Quit Whining About SOPA and PIPA. Where’s the Public Outrage Over Internet Piracy?

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Duff McKagan is Guns N' Roses' founding bassist, and the leader of Seattle's Loaded. His column runs every Thursday on Reverb. His memoir, It's So Easy (Simon & Schuster) is out now.

Sitting in my usual chair, watching my usual a.m. updates on CNN’s Headline News, Wednesday morning, I, like every other American tuned in to at least one form of media, was inundated with verbiage about anti-piracy legislation known as PIPA and SOPA.


The legislation’s meant to combat theft of creative works like movies and music from overseas web sites. But when I turned to the Twitter and Facebook, I saw an overwhelming dog pile of support against the bills. Excuse me, but where were you all when piracy started to decimate the music industry? Why didn’t you take a stand against that? Those free records felt good, huh?

The fury from the Internet class is that the broad language in the pieces of legislation will be bad for start-ups, might prevent the next YouTube, or give the government the ability to take down a whole site because of one link to copyrighted works. In short, they’re opposed to the legislation because they think it will be bad for the Internet business.

Bad for business. Anti-piracy legislation could be bad for the Internet business. It almost takes my breath away. Internet piracy has claimed half of the recorded music business, and made the prospect of making a living as a musician harder for artists of all rank and file. Why didn’t Google, or Facebook, or Wikipedia ever stand in solidarity with musicians, actors, and writers – most of whom have never known fame and fortune – as their works were stolen with no recourse on their sites?

Where are the “fans,” the lovers of music? Why have they never stood up and taken a stand for the men and women in front of and behind the microphone? Yes, yes, this is all boring, right? It’s typical that the “rich rock guy” would be spouting from his golden pulpit. But let me tell you something, the working stiffs at recording studios and record stores that have had to close thanks to rampant internet piracy never were rich, but they are out of a job.

Are people really actually pissed off because Wikipedia is going “black” for a day? Because people feel that their First Amendment rights are really being threatened? Or is it because they’re afraid of losing free access to Deadwood and the Black Keys? Or are they worried that the next YouTube won’t be able to build a business model off the unwitting investment of copyrighted material that users uploaded for free while investors and start-ups glibly proclaimed that they couldn’t be responsible for actions users took? Wikipedia has thousands of volunteers and brags that they keep the site’s content accurate. Why can’t they regulate more rigorously for copyright violation, too? Too much of a bother?

Should the government be able to shut down Facebook because one user posts a link to copyrighted content? Of course not. But should Facebook and Google do a better job monitoring – and stop profiteering off- their users’ access to illegal content? Absolutely. And, you know what, they’re smart enough to figure it out.

When it comes to creative industries, we’re not talking in the hypothetical. Recording studios all around the world have had to close. So have record stores. Movie studios have suffered. Many, many jobs have been lost. Many peoples’ livelihoods have been affected. The people who make or who have made money from record sales are not the “bad guy,” the pirater and the stealer are. Period. So, where’s the public outcry?

As a practicing musician who has seen his industry turned upside down, and see how piracy has hurt every artist from chart-toppers to indie start-ups, this PIPA upheaval is a slap in the face.

If, as the claim goes, the social media masses were able to overturn the regime in Egypt, they can certainly turn the tide on Internet piracy.

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