Monthly Archives: January 2012

On SOPA

Whilst I think it’s just about possible that more people read Wikipedia than this blog, I did want to add my voice to the screaming about SOPA – not as an internet user, although I am naturally very concerned about what SOPA could do to everyone’s web if passed, but as an indie musician who makes all of the small amount of money I make from my work via the internet.

There’s lots out there to read and understand, but I’d like to make two quick points. The first is that despite Google’s decision to protest this only on its American site, this is a law which, if passed, will have deep consequences for artists living and working outside the US too. SOPA is a big, clear reminder that the internet is American, so this isn’t just about homogenizing (!) something whose heterodoxy is its strongest attribute, it’s also about bringing an international space further under the legislative grasp of one particular country. As you can tell from my cod-American singing voice (and the list of those who inspire it), America already wields a disproportionate influence over my music – it’s worth remembering that this influence extends to the paraphernalia as well, and that it can get worse.

I reckon more or less anything which un-diversifies the internet is bad for it, and, by the way, I think that should give us pause on wikipedia, google, and some of the other big sites protesting SOPA as well as SOPA itself. But as a musician, the other thing I wanted to say was that this is not just a digital issue. To my mind, it also speaks to the latest developments in copyright law, which has always had a rather fraught relationship with art. Copyright was started with the aim of protecting artists (international copyright law is only around a century old), but too often has turned out to serve the interests of companies which make their money by exploiting artists and audiences equally. I recommend David Shields’s excellent book Reality Hunger, which profoundly emphasises the fact that art has always been about copying other artists. The more I read about copyright, the more it strikes me, in its current form, as part of the problem rather than part of the solution – antithetical not only to internet plurality but to artistic agency. The internet gives us a chance to devise and adopt a system which is fairer to everyone; SOPA is an attempt to impose the 80s model of the record industry onto it. For more on this, I recommend MC Lars’s manifesto on the subject.

I find all this fascinating – in my capacity as co-convenor of a popular fiction seminar at King’s College London, I’m running a seminar on it next month, with a real copyright lawyer as guest speaker. I’m also constantly running up against the issue in all other aspects of my life, whether as a scholar, musician, or wikipedia user.

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