Why can’t I copy money? Is that censorship?: Thoughts on framing SOPA and PIPA

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I have been fascinated by the SOPA and PIPA debate because it shows the power of framing an argument.   Depending on how you frame an argument, you can set the parameters for how it will be discussed and ultimately how it may be resolved.

In his TED talk, Clay Shirky framed the argument well. He framed the technological protection of property rights (in this case intellectual property rights) as “censorship“.  At 8:50 the discussion goes from goes from copyright, essentially a discussion of who has “property rights” over an item and who can “profit” from those property rights to “censorship”.  See 8:50.

Instead of someone protecting their property, they are censoring those who want to profit from it.  If someone stops a person from breaking into an atm and rewiring it to provide them with someone else’s money, how is that “censorship”?

For example, 99% of the world does not have the time, the inclination, or the technological capacity to counterfeit money. By creating those techniques, raising the barrier to “sharing the government’s money”, the anti-copying instruments that are enforceable around the world, is that “censorship?”

Framed in that way, we see a different view of the debate. Is it “censorship” if the US government undertakes action with allies to shut down printing presses that are printing US money or any other country’s money? Why is that not censorship but “obviously” about a defensible property right that cannot be shared?  Such questions change the debate and make us view it from a different angle.

I think this debate has a while to run because it is about taming the electronic frontier.  It will be up to the technological companies (both Silicon Valley and Hollywood (with some input from the financial sector)) to find a way to rework this to protect the intellectual property right.  They all have a stake in this issue.  Individuals have a role as well but it remains to be seen whether future protests will be as successful.  The tide is flowing towards regulation and protection of intellectual property rights in the electronic frontier not away from it.

As such, I would suggest that the web is maturing from its halcyon days circa 1992. Now we have privacy rights being protected and controlled online. The next issue is property rights. With each layer, we are taming, for better or worse, the electronic frontier. I suppose the cowboys of old had a similar view to the encroaching civilisation of roads, homesteaders, and property rights.

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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4 Responses to Why can’t I copy money? Is that censorship?: Thoughts on framing SOPA and PIPA

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