Instead of the entertainment industry beating up the little guys on the issue of piracy, in 2011 and early 2012 they went for the nuclear legislative option. The ensuing battle for the free flow of information online polarized the Internet.
SOPA and PIPA became the acronyms on everyone’s lips and then, just when it seemed the netizens of the free world were about to be outgunned, something amazing happened. Tech giants such as Google and Wikipedia joined the protests, the balance of power tipped, and Hollywood and the music industry were forced into retreat.
In an interview with The Guardian, Brin spoke of “scary” developments which have seen powerful forces “line up against the open internet on all sides and around the world.”
From repressive regimes such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia which seek to control access to the Internet and restrict the communications of their citizens, to companies like Apple and Facebook which tightly control their platforms making search engine indexing impossible, online threats are growing.
So given the scale of the threats listed above, one might expect the issue of intellectual property enforcement to be less of a priority for Brin, but the opposite is true.
As the protesters recently made clear, the introduction of PIPA or SOPA would have seen the United States follow Iran and China down a dangerous one-way street of increasing web censorship using the very same technologies the US has been critical of in the past.
Brin says that by lobbying for legislation that has the potential to bring such censorship to the West, the entertainment industry is “shooting itself in the foot, or maybe worse than in the foot.”
Following up on comments last week in which the RIAA finally admitted that innovation is the best tool for tackling piracy, Brin said that the piracy problem would continue as long as people found it easier than using legitimate offerings.
“I haven’t tried it for many years but when you go on a pirate website, you choose what you like; it downloads to the device of your choice and it will just work,” Brin explained, adding that the restrictive mechanisms employed by authorized sites only represent artificial walls and “disincentives for people to buy.”
The entertainment industries insist that Google doesn’t do enough to fight piracy (and might even get sued as a result), but it’s increasingly clear that through the haze of war, Google will object to anything that stops it going about its own legitimate business.
An artificially limited web, with corporate controlled restrictions such as walled gardens or court-ordered censorship, are a direct threat to that. Accessibility is what Google needs to grow its business – maybe the entertainment industries do too.