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The Piracy Debates

To Destructoid: What precedes is a summary and evaluation of one of the only nationwide broadcasted debates regarding SOPA and piracy in general. This is an adaption from an assignment I had to complete in one of my courses. Typically I tailor my blogs to fit more with the feel of destructoid, but I am short on time this week, so you are getting some unabridged thoughts on the issue. For most destructoid readers, this is a dead issue. SOPA is gone, our hosting site took part in the protests that lead to it's defeat, and pretty much everyone here stands against SOPA-ish legislation. I'm posting this here for a full analysis of the arguments that were presented in this debate, but there are two that I feel Destructoid users should focus on the most - I'll bring up those arguments up at the end.

Once again, if you want to read, great! If you don't, that's okay too. As always, if you have an opinion on the issue, comment at the bottom!

For this blog post I will be examining a debate regarding the Stop Online Piracy Act on UP with Chris Hayes (Hayes, 2011). The forum for this debate is public as it was broadcasted to the nation on MSNBC live. One of the more interesting things about this debate is that it was prefaced by Chris Hayes going over the topic of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and what it does to stop piracy. Hayes even brought up the issue that out of all major news networks in the United States, only CNN had aired anything regarding the topic, and CNN only aired one story on the topic. Hayes went even further into making this a valid debate by exposing his bias, saying that he stood in favor of SOPA alongside NBCUniversal, who hosted his show. For the debate he brought in the co-founder of Reddit.com, Alexis Ohanian and Richard Cotton, who is the representative of NBCUniversal.


The debate is framed in a way where the two parties do not directly address each other, but rather address questions asked by the mediator, Hayes. This debate is much more akin to what you would see in a presidential primary debate. The first question about the legislation was directed specifically at Cotton who responded to others worrying about the legislation as pointless because it doesn’t affect U.S. sites and that only sites ‘wholesale’ devoted to pirating copy-writed material would be shut down. Hayes seemed to be taken aback by the whole argument and redirected to Ohanian with a general question about the legislation. Ohanian responded by saying that the legislation could not actually curb piracy and that it has vague enough wording that it could affect all sites and that the clause in the legislation about shutting down access to creditors for the owners ‘pirate websites’ is over-arching and clearly stands to affect those in the united states. Hayes returns to Cotton saying that, if Cotton were correct, why websites, such as Wikipedia, would be spreading misinformation. Cotton’s response was essentially dodging the issue and instead said that the whole point of the argument was a disagreement of policy and suggested that websites exist in a world where there is no law on the internet and they don’t want that to change. Ohanian quickly rebutted by saying that things such as the ‘millennium law’ exist and affect the internet. He goes on to briefly explain that the millennium law was designed to try and stop piracy as well by making it illegal to do for American websites. Ohanian went on to say that legislation won’t solve piracy because piracy is a service problem and that people want convenience (he brought up Valve Software and Gabe Newell in this argument – It seems Newell is unavoidable). Hayes provided his own rebuttal by saying that things such as Hulu and Netflix(and for the sake of making this more related to my topic, you could add in Onlive – a digital video game streaming service) currently provide a great amount of convenience, yet movies and television shows are still pirated. Ohanian dodged Hayes’ response by instead talking about how the legislation would be ineffective, as even the worst measure the legislation threatened, DNS blocking, is already being bypassed by in China where sites such as youtube and facebook had federal DNS blocking placed against them. Cotton's final argument essentially breaks down into saying that just because the crime can't be completely stopped doesn't mean we should stop attempting to stop crime. He also makes an argument about jobs which is quickly and effectively dismissed by another guest on the show by providing information showing that the entertainment industries have seen job growth in these pirate infested waters (Hayes, 2011)


This debate was particularly interesting because both sides provided strong points. Cotton did point out that only websites who were ‘wholesale devoted’ to piracy would be effected, and that due process still had to occur in order for the worst punishments to be levied against any website. Cotton seemed to spend his time on the defensive, trying to diffuse the bomb that is anti-SOPA sentiment on the internet. The strange thing is, Cotton was being defensive against anti-SOPA comments that weren’t presented in the debate. It seems he anticipated some argument and wanted to get them out early, but he was wrong in assuming that those would be the arguments that Ohanian wanted to discuss. Effectively, Cotton’s overzealousness caused him to expose flaws in his side of the argument that Ohanian otherwise wouldn’t have addressed. Ohanian provided some interesting argumentation as well. He spent a good amount of time being offensive, attacking the legislation’s effectiveness. One of his best arguments was that China still has a major problem with piracy, yet the use some of the same measures SOPA would use. Ohanian did clearly drop the argument about piracy being a service issue when Hayes provided his rebuttal about how Netflix and Hulu provide the convenience that Ohanian said was needed to stop piracy.
Both sides of this debate clearly had their flaws. However, Ohanian, by spending his time offensively attacking the legislation, came out of the argument as the clear winner. Cotton tried his best to defend the legislation, yet he opened up about how the legislation’s methods may be an issue for websites and he ended up failing to provide any evidence about where the legislation said that it would only affect foreign websites. Due to this, Cotton’s main arguments become ineffectual. Add to this Ohanian’s argument about the legislation having no solvency going uncontested, and the process of evaluating and judging this debate becomes much easier. Ohanian, and thus anti-SOPA supporters, won this debate.

However, Cotton did have one strong statement. Just because a crime like piracy is impossible to stop, it doesn't mean you stop trying to curb it. If the logic that we should stop trying to prevent piracy because it can never be fully stopped was taken to the next logical extension, we could argue that we should not attempt to stop physical theft as it is not practical to fully stop thievery. If you want to really get into the realm of hyperbole, you could apply the same logic to murder.

To Destructoid: I feel many of you know the arguments against SOPA, and there is no major need to retread that ground. However, there are two points that need to be addressed. First is Cotton's last argument: Piracy is still illegal and we can't expect the government to sit back and just allow it to happen. So, what should be done to stop Piracy? For those who argue convenience as the main issue with piracy, what do you have to say about Hayes' response about Hulu and Netflix making the convenience argument irrelevant?

Finally, don't let this issue die. The moment you stop actively thinking about it and monitoring your politicians is the moment internet censorship will become legal. Keep on fighting.

Thanks for your time.


Hayes, C. (Performer). (2011). Up w/ chris hayes: debating sopa. [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://video.msnbc.msn.com/up-with-chris-hayes/46004493[/size]
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About jbokingone of us since 4:20 PM on 10.19.2009

I am a law student in my final year. I've spent my time studying Intellectual Property Law (Copyright, Trademark, etc.). I like writing on those subjects.

Note: I'm not your, nor anyone's lawyer. Don't take anything I write as the word of law.
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