SOPA is dead. Long Live SOPA.

So, you’re all aware of the recent shelving (a term appropriate in all its possible sub-cultural connotations) of the proposed SOPA legislation in the US, so I’ll avoid getting too far into detail about it.


As a game designer, I have a dog in this fight, and what I’m interested in is the apparent naïveté involved on all sides of the discussion. First, and foremost, the utter lack of understanding involved on the government officials’ behalf. Clearly this new internet thing is a little beyond their comprehension, a fact actually admitted at the time of shelving when one of the reasons given was that the senators needed further education.That the proposed legislation was utterly unsound and unfit for its purpose is a well-established point. That it took so much opposition, not just from script kiddies ’doing it for the lulz’, but from juggernauts like Google before it was realised that maybe, just maybe this was not the right course of action is concerning. That the US democratic process was so far advanced on this is plain scary.


However, what’s done is done. SOPA is dead. For now. However, it is important that in the self-congratulatory afterglow of victory we examine the issue, from all sides. It is vital that we don’t merely let ourselves be seduced by the heady highs of successful protest; and really look at what we’re wishing for before we actually get it.


Put simply, the issue at hand is that piracy is undesirable. As a game developer, Epiphany has to accept that a percentage of any profits we make from our games WILL be lost to piracy. This is not a complaint, merely a fact.


However, the other side of this is that the approach taken thus far by sections of the publishing industry of all media has been grossly out of line.


Basically, media corporations have been attempting to use the immense profits they’ve made over the past several decades of pop-culture to sway governments into legislating protection for their profit margin. Instead of accepting certain realities in the post-internet marketplace, they have stamped their feet, and spat their dummies, furious and clueless as to the fact that they no longer control the method of distribution.


Today, many still continue to try to lobby and litigate their way out of the problem, instead of understanding and adapting.


The undeniable fact is that the marketplace has changed. Not for better, not for worse, merely changed. There are many ways to bring a product to market, and many ways to make money. And this is the key – the approach that is needed to be understood by those who are pro-SOPA is that the emphasis those that want to sell a product should be upon enticing the consumer to pay money, not enforcing them.


Enticement, not Enforcement. This is the direction that must be taken by the distributors.


On the other side all of us, as consumers, must hold up our own end. Before we get all lovey-dovey about the collective achievement of stalling SOPA-style legislation, we have to firstly remember that this sort of response is merely stalled, not defeated, and we have to remember that these products *do* cost money, and that we *should* be paying for them, if we want them. Clearly the prices we are expected to pay currently are not in touch with what we are happy to pay (and accordingly, clearly the business models currently employed are broken). Despite this, the fact remains that in order for artists and others to keep on producing; they need to earn money for their work.


In my experience, the vast majority of people are more than happy to pay for products on the internet. The fact that many, many people DO in fact pay is clear evidence of this. Further, there are a great many publishers and related businesses who *are* taking a mature approach to this, in a lot of cases led by the game dev industry. There are many, many examples of this, that I won’t bother going into, but the fact of the matter is that there *are* market-based solutions.


At the end of the day, this issue is not going to go away. Piracy is undoubtedly a problem, one that requires a mature, pro-active response, not just from the publishing industry and from governments, but also from the people who are ultimately the ones who will bear the final cost of whatever outcomes result – we, the consumers.


– Sam