SOPA, PIPA, Anonymous: Can I have a little hope?

CSO's publisher looks at a tumultuous January for the intellectual property landscape

I think when we look back at this January, we may view it as a turning point in how businesses protect their intellectual property (IP). Several key things happened:

1. In response to strong online protests, congressional sponsors of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) announced that they would delay their bills.

2. The hacker group Anonymous launched attacks against Polish government websites, which led the government to announce that it would be revisiting its support of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

[Also read Naming names in APT]

3. After the shutdown of Megaupload.com, a file-sharing site where IP of all kinds was freely distributed, Anonymous launched attacks against major media sites, including the CBS and Universal Music websites, as well as the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America.

Until now, IP protection has been a crapshoot at best. Businesses have layered technology on technology in their systems to protect against IP theft, with varying degrees of success. While there were already laws on the books to protect IP, they were mostly ineffectual in the Internet age. Over the past year, that has begun to change. Major owners of IP, most notably the movie and music industries, have begun to push, successfully, for new protections that would take into account the new dynamics created by the Internet.

I'll be the first to admit that SOPA and its brethren were not stellar pieces of legislation. For the most part, I think they were designed to be as far-reaching as possible with the understanding that they would probably get whittled down during the review process. Before that happened, however, legitimate protests began to crop up, sharing citizens' concerns about the scope of these bills. This is the old-fashioned way to get things done in a democracy. No problem, right? Well, not until Anonymous jumps in and crashes the party.

Intellectual property is the capital upon which businesses are built. If individuals and businesses fail to protect IP, they won't have any firm basis on which to operate. Movie studios might as well stop making movies if they're just going to be stolen. How are musicians supposed to make a living if their music is stolen and shared freely? It's a decades-old discussion that I won't rehash any further.

But when does the Internet community stop putting up with Anonymous and the like? Where is the retribution against Anonymous? Why is it that businesses, law enforcement and governments can't or don't retaliate against Anonymous? I believe that, ultimately, how effectively IP is protected will be determined by whether we continue to tolerate hacktivists and acquiesce to their extortion.

I don't make those decisions. I don't even influence those decisions. But I can have hope the people who do make them will make the right ones.

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