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Tim O’Reilly: Why I’m fighting SOPA

Tim O'Reilly

As the debate about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) rages on from Silicon Valley to Washington DC, a number of the technology industry’s most influential leaders have come out against the proposed legislation, which would give the government and private corporations unprecedented powers to remove websites from the internet for any alleged copyright infringement.

On Thursday, I interviewed Tim O’Reilly about why he believes SOPA is wrong and what the tech industry can do to stop it. His concerns fell into five main categories:

Piracy is not a real problem

The way I see it, there’s a lack of need for any legislation at all. As a publisher, I have a very deep experience here, and the fact is that piracy is not a significant problem. Yes, there are people who are pirating my books, there are people who are sharing links to places where they can be downloaded. But the vast majority of customers are willing to pay if the product is widely available and the price is fair. If you have a relationship with your customers, and they know you’re doing the right thing, they will support you.

The people who are pirating are most likely the people who would never give you a nickel to begin with. Piracy serves people on the fringes who are not being served adequately by legitimate markets. Frankly, if people in Romania can download my books and enjoy them, more power to them. They weren’t going to pay me anyway.

SOPA protects the wrong people

I talked with Nancy Pelosi about SOPA the other day, and she said that the experience with piracy is different for people in the movie industry. Maybe — I’m not a movie producer. But I do know that right now the entire content industry is facing massive systemic changes, and to claim that declining sales are because of piracy is so over the top. Any company that is providing great content online in a way that’s easy to use with a fair price has a booming business right now. The people who don’t are trying to fight that future.

So here we have this legislation, with all of these possible harms, to solve a problem that only exists in the minds of people who are afraid of the future. Why should the government be intervening on behalf of the people who aren’t getting with the program?

SOPA ignores history

If you look at it from a historical perspective, the American book publishing industry as a whole began with piracy; there are lots of documents of Charles Dickens and the like taking a stand against these American pirates who were stealing their work. But America went on to become the largest publishing and copyright market in the world. Once the market matures, the pirates go away. They always do. Legitimate markets work better than pirate markets.

More recently you can see this in what happened with the music industry. For a while, music companies were fighting peer-to-peer file sharing. But once Apple came out with iTunes, which was an alternative that was easy to use and fairly priced, it became a huge business. Our policy makers need to encourage the people who get it right, not protect people who clearly didn’t get it right. They need to protect our future.

Tech and lobbying don’t mix

Certainly, the tech industry needs to do a lot more lobbying in Washington, DC. But the whole notion of lobbying is anathema to so many tech people, and for good reason. We’re used to a world in which people design products that have a purpose, where your work speaks for itself. So yes, the tech industry should try to communicate more with the people in DC, but at the same time, congresspeople need to use more of their own independent judgement.

[Update: O’Reilly has expanded upon the topic of tech industry lobbying in a Google+ post, which can be found here. A portion of his additional comments has been added below.]

For example, when I talked with Nancy Pelosi at [San Francisco] Mayor Ed Lee’s inauguration on Sunday, she assured me that she was opposed to SOPA, but that the bill couldn’t just be voted down because of the concerns of the movie industry. I had this bizarre image of the Google Search Quality team meeting with content farms before rolling out the Panda search update to “take into account their concerns.” In the end, Google was making changes that they knew were in the best interest of their users, and the fact that this would hurt the business of various companies producing low-quality content shouldn’t (and presumably didn’t) enter into the equation.

… This isn’t a matter of simply weighing the concerns of one set of lobbyists against those of another, but using a standard of care and independent judgment about what is best for our society. If Congress isn’t knowledgeable enough to make that determination, they need to be consulting independent experts, not lobbyists for one side or the other.

The US needs tech innovation

Laws like SOPA make us sclerotic as a country, where we have all these extra burdens that provide little benefit. In general it makes America less competitive. If SOPA goes through, it could very well force certain innovative companies to go offshore. There are incumbent industries that will always protest every new technology; but any forward-looking country needs to protect its emerging industries.

215 Responses to “Tim O’Reilly: Why I’m fighting SOPA”

  1. “But the vast majority of customers are willing to pay if the product is widely available and the price is fair”.

    Wrong. The inclination to pirate grows every day as the costs of hard assets that cannot be pirated grows. In fact, given a world of 7 billion people and a developed/developing world of 4.5 billion – the inclination is fast becoming an imperative.

    “If SOPA goes through, it could very well force certain innovative companies to go offshore”

    Again, wrong. These industries are already moving offshore for cost reasons. And they are moving to places like Turkey and China where there is actually quite a lot of government intervention.

    Your posting is nothing but propaganda, Tim, and clumsy propaganda at that.

  2. long live pirate bay. they are gonna filter our internet, but guess what will go untouched?? major business advertisements. if this passes, i guess im just gonna have to really STEAL my stuff. thanks gov

  3. Interesting. While I have concerns being in an industry that needs protection from burglary or piracy of intellectual property, I think it’s important that folks see this bill for what it really is. Unfortunately many people dismiss things before their eyes when dirty words like ‘conspiracy theory’ pop up, but when all the pieces are put together in a bowl in front of you, it becomes readily apparent what kind of salad you really have. The US govt has been veying for an “internet kill-switch” for some time now, and this bill – under the guise of copyright protection – is the means in which conglomerates are trying to achieve that. If you look at the testing theater grounds of the middle east last year where social media became the common citizens weapon of choice and essentially only defense, it’s clear as day that big brother cannot rule by fist when all forms of communication by those being ruled cannot be controlled. But in western society unlike the middle east and other areas, this cannot be force-fed, the citizens wouldn’t stand for it. They have to convince society they want it and it’s for their best interest. The reality is though, that there are lawyers and legal systems for individuals and companies to help protect and remedy themselves in individual and on a case by case basis. It’s a shadow game that really has almost nothing to do with copyright protection. Couple all aforementioned comments with the new NDAA bill that passed in the black of night on NYE and the recent and ongoing comments by J. Neopolitano [sic], and that paints a very disturbing picture of where this world is headed if people do not speak up and protect their narrowing avenues of free speech and communication.

  4. Eff Off SOPA

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! These Is No Need to Change Anything. Piracy is hardly a real issue, these movie stars and music stars are STILL MAKING MONEY with or without the piracy. and For companies to somehow make claim like its stopping them from making Money is Ridiculous. Selling items online is no different than me just having a yard sale for the crap I no longer want or need.
    Give Us Our Freedom! Set Us Free! Why Must Corporations Feel The Need TO Have Control! Move to a Commy Country If Control Is Really THAT Important To You! Gah! -_-

  5. I am writing in behalf of Sopa trying to get rid of web sites like is a great web site for poets,comics and musicians.Musicians like myself like performing in Open Mic nights because they want their songs to be heard.Plus it helps keep venues continue doing Open Mic as long as the venue is making money.Paul Roub and I never met,but have chated by e-mail quite a few times.It’s not easy to put up a web site and exspect that everybody knows all about it.I beleave that Paul Roub does an excellent job keeping his web site going and also helps keep Live Music going as well!So Sopa can leave alone.There is no crime about having an Open Mic web site for the whole world to see!


    OK mabe I am the only one that thinks this way but piracy is NOT a problem.Yes many if not all of us are guilty of downloading a move or mabe even some music,But let’s look at this a different way first Hollywood, make moves that people want to own not ones that they will wach 1 time. I know I have several box sets for some of my favorite moves, now ask why did I not just downloaded them well I wach them a lot and like having them on display, Next the music industry everyone if you at one time where a nobody. So most likely, like many small bands I know handed out cds.Ones that you payed real out of pocket for. Just to get your name our.Now your big and you think each copy of your song should be payed for why don’t you make your real money from tours and if more people that otherwise would not have got your music at all are now fans waiting in line to buy tickets then that’s a help.
    The Internet is is the new way of marketing and yes it means somethings become potentially free. So what dose this mean to Hollywood the music industry, and software development. Make your product worth paying for. Use the fact that people are listing or watching or using you products from downloaded sites to sell merchandise. Nice box sets for dvds can’t be downloaded same with music. Use the fact that people are downloaded as free advertisement for merchandise. Don’t start taking down the web. Don’t try using this to gain power over us all. That what this is complete power.
    This also brings me back to thinking occupy wall street agin a moment that had a good point and no follow through. The rich buying our congress to pass a bill that hurts us all but will make the rich more money.
    The truth is company’s Apple as well as many others are not going to allow small Tec businesses to grow if they feel in time they may take a lose.Look at the lawsuits of Apple vs Android, big companies like this want no competition,
    The real question becomes how much money and power do you truly need on top. For many Americans if they did not pirate you move, music, program they would not have had it at all because you have all they can’t afford to buy evry movie or song they like. So make your product better and they still may end up supporting you.
    Whether or not you agree with me or not on piracy something I say legislation is the right move you must see and truly think where this bill will lead and it’s nowhere good.

  7. Kevin Wood

    Several studies have consistently shown that 85 – 95% of all music is pirated. Please don’t tell me that is not a problem. The music industry, what’s left of it, is dying, and as an independent musician, I know many artists who are adversely affected by piracy.

    And please stop the lie that most all of the piracy occurs in Romania and the like. I used to work at a car dealership in Texas and nearly everyone I knew bragged about not having to pay for their music catalogs on their smart phones because they got it all for free. I’m sure your well-to-do friends pay for a lot of their books, etc. but I have first hand experience seeing regular working Americans getting their music for free — because THEY CAN! It’s so easy right now, why would they pay.

    Something has to be done about piracy so that artists, producers, sound engineers, recording studios, actors, etc in the entertainment industry has a chance to get paid for their products, just as every other industry has the right to get paid.

    60 minutes had a great program on piracy and the film industry and showed how piracy is so rampant that mthe movie industry has changed for the worse. One example of decreased revenues is that cutting edge (and expensive to produce) movies like The Matrix would never get produced today because anything other than a proven winner on a safe subject doesn’t get the funding.

    (By the way, I am not saying I support SOPA because I don’t know enough about it, but your article is dead wrong on several points).


      Wow 85%-95% of all music is pirated, this sounds like a good thing for the music industry to have so many people downloading their music becoming fans wow I bet they may even end up being tickets to their shows and buying their merchandise, but we live in a world where people always need more your right music is suffering last time I saw mtv cribs it looks like the music industry is in trouble only 8 cars in the garage of a 10 bedroom house that 1person lives in ya the pirate active online has truly hurt then
      . And, how know what you will say now but what about us little guys just trying to get started I say encourage people to pirate your music get your name out their the more downloaded the better then mabe you can gain enof fans to have a big full concert and you can make money on ticket sales and merchandise all because people pirate and your name got out given it makes for some hard times waiting to get big but it works

  8. Alicia Talalay

    So what happens now,if i play a cd on a radio in public I can be held for copyright infringement or if I DVR a movie on cable and my neighbors sees part of it,because I forgot to close the drapes I’m going to be in trouble? If copyright infringement was such a big deal why then years ago like in the 1980’s you could buy a portable radio otherwise known as a boom box in a store with recording capabilities? You could actually record songs as they played on the radio or you could copy tapes from your friends collection. Why didn’t the RIAA stop that then? What about if you borrow your friends dvd of a new movie? This piracy bill is BS this is just a excuse to censor what people put on the internet, the Government does not want things like Occupy happening again or some other protest that might threaten the machine. The politicians just want you to be good little boys and girls and let them tell you whats best for you.They want to stop you from making your own decisions, just listen to them it will be all right.This bill must be stopped,if it isn’t it will just lead to bigger things which will take more of your rights away. We are losing our rights little by little. Wake up people don’t be fooled by political BS. Stop SOPA and PIPA now. Don’t let the crooks in Washington destroy more of our Constitution!

  9. I agree with Mr. O’Reilly, except on one point. He says that pirates are unlikely to buy the product on the legitimate market anyway, so what’s the point? I take issue with this. I am a pirate, and I’d say about 95% of the stuff I pirate, I go on to purchase. I don’t pirate so I can avoid paying for a movie or TV show or CD that I want to see or listen to; I pirate so I can watch the movie or listen to the album in order to decide whether I like it BEFORE I shell out my money for it. If I do like it, there is a 100% chance that I will go out and purchase the DVD or CD. The only time I pirate something WITHOUT buying it in the future is when I don’t like it. So actually, companies are making money by my pirating, because if I didn’t first pirate their product, I would not, I repeat, I would not buy it. Sometimes when I pirate a movie I like, I will not only buy the movie, I will also buy the soundtrack and book, if there is one, so that’s three purchases they’ve gotten because someone “stole” their product.
    What I’m saying is, pirating, for me, is a test run, to see if I like a product enough to purchase it. I may be in the minority there, but these big movie and music companies are getting at least one customer because of piracy.

  10. go listen to alex jones podcast…for free and get the big picture and see what they’re really trying to do behind the scenes passing all these laws….its about Mass Control.

  11. This must not be ignored. We the People of the United States must take afirm stand and protect the internet. it is our freedom to have. High profile politicians need to be put in their place and back off.So i call on u citizens of the internet make your stand.



  13. Rad Davis

    Can you hear us Congress?
    PROTECT our Industries, not another burden that provides little benifit like
    SOPA. REALLY? More or less? I live in
    Oregon now and I am Proud I have A
    Rep. like Ron Wyden (D-Or).

  14. This fellow is obviously an ignorant idiot who doesn’t interact with musicians or filmmakers at all. We are being decimated by piracy — 98% of all music “consumed” is pirated and we don’t see a dime from it although Google and the advertisers and the pirate sites make billions. Our industry and the film industry is collapsing because of the cheater phenomenon — too many freeloaders destroy a community, and the creative community is being destroyed just like the rainforests are. We are losing culture along with nature. Since we creatives are a tiny minority, these folks gladly throw us under the bus, as they think we will make recordings anyway, even though it now costs us more to make one than we make back. Orchestras are suspending making recordings. Some have gone under. Artists are withholding making records — why? So voracious greedy bastards can just steal it, while even greedier bastards make loads of money off of it? Meanwhile, we operate at a loss. It is the apex of the same callous relationship that society has with its artists.

    These knuckleheads are being way over hyperbolic. The legislation is narrowly targeted and will not do anything like what they say. It will help stop piracy, period. But people want it for free! I’ve gone back and forth with these types on numerous occasions and they are jealous of artists and think we should be enslaved. If they could go into a supermarket and just take food and leave with it, they would do it. They steal because they CAN, that’s all. And now they believe they have a RIGHT to!

    Read/see the following and you will understand why I think this guy is a raging moron and working to kill culture, as well as personal first hand experience of the effects of piracy. The filmmaker explains what it’s like trying to stop it with the current tools available. It is impossible.

  15. This guy obviously doesn’t know any musicians. We are being decimated by piracy and culture will collapse and you will end up with an amateur culture if those who devote their lives and genius can no longer make a living at it. There is no way to stop piracy except via legislation and SOPA is narrowly targeted and google is making a bloody fortune off of it.

    The freeloader phenomenon is a simple phenomenon that even occurs in bacteria — too many freeloaders bring down entire communities. The creative community is being destroyed just like the rain forests. Culture and nature, the best things we humans have. All because of human greed, wanting something for nothing. You can’t go into a store and just steal what you want, yet you think our work should be freely stolen while others like Google make billions off of it.

  16. This is ALL ridiculous. We do NOT live in a communist world!! Its nobodys business what I or anyone else does online and I RESENT the intrusion. Read the dam constitution and leave America’s rights alone!!

  17. UwilThankMeLater

    I am still confused about how this bills will affect us? Will this bills allow govt to take down/block any website w/o any explanation like China? How as the end user is affected? Or it’s just Google who is controlling all the content that people want to see? If Google does not show a website in their search result how will ppl know about it? Google is killing small time online vendors who’s store don’t show up if they don’t pay Google. Ain’t that true? Search for some goods and Amazon is always on top.