as long as we don't offend other or the institutions" <== that's already NOT free speech. lol at our system, lol at people that strongly believe in it

  39. Hard to believe you with that creepy avatar lol, but you're right we are not free. Freedom is when you don't have to be paranoid about downloading a song. Freedom is when you don't have to be scared to put a song into your video because comcast might cut your internet or the cops might knock down your door.

    We seem to be slowly becoming a policed state.

  40. totally agree with you! thats why i love the joker from the dark knight so much (sorry for being a little bit off topic) he says, that freedom can only be achieved through chaos, and the the one thing about chaos -> it's fair (this is not a direct quote, i'm just interpretating his thoughts)

  41. Right on the mark. When people say we go to war to "defend our freedom" I wonder, what freedom do we have now that we would NOT have had we not invaded Iraq? I can't think of any.
    One thing that bugs me is freedom of consciousness. I'm "allowed" to ingest alcohol, a poison. I'm allowed to smoke cigarettes that do nothing but addict and kill. Yet, if I chose to use marijuana to aid my creative pursuits, I'll be locked in a cage. Without freedom over your OWN consciousness, what good is freedom?

  42. oh harper and his thugs are quickly bringing in changes that will destroy our freedoms as well. did you just see the two most recent pieces of legislation… one of them will allow the government to seize bank savings from citizens ala Cypress… the other is an "anti-terrorism" bill which will allow for the detainment of citizens without charges nor trial, similar to the US NDAA.

  43. yeah that pisses me off too

    here's the two references:



  44. It amazes me why politicians keep trying to hinder the growth of the internet with these new variations of SOPA/PIPA.

  45. You will know that demoralizing situation when your best friend (who's been a loser for a lifetime, by the way) gets an unbelievable woman to fall in love with him in like a couple of weeks?! Absolutely, that just occured. I am aware that I ought to be pleased for him even so I wish it was me. He smiled as he told me he used the Cupid Love System (Google it). I wanna disappear in a cave at this moment…

  46. TIPP has a lot of PIPA/SOPA stuff in it.

    When will people realize the governments do not care about what the people want thus showing the failure that is our democratic system?

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