Voting With Our Wallets

Black March

Thursday March 1st 2012 to Saturday 31st March 2012

With the continuing campaigns for Internet-censoring legislation such as SOPA and PIPA, and the closure of sites such as Megaupload under allegations of piracy and conspiracy, the time has come to take a stand against music, film, and media companies’ lobbyists.

The only way is to hit them where it truly hurts.

Their profit margins.

March 2012 is the end of the 1st quarter in economic reports worldwide.

Do not buy a single record. Do not download a single song, legally or illegally. Do not go to see a single film in cinemas, or download a copy. Do not buy a DVD in the stores. Do not buy a video game. Do not buy a single book or magazine.

Wait the 4 weeks to buy them in April; see the film later, etc. Holding out for just 4 weeks maximum will leave a gaping hole in media and entertainment companies’ profits for the 1st quarter, an economic hit which will be observed by governments worldwide as stocks and shares will blip from a large enough loss of incomes.

This action can give a statement of intent:

“We will not tolerate the media industry’s lobbying for legislation that will censor the Internet.”

The Black March meme originated, to all appearances, with the Livejournal user morgandawn. The goal, as should be obvious, is to make it clear to the US government and to distributors of copyrighted material that they need to back off Internet censorship: kill SOPA, kill PIPA, kill ACTA, and bring Megaupload back online and not go after similar sites.

The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and its twin, the PROTECT IP (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property) Act, or PIPA, are US bills in the House and Senate respectively. Both have as their aim shutting down distribution of illegal copies, counterfeit goods (such as generic versions of prescription medications), and anti-DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology. After the January 18 Internet blackout of sites including but not limited to English-language Wikipedia, Craigslist, Boing Boing, WordPress, Google, and Mozilla, both bills have been, as the New York Times says, “shelved”, pending revision.

SOPA and PIPA have in common that, if passed as written, a single court order would compel every site that links to an infringing site (that is, a site that distributes illegal copies, counterfeit goods such as generic versions of prescription medications, or anti-DRM [Digital Rights Management] technology), and especially every site financially involved with an infringing site such as its advertisers and payment processor, to remove or disable access to the offending site, including making it impossible to access the site via its domain name—using the site’s IP address would still work as long as the site itself was still online, but who knows the IP addresses of the sites they visit via domain name?

The offending site need not be under US jurisdiction for a SOPA- or PIPA-based attack to be effective. Nor do the sites under such attack have any recourse.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, has not been frequently named in the anti-SOPA/PIPA protests, but ACTA may be worse than both. The United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea have already signed; the European Union, Mexico, Switzerland, and Poland have stated their intent to sign. Further, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Assocation of America (RIAA), both of which have lobbied in favor of SOPA and PIPA, both had input in the creation of ACTA. In no country did the public have input in any way; in the US, anything pertinent to ACTA was classified on national security grounds.

Among other things, many similar to SOPA and PIPA, ACTA would require that Internet service providers stop hosting free software that can access copyrighted media. In other words, if you’re a Linux user or a VLC Player user, so much for being able to listen to any of your legally acquired music or watch any of your legally acquired DVDs on your computer. ACTA would also shrink access to file-sharing and peer-to-peer networking, both used for distributing that same free software as well as a variety of other legal uses.

The Megaupload seizure is a more complicated issue. tl;dr: Megaupload did several very stupid things—they rented servers in the US, they got much of their revenue from advertising on download pages for copyright-infringing content, they provided rewards to people who uploaded frequently-downloaded files (which were, very often, copyright-infringing content), they did not delete copyright-infringing content from their servers when informed that said content was copyright-infringing (but they did delete and prevent reupload of child porn, proving that they were capable of deleting and preventing reupload of copyright-infringing content), and they held on to all their emails dating as early as 2006 that show that all these choices were deliberate. I sympathize with everyone who’s upset about the Megaupload seizure, but under existing US copyright law, Megaupload screwed themselves.

Back to Black March. The idea, as already explained, is to put a hit on copyrighted material distributors’ revenue for the month of March.

Now, this is likely to suck for the producers, many of whom are speaking out against SOPA et al. As penknife on Livejournal points out, the major distributors aren’t automatically going to assume ‘Internet campaign against distributors’. They’re going to assume ‘the books, movies, and music released this month suck’. Especially if the distributors don’t compare notes, which they might well not.

The thing is, though, it already sucks to be a content producer. Pay iTunes $0.99 for a song, and the artist gets maybe ten cents. Apple gets thirty-five. The rest goes to the record label. Pay a bookstore $9.99 and the author gets eighty cents tops. Screenwriters typically get two percent of the gross profit of a film, directors seven percent, and actors who aren’t A-list enough to get a cut of the gross profit have to settle for a couple hundred dollars a day plus a cut of the net profit, and there are ways and ways to make the accounting say that even a blockbuster movie made no net profit.

The distributors, on the other hand, the folk lobbying for SOPA et al, are making bank. And they want to make more bank, on the principle that every illegal download is a lost sale, even though file sharers buy at least as much music as not-file-sharers.

So I’m fully on board with this boycott, with a caveat. Buy your films from the independent producers, your music from the indie artists, your books from the self-published authors. Take all your entertainment budget for March and buy direct from content producers. Do not involve distributors, especially large distributors who lobby for SOPA et al. And put off till April consuming any entertainment released by a major distributor, especially entertainment released during March. Put off till April giving any money to the media industry. And tell everyone why you’re doing it.

This sucks. I know this sucks. I don’t want to boycott CBS and Warner, even just for a month; they produce Supernatural. And Viacom owns Comedy Central, which has the best sources of US news on television: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I don’t want to boycott them either.

But we have to take a stand.

We will not tolerate the media industry lobbying to censor the Internet.

As the Megaupload indictment proves, existing US law is good enough.

ETA: I am given to understand that ‘Black March’ is another name for ‘Nazi death march’, which makes it an obvious problem for our activist movement. If you think up a better name for this campaign, please let me know.

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