As a Chinese who lives in a country full of censorship, I’d like to share with you the possible future of SOPA/PIPA, that can’t solve the piracy problem but bring censorship and self-censorship to US, and it will harm the innovation and destroy startups.
1 Something about piracy
I don’t consider that restrict laws could solve the piracy problem. Instead, To find the new business model may work better.
As is well known, piracy is rampant in China. But if compare with 10 years ago, you will find that this situation has been vastly improved. My friends and me insist to purchase genuine software/music/book all the time. And some of us write blogs to persuade peoples to purchase the original. In fact, Apple and Amazon bring us the most important change, because we could buy digital products by the credit card safely and easily. Amazon 1-click and Apple app store have greatly improved purchasing experience.People become more willing to purchase something from app store rather than to seek for the piracy because of safety and convenience. A report from app market research firm Distimo says that “China had already become the second largest market for Apple’s mobile software marketplace”. now app store supports paying through unipay which could facilitate the purchase for chinese users. With the help of unipay, people could use debit card which is the majority rather than credit card in China. This change would increase sales significantly for Apple as well. At the same time, I’m frequently hearing the good news coming from iOS developers in China about their sales growth this years.
Like marketing of any other products, more complex in purchasing process, more easy to be given up by customers. If downloading the piracy is far easier than purchase, people are more likely to choose the former. Why people buy app and music in app/iTunes store? It’s a innovation business model. Apple sells music with DRM-free on iTunes Store which is different with traditional model. It does not decrease sales but rise. Why? A agile and smooth business model will be more effective than SOPA. It has be proved in US, and even in China where there is so many piracys.
The recording industry, music companies and media group pretty lack innovation and only want to lay on their legacy to make money. They don’t want to adapt to the digital era. The Internet is not their enemy, but the lack of innovation.It is historical trend that reading on mobile device is much easier than newspaper, and such fact should be considered and adapted to by Media group.
Innovation business models are everywhere around us, such as:
- Apple introduced in-app purchase on iOS devices, users can download a free app and purchase advanced functions they need.
- Google is free to users, but profit from advertising It’s the freemium.
- Bizzard plan to earn profit from virtual goods exchange and virtual currency. (In fact, this model been invited by China online game company Shanda, NASDAQ:SNDA, because of the situation of piracy.)
All of them change purchasing behavior of customers and bring great profit to enterprises. I think it is a better way rather than putting a bet on SOPA.
2 the risk and liability
I think only few American have the experience about censorship and self-censorship which is probably one of few technologies in China ahead of the United States. So maybe I, the Chinese, could share my feelings and experiences about censorship might caused by SOPA / PIPA bill.
China has a serious piracy problem without restrict copyright laws as SOPA; however, the government is always nervous for political and pornographic contents called “the harmful information” and censors them strictly. if the SOPA/PIPA bill were passed, the situation in the US would become very similar as seen in China. If people in western countries can’t imagine censorship brought by the SOPA/PIPA bill, the situation in China could be used as a reference. The only difference is that China government, unlike the American, censors “the harmful information” rather than the piracy.
If any “the harmful information” is posted on a website in China, it will lead to a very serious consequence.Perhaps, the finest result is that the administrative authority for censorship will order you to delete related pages, and the worse is that they will order ISP to block DNS of your domain or disconnect the server’s network connect or even power off your server.Now, it sounds a bit like SOPA,right? None of sites can bear such heavy result, which cause everyone to work hard to avoid anything looking like “the harmful information” posed by their users.
All user-generated-content sites are in danger for it is impossible to control the users’ behaviors and guarantee that their users will not post any harmful information. In fact,excepting a static HTML site, any sites with interactive functions even a guest book or any blogs allowing commenting could carry the risk.
Unless it do not provide any interactive functions, all websites must take self-censorship to reduce the risk. Everyone has to recruit a great amount of employees working for censorship who also be called “editors” in China.
By reviewing financial announcement of many internet companies in China, you could notice a huge human cost that is far more than the counterpart in American companies (e.g.NASDAQ:SINA vs Twitter, NYSE:YOKU vs Youtube),which use to afford censorship and self-censorship. (That is not creating new jobs, I will discuss it at the part 3). Compare Sina Weibo(the copycat of Twitter in China) with Twitter, the former has about 3000 employees serving merely 200 million users, while the latter has 600 employees, but more than 300 million users. It is such a big gap that employee in Weibo is five times the number of employee in Twitter, but serves less users. As a result, It’s really difficult for startups to survive because of the unacceptable cost of the labour required to censorship or development related technology.
Those service providers serving to user-generated-content sites also are at risk, such as IDC, CDN, Web Hosting, VPS, etc. If “the harmful information” appeared in any websites they service, the whole network connections would be disconnected. To avoid this situation, service providers must censor these websites according to much stricter criteria. They would disconnect the network or close the VPS of a website if any potential risk has been found there. Thus, websites will censor their content themselves according to far stricter criteria to avide downtime. It’s a cycle of destruction. The strictness will snowball along the industry chain. Each part in this chain will become more stricter to avoid direct responsibilities.
So, once the censorship began, it would get worse and widespread and couldn’t be stopped.
Moreover, to reduce risk, many service providers favor large-scale websites who invest more on censorship which means more safety. In contrast, startups are considered to be relative dangerous. In 2009, it’s hard to find a IDC who is willing to provide service for startups when hundreds of thousands of websites have be closed by the government in the name of “the campaign against the harmful information”
But the most horrible thing is that some corporations beat their competitor by this means. They try to post “the harmful information” on the competitor’s website, then report to the government, which may cause the competitor be closed. It is what Google had suffered in China.Yes,it is dirty, but would happen because it is a really effective methods to hurt the competitor and make huge profit if SOPA were passed.
In my opinion, Jimmy wales is a great guy. He and wikipedia insist to protest SOPA. Indeed, were SOPA passed, nonprofit websites depend on UGC, just like wikipedia, would be very difficult to continue. They need to keep a huge team to censor the content to avoid the illegal part, which might be very hard to afford, especially to wikipedia, a site completely reliant on public donations. So, the blackout in 24-hours is not foolish or threat, it’s just a demo about the future of Wikipedia.
3 Increase jobs?
As mentioned above, websites must have enough employee to censor the contents posted by users. And someone may say that it look like a good opportunity to increase jobs, but it is not true. The censorship is heavy non- technical labor without any innovation which is likely to outsourced in low- cost countries, such as China or India. All they need is Internet connection and computers rather than additional investment, so it is easier to be outsourced than the software development, manufacturing or call center. Manufacturing has to pump fund, build factories and recruit locally workers in developing country. Even so, China has gradually becomes the World’s Factory. How about the censorship? Personally, I think China still is the best choice.
Even in China, the censor teams are not located in top classical cities, such as Beijing or Shanghai, but underdeveloped towns or countrysides. Hence, this show that such jobs will flow towards places providing cheap labor.
What would create really effective jobs for Americans? The answer should be technology and innovation. Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook, all these giants grow from startups, then help create lots of Americans jobs.
But SOPA would make survival of startups extraordinarily difficult because of big legal risk and higher cost.
So, SOPA can’t increase Americans jobs but destroy startups, which will lead to lose more jobs.
It is no wonder, an industry who loses the courage of innovation must lead to a way to extinction, which is just a matter of time. A overly restrictive protective policies may cause a national to lose their competitiveness.
As a Chinese, I always suffer the pain of censorship, we can only enjoy the freedom of the American Internet through VPN. Once the censorship starts, they are difficult to stop. At that time, Murdoch may can’t support SOPA in his twitter, because of Twitter company with an opposite stand. Is it really absurd? No, in China, it is true, you were impossible to against Sina by Sina Weibo, they would block your account and call what you post the harmful information, regardless of whether it is harmful. As long as you were against to Baidu, they would move your website away from their index thoroughly, then you are disappearing on the chinese internet. It is the result of censorship. Once people think that censorship were reasonable and unrelated to freedom of expression, you would find the censorship everywhere and eventually hurt all of us.
I sincerely hope that the Americans don’t need to suffer like that.