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Christopher Iwaskiw
Radford Skudrna
ENGL101S, Section 0511
October 3, 2014
Copyright in a Digital Age: Internet Killers, or Protectors of Property?

About a week before the date of this writing, I received a warning email from the
University of Maryland about copyright. Interested that this appeared to correlate to the topic
of my upcoming Argument of Inquiry assignment, I opened the email and skimmed through it.
It encouraged all students to send a pledge through an email affirming that they would not
participate in "Installing, copying, distributing or using digital content (including software,
music, text, images and video) in violation of copyright...", otherwise known as illegal file
sharing. The message had a stern, serious tone and contained confusing terms and names like
"Digital Millennium Copyright Act" and "Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources."
It is apparent that using the internet to infringe on copyright law is a practice not tolerated by
the university or the government. (“Copyright Warning”)
The above example clearly illustrates that internet copyright is an important issue taken
seriously by many, although it can be broad and confusing without clarification. This issue, in
particular, concerns U.S. copyright law and content sharing using the internet. However, other
important topics of conversation and debate use similar terms and at times overlap. For
example "Net Neutrality" is an argument against the monopolization of internet services and
providers. Also, another issue involves web access in China being completely censored by a
government firewall that only allows federal information outlets. (Yoder 379) The topic at
hand, however, does not contain arguments about providing internet service, nor is it as

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serious as the pure siphoning of information in China, but rather is, at its core, about content,
intellectual properties and the internet as a distribution tool.
What is an intellectual property? An IP, as defined by the World Intellectual Property
Organization (WIPO), “…refers broadly to the creations of the human mind. Intellectual
property rights protect the interests of creators by giving them property rights over their
creations.” (3) Copyright law protects IPs from being used without the creator's consent. The
world of the internet, however, has rendered the creators of IPs nearly helpless to control, in
any capacity, how their creations are shared. While the government could easily police and
enforce copyright law before the dawn of the digital age, the internet creates a new challenge,
yet also raises an important question. How involved should the government become involved
in the world of the internet, specifically involving copyright? (Yoder 385)
Intellectual property laws, like many government policies, can be quite controversial.
Susan K. Sell begins her journal article on the subject with a statement that “Intellectual
property policymaking is one of the most contentious and important regulatory issues in
contemporary politics.”(Sell, 67) The internet copyright infringement debate came to national
attention on January 18, 2012 when popular sites Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, and others
participated in a mass protest against a bill in Congress at the time, the Stop Online Piracy Act
(SOPA). Proponents for the act included major entertainment and commerce corporations,
such as MasterCard. Their goal is to target file-sharing “pirate” websites and shut them down
to prevent bootlegging of copyrighted materials. (Wortham, 2012) SOPA, as described by the

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U.S. Congress, was “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by
combating the theft of U.S. property and for other purposes.” (United States, 3)
The core argument for intellectual property rights is a sentiment we often take for
granted: an artist or creator deserves credit and payment for their work. Imagine your favorite
film, television, or video game that exists as part of a series. These intellectual properties take
hundreds of thousands of dollars to create. In an extreme example, if every person that used
this intellectual property used a pirated copy, the intellectual property creators would be
unable to create the next installment of the series for fans to enjoy. The argument also falls
under a matter of principle; for example, as a creator of intellectual property, including works
of writing and music, it would upset me for my works to be used without receiving credit. The
essential view that a majority can agree with is “The principle of any kind of property is that the
owner may use it as he wishes, and that nobody else can lawfully use it without his
authorization.” (WIPO 7) The inquiry at that point is how rigidly we can define ideas, thoughts,
and creations as “property” of a sole individual. If so, then it is the government’s job to protect
these properties with legislation, which it has, to some degree.
When the United States Congress held a hearing to discuss the enactment of
SOPA, John Conyers of Michigan began by making an account of the views in opposition of the
bill. He began by presenting the following satirical image;

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This image displays the kind of attitude many internet users have towards government
copyright legislation. Conyers went on to detail, on a more serious note, the problems that
opposing parties had with the bill; that it “threatens freedom of expression”, and “inadvertently
involve[s] non-infringing operator, and that this would violate their constitutional rights.”
(United States 23-25) Essentially, the core issue with SOPA was that its language was too broad
and could affect, unbeknownst to the government, all areas of the internet, aside from simply
“pirate” or “rogue” websites. It would also force websites to be responsible for all content and
links to content posted by users. (Wortham 2012) Failure to complete this task, one nearly
impossible for large social websites, could shut down the site.

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The voices of internet protesters are often much louder to the public audience than the
government, communicating through articles, graphics, podcasts, music, and videos. For
example, YouTube user “TotalBiscuit, The Cynical Brit”, in a 2012 web video, spent 20 minutes
ranting and explaining why the new legislation would essentially “destroy the internet”. He
uses colorful visuals and convincing language to persuade listeners against the law, which is far
more tolerable to sit through than pages and pages of congressional documents.
(“TotalBiscuit”) However, in a scholarly study such as this, the issue should not be lost in a
short persuasive argument that takes less time to digest or is more entertaining to watch.
Both arguments of this case should be taken and studied apart from the voices and
mediums they are transmitted through. If the government does not act as a “protector of
property”, creative minds can go unrewarded and the economy that fuels expression of ideas
and creation of large projects will falter and shrink. Meanwhile, if the government is sloppy and
does not make specific, targeted efforts, they can act as “internet killers” and stifle the amazing
medium the web provides for free speech, sharing ideas, and expression. There is a fine line
between going too far and not going far enough, in an important case that should be debated,
pondered, and discussed.

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Works Cited:
1. Copyright Warning “*COPYRIGHT WARNING-L+ Don’t risk copyright infringement penalties;
return required pledge.” Message to Chris Iwaskiw. 26 Sep. 2014. E-mail.
2. John “TotalBiscuit” Bain. “WTF is SOPA ? aka The American Government trying to ruin the
internet” Youtube Web. 25 Sep. 2014.
3. Sell, Susan K. “Revenge of the ‘Nerds’: Collective Action against Intellectual Property
Maximalism in the Global Information Age” International Studies Review 15.1, 67-85.
Web. 25 Sep. 2014.
4. United States. Congress. House of Representatives. “Stop Online Piracy Act: hearing before
the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, One Hundred Twelfth
Congress, first session, on H.R. 3261., November 16, 2011” N.p.: Washington: U.S.
Government Printing Office, 2013. Web. 25 Sep., 2014.
5. World Intellectual Property Organization. “Understanding Copyright and Related Rights.”
Geneva: WIPO, 2006. Print.
6. Wortham, Jenna. “Public Outcry Over Antipiracy Bills Began as Grass-Roots Grumbling” The
New York Times. New York Times, 19 Jan. 2012. Web. 25 Sep. 2014.
7. Yoder, Christian. “A Post-SOPA Shift in International Intellectual Property Norm Creation” The
Journal of World Intellectual Property 15.5-6 (2012): 397-388. Web. 25 Sep. 2014