Confessions of a 'SOPA Dodger,' or why Kaspersky quit the BSA

The US blogosphere has become increasingly alarmed by the new Anti-Piracy Act – Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA. Discussions of the topic are, to put it mildly, quite frank, with comments like: "These idiots are coming for your internet."

What is SOPA? It is support for and development of something that is currently very relevant – the protection of intellectual property. Ladies and gentlemen, this really is important! "Thou shalt not steal," as the Bible says! An author – or more often than not, a team – spends sleepless nights writing a book, composing music, shooting a film, creating software or testing software packages. Doesn’t that deserve a financial reward? Yes or no? Think before you answer – someone could well ask the same question about your profession… So?

Authors and creative teams should be cherished, protected and encouraged to create more masterpieces. As a result, US lawmakers have made it clear that SOPA is a priority for them, and many special-interest groups have come out in support of the bill, including BSA. The bill can be summed up as follows:

According to a ruling from a US court, anybody infringing US copyrights should be cut off from the Internet by all search engines, ISPs, credit systems and other levers of control, without exception.

"Copyright infringement" is understood in its broadest sense here: an amateur movie which includes quotations from a copyright-protected script or soundtrack would qualify, so would a home movie filmed while Kung Fu Panda played on a TV screen in the background. Some more nice examples here. Any use of any "intellectual property" object is regarded as a violation resulting in a blog – or even an entire web resource – being closed down.

What bothers me is the complete "Americanization" of this Internet law. Of course, this is a matter of habit. Any state should, of course, think first of all about its citizens, their interests, protecting its own inventors, developers and manufacturers and about its economy. However, under this law, the interests of non-American authors/creators are not protected at all, while the nationality of the perpetrators is of no importance.

This means that the rights of non-Americans can be infringed however, whenever and wherever you want. But US interests must be respected globally. The "I don’t care" position doesn’t work – see the list of DNS servers: all of them are in the US or on very friendly territories. Yes, that’s right…the carrot is across the ocean and the stick is there too.

National interests are only part of the problem. The saddest thing is that this law is going to be introduced in the rest of the world due to the actions of associations such as the BSA, which blindly supported SOPA while ignoring any other point of view. We had to withdraw from this association because we disagree with its decision. And this is why.

If we accept this law, hundreds of thousands of lawyers will suddenly appear out of the woodwork because almost any website can be accused of copyright infringement! This law will lead to major legalized extortion. The Internet business faces hard times – look at those who do not want to join SOPA: eBay, Facebook, AOL, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Yahoo, Wikimedia, etc. And the list of SOPA’s supporters? Well, there’s the aforementioned BSA (including Apple, Microsoft, SAP, Symantec and other software developers – this time without us) and, most importantly, this law is being promoted by:

RIAA – the Recording Industry Association of America,
MPAA – the Motion Picture Association of America.

That’s where SOPA stems from!

And now the main message:

1. I am against piracy. I find unauthorized use of intellectual property unacceptable, especially for mercenary ends.

2. But if they continue making me buy music on CD or films on DVD I will stop being an enemy of the pirates.

A friend of mine summed it up nicely: "There’s an interesting film on Torrent. If I download it, I’m a criminal. If I don’t, I’m an idiot." Laws like SOPA divide the world into criminals and idiots. Don’t you think something is rotten in the state of Denmark? The world has changed. Long ago it became a network rather than a vinyl world (for those who do not know – years ago music was released on so-called records – vinyl disks about the size of a car wheel).

So, it’s not the right thing to apply old-school vinyl-age rules to copyright in the Internet age.

Long ago intellectual property carried – and justified – a premium price. Once upon a time, production (the author’s blood, sweat and tears), copying, transportation, distribution and sales really were expensive for films, videos, books and similar products. Now copying and delivery costs nothing! Today the author and the user/buyer no longer need an old-style middleman! And how many middlemen are there between the blogger and reader? Zero.

The middlemen have become unnecessary. Now they will have to figure out how to transform their business in order not to disappear in the future – instead attempting to send the Internet business back to the "vinyl age."

Protecting the film/audio/software and other "intellectual" industry interests by means of SOPA is like taxing e-mail in favor of the State Postal Service, or forcing Skype to charge the same as the phone companies. It’s like copyright holders, as they have tried to do in Russia, claiming a levy on the sale of every blank DVD or memory stick in case someone uses it to store a film or a song rather than family photos or home movies.

BS? Absolutely! This is complete and utter nonsense from the era of the dinosaurs – and we know their brains were the size of a pea.

At the same time, I do not share the principle "everything is free to everybody." Not only do the authors have to eat, they need money to create their products, this intellectual property, which is sometimes a rather cost-based thing (for example, the budgets for film production or software development can amount to tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars).

I believe the things should be arranged so that:

  • Users can quickly find what they want and buy it immediately (iTunes is a good example);
  • It does not violate the interests of the copyright holders.
  • As for the middlemen…. Let them SOPA off!

The Internet age has no place for the rudiments of the bygone age of vinyl, which is a far cry from today’s technologies, customer demands and reality in general. Just because this old style of business can’t or won’t change, it is trying to lead the Internet marketplace to an early grave with the help of SOPA and the like.

The world has changed and the old rules do not work anymore. We need to find new models of creative content distribution, which, by the way, Apple/Google have already done and even tested it for us. Lobbying for a return to Jurassic copyright laws is like giving a blood transfusion to an already dead patient, risking the donor’s life. Governments should think about stimulating and developing new business models, rather than protecting old ones.

My position can be summed up as follows:

1. SOPA should be tossed onto the fire
2. The dinosaurs should be pensioned off
3. Content should be distributed in new ways, e.g.:

  • Low quality content is free. You can take as much as you can eat (for advertising, for example)
  • Medium quality content should be quick and cheap
  • High (professional) quality – expensive
  • There has already been movement towards the last point, for example, iTunes. Some studios are also practicing free distribution of low quality content for promotional purposes.

This is a tale about the adventures of the Internet’s young guns and how they got bogged down in SOPA’s legislative maze.

And finally here is one of the infamous copyright-busting clips that has been threatened by the media industry’s dinosaurs. The first link has already been killed off, but here is a live one:

And the very final comment is about my company and its business in the light of the above. Antivirus is not a product but a service. It is viable due to updates and for that reason I’m not really bothered how a user acquires our software – on a CD in a cardboard box or downloaded from the web…but discussion of the service model is beyond the scope of this post.

Eugene Kaspersky is co-founder and CEO of Kaspersky Lab, Europe's largest antivirus software company. IDC ranked the Kaspersky Lab among the world’s top four vendors of security solutions for endpoint users, and the company's antivirus engine powers more than 120 different security solutions including those provided by Juniper Networks, F-Secure, Netintelligence, Netasq, and more.

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