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Mark Hammer

I’ve had the pleasure of having had my IP “stolen” and used for profit. My other non-governmental life is as designer/modifier of musical electronic effects gadgets. I posted a schematic for a design in 2003, for hobbyist use, and was surprised to learn in 2009 that a Chinese company was cranking these things out, using not only my design, but the name and even a very similar font. Since it’s merely a hobby, and not anything I’d consider a revenue stream, my reaction was amusement. I was more pleased by the thought of thousands of Chinese kids rocking out with my idea than I was irritated about lost revenue from something that actually took me longer to draw than it took to think up. My reaction was “Meh, I already HAVE a decent job, and don’t need another one.”. Besides, they’re the ones who actually put in the work to design the printed circuit boards, the machining, etc., and arranged for the fabrication, quality testing, and website design for marketing. THEY have the inventory management issues and customer complaints to deal with. All I did was have an idea one afternoon for something to make a friend’s teenage son happy, where they had all the headaches. So, I’m a “victim” of piracy, but I really don’t care.

Other folks, however, may well depend on electronic material for their livelihood. Of course, the good news about the internet is that it makes things convenient. The bad news about the internet is that it makes things convenient. So convenient, in fact, that we are often reluctant to provide the fruits of our labour via any other means. The music industry wanted to sidestep the “nuisance” and production costs of providing music in physical media in bricks and mortar outlets, like they had in past. The film industry took the same tact. So they went digital, because it seemed cheaper for them and was substantially more convenient for the end-user.*** But of course, convenience creates escalating expectations of convenience, and now the industry is frantically trying to regain the control they forfeited when they determined that physical media were too inconvenient for them. And people who have come to depend on controlled e-distribution of their goods or services for their livelihood are in a bind and desperate for a solution.

In some ways, efforts like the SOPA feel like those times when you’ve tried to carry more items than you could handle, and so squeezed them harder just to hang onto them in some manageable way. And of course, you always end up crushing something in the process, don’t you? SOPA is an attempt to grapple with a veritable Pandora’s box of problems that have been created by the wholesale shift towards the “convenience” of the internet. Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes paper is better. Sometimes vinyl is better. Sometimes a movie in a movie theatre is better.

***Funny story. In 1978, I went to a fellow’s house to either buy or sell some stereo equipment. The guy was a deeply committed audiphile. HOW committed? He had cut a pair of 18″ diameter holes in his living room to sink concrete tubes through the floor to accommodate a pair of 18″ subwoofers “properly”. As we’re talking, he gestures with his hand, saying “Some day, all of this will be obsolete. You’ll buy your music in digital form and it will come on a chip or be digitally transferred.” I thought “Yeah, right, buddy.” and sought to leave before he started espousing theories of aliens and Zionist plots. Never underestimate the eternal allure of convenience and reduced production costs.