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Why SOPA is a bad idea: Clay Shirky on

Posted by: Tedstaff

What does a bill like PIPA/SOPA mean to our shareable world? At the TED offices, Clay Shirky delivers a proper manifesto — a call to defend our freedom to create, discuss, link and share, rather than passively consume. (Recorded at the TED offices, January 2012, in New York. Duration: 13:59)

Watch Clay Shirky’s talk on, where you can download it, rate it, comment on it and find other talks and performances from our archive of 1,000+ TEDTalks.

Comments (26)

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  • Barnicus Meridius commented on Jan 28 2012

    When did Tom Hanks shave his head?

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  • commented on Jan 25 2012

    Giomakyo, I think I’m going to file a copyright infringement suit against you for stealing what I’ve been saying to all of my anti-SOPA/PIPA friends for the past month!!! I’ve been working on an article refuting all of the fear mongering and obfuscation at the hands of tech world, whether it be Jimmy Wales, Alexis Ohanian, or Prof. Shirky. Aside from all of the points you made about how they have exaggerated the effects of SOPA, I would add one more. The problem they have with these bills, and you alluded to this in your post, is a philosophical problem, NOT a legal problem. There is a group of people in the US – mostly younger, mostly liberal – who believe that everything on the Internet should be free and that users should have unlimited, on-demand access to whatever their heart’s desire. This is both an immature and unethical philosophy! I just wish that people like Wales and Shirky would be honest about this instead of making wild claims and motivating people through fear, and in the process, making themselves look intellectually dishonest.

    As for your post, I agree with you on all but one point. The only part that I would take issue with is the counter-suit provision. In SOPA at least, in order to file a counter suit you would have to prove that the person who brought the original suit ‘knowingly materially misrepresented’ (sec 103. 6) the claim against you. Since you clearly have an understanding of the law, I’m sure you would agree that to prove this one would need evidence that an individual was lying or that a group of individuals were engaged in a conspiracy. That would be a tough thing to prove, essentially making a counter suit impossible. And that my friend is basically the only reason I am against the current form of SOPA.

    I’m glad that someone posted this response because most of the Ted users that I know are against these bills but don’t really know why.

  • Anthony Zahler commented on Jan 24 2012

    @Giomakyo Makyo, it that is what it REALLY stated but it’s not. There are great assumptions made with no basis in fact or even real work logic. To shut something down just by being accused is “guilty until proven innocent”. There are 10′s of thousands of ‘court orders” that allow the government to seize property by any means and most, over 50% are thrown out in open court, returned with no charges or cleared by trial. So it you think that the low burden of proof to get a court order is Ok, you are delusional or just plain lying.
    Do I agree with pirating music, movies or software? NO, but they are the minority and it they took the money they are using to persecute or prosecute, they would be 120 million or more ahead. Go after the one who are making money off it…. the countries that allow the duplication’s and copying to go one unfettered…(like China) But that would be logical.

  • Giomakyo Makyo commented on Jan 24 2012

    Note that Mr. Shirky does not go into any speicific language in SOPA to back up his claims –this is because he cannot do so, as his argument falls apart when faced with the facts.

    First of all, he talks of “censorship” — theft is not free speech, and unless you are posting other people’s copyrighted material in great quantity, or facilitating such and refusing to implement procedures to remove it upon request, then SOPA can’t touch you. He’s wrong too in saying that it won’t work; violating sites aren’t just “removed from domain name” searches, they are also going to be blocked by ISPs unless they respond to infringement claims. Strangely enough, just last year liberal countries like Sweden and the Netherlands did exactly that in ordering Pirate Bay blocked, and there has been no cry of “censorship” so far.

    Like everybody on the tech/net side of the debate, Shirky makes a big point about how the bill was drafted by media companies: what he ignores is how it will also benefit artists and content creators of all levels — not just corporations — who are seeing their work pirated on a mass scale. And this is hardly a one-sided business vs. the people affair: the tech/net industry spent $120 million lobbying Washington in 2010 alone, a fact that rarely gets mentioned. That is comparable to what the RIAA and MPAA bring to bear.

    Shirky is also going on about people “producing” content, when there is absolutely nothing in SOPA which can affect content creators posting their own content. Zero. This is a non-issue that he brings to the table here to obfuscate the real issue, which is ripping and piracy. His whole “sharing with your friends” idea is hardly a legitimate analogy to what is really going on, where one upload can and will be accessed by tens of thousands of people, often to the economic ruin of people who funded an album/film/software product.

    “Some of what we share is what we made, some of what we share is what we found, some of it is what we made out of what we found.” Note that not once does he mention that the vast bulk of the stuff being “shared” on the sites targeted by SOPA is NONE of the above, but rather stuff made by other people and offered for sale through legal channels which are being bypassed, often to the the profit of the sites engaged in facilitating this bypass. “The biggest producers of content on the Internet are us, we’re getting policed.” That is so bogus it isn’t even funny. He seems to think that uploading a Hollywood movie counts as “producing content”, I guess. If it’s self-produced content, how in the world can anyone put a charge of copyright infringement against it?

    “Guilty until proven innocent” my ass. No action can be taken under SOPA without a court order, and to obtain such will obviously require both proof of ownership of copyright and proof of infringement in a court of law. Court orders also require time and money (legal fees), and anyone throwing up spurious claims could well be liable to a civil counter-suit, so it is hard to see people making frivolous claims and getting far with it. Also, any infringement subject to SOPA is required to cause at least $1,000 USD in damages. So a person sharing even a copyright-protected item with a friend or two wouldn’t even be affected under the bill. Now if you upload that file and make it available to one and all, thousands or tens of thousands of people, then you might see something happening, and justifiably so IMO. But at the end of the day, SOPA is about blocking access to sites proven to be pirate, not going after individual users. In fact, this is the solution sought that DOESN’T require going after individuals –it is more about turning off the tap, which seems to be what Mr. Shirky really fears, and end to his beloved “free” content.

    The idea that YouTube or Facebook would be targeted is one that’s repeated endlessly; first of all, such sites have to have as their primary purpose facilitating copyright infringement –that would certainly be hard to prove about either of those sites. (And YouTube, for one, already has procedures for copyright holders to file infringement claims and takedown requests; I fail to see why anyone would go to the burden of seeking a court order when they could get faster and cheaper remedy through sending them an e-mail.) Secondly, SOPA only mandates reasonable and technologically feasible remedies –i.e., a site or provider can’t be asked to do something they don’t have the technology to perform — and that provides sites a LOT of wiggle room. It is impossible to read users’ minds and predict what content people will post and whether it is copyrighted or not, obviously, so sites cannot be asked to do so. Similarly, there is no central copyright database or anything that could be used to police all users’ posts.

    What sites can be asked to do, though, and what is perfectly reasonable, is that they remove/block copyrighted content upon request from the copyright holder — some sites, like YouTube or Rapidshare, already do this. The worst violators, and the sort for which SOPA was designed to deal with, deliberately leave NO possibility of contact whatsoever. These are often the sites which are charging membership fees for anonymous/encrypted monthly access to pirated content, or even flat-out selling such content. In both cases they are profiting off work which was made by other parties without compensating them in the least. This is the version of the Net Mr. Shirky seeks to defend?

  • Lee Jackson commented on Jan 22 2012

    Not in support… just by way of Devil’s Advocate:

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  • André Rangel commented on Jan 20 2012

    About SOPA and PIPA, despite involving lots of money, I personally believe that the issue of intellectual property and piracy are just an excuse and an opportunity for ‘Captain America’ to recover the POWER to INFORM. Understand inform as synonym ‘shaping’.

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  • Pingback: Clay Shirky’s TED Talk on Why SOPA & PIPA Are a Bad Idea

  • Pingback: Clay Shirky TED Talk on Why SOPA is a Bad Idea

  • commented on Jan 20 2012

    brief. concise. informative.

  • Jordan Hall commented on Jan 19 2012

    This is what my company thinks is needed

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  • commented on Jan 18 2012

    Reblogged this on Jennyscribbles's Blog and commented:
    If you don’t anything about it, this is a great video to watch.