This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
If you were online today (Wednesday, January 18th, 2012) you likely noticed that several leading websites protested against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Sites ranging from Wikipedia (FineArtViews interviewed Jimmy Wales and others from the Wikimedia Foundation last year concerning what Wikipedia offers to the art community) to Reddit joined together in protest in what was described as "Internet Blackout Day" -- the idea being that site visitors would get a taste of what is to come if SOPA is passed. I have to agree that SOPA is dangerous based on what I've read so far. If passed it would 'kill' online art communities and art blogs -- the conversation about art that we love today would be gone... along with the wider conversation in general.
Circles of the online art community joined in the protest as well by informing people about SOPA -- notably, art critic Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City and Hrag Vartanian of Hyperallergic. I have no doubt that others from within the online art community will stand with them in opposing SOPA. I may not always agree with Johnson and Vartanian regarding copyright -- but as Johnson pointed out, "Online piracy is a problem we can address without turning the Internet into a police state.".
If you have followed my writing on FineArtViews you know that I'm a strong supporter of copyright -- I want ALL artists to be able to protect the market for their art when needed. However, I can't support a bill that would destroy the Internet as we know it. SOPA, if made law, would throw the Information Age into the darks ages, if you will. If passed I'm certain that a lot of innocent people would be caught in the copyright infringement crossfire -- SOPA would fuel an age of digital inquisition. Online art communities and art blogs would be an easy target.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would kill online art communities because it would target website founders as well as site members. Point blank -- SOPA would make the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) -- and thus, the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation ACT -- obsolete. SOPA would allow online art community owners to be sued for copyright infringement that they have no control over -- they would be at the mercy of whatever their members upload. This scenario may sound like a good idea to some copyright supporters within the art community -- but the end result, as mentioned earlier, would be that the 'conversation' about art that we know and love today would be gone.
If the bill becomes law a website could be blocked / shut down -- with little to no due process -- based on allegations of copyright infringement. You would likely be hard-pressed to find online art communities (or art blogs that cover art news for that matter) due to the way the bill is written at this time. Point blank -- art websites that allow user-generated content would likely 'close shop' because it would be nearly impossible for them to effectively 'police' what is uploaded to the site. Due to the risk of legal action I predict that the majority of online art communities will no longer exist if the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) becomes law -- those stubborn enough to remain 'open' would be at the mercy of user-generated content.
Art blogs and other sources of art news would likely have difficulty operating under SOPA as well due to the reasons mentioned above. In addition to that, SOPA could be exploited if made law. For example, say an artist does not like my review of her artwork and I happened to have used an image in the review -- she could use SOPA to 'get even'. The angry artist could argue that my use of the image is copyright infringement -- which means that my blog (or the blog I'm writing for) would be at risk of being blocked / shut down. Keep in mind that your average art blogger does not have the same protection as a journalist. Point blank -- you might as well say "goodbye" to independent art writers if SOPA is passed -- and even the big art mags (or is it rags?) would be at risk online.
Again, if SOPA passes -- based on my understanding of the bill at this time -- you can say "goodbye" to independent art writers who are more apt to write about an artist who is outside of the mainstream compared to traditional sources of art writing. To be frank, it simply would not be worth the risk of pissing someone off (which happens often if you happen to be a critical writer) and being challenged legally because someone is exploiting SOPA to 'get even' for a bad review. That concern is not that extreme if you look at the details of the bill.
I'll be honest -- I'd be nervous introducing my readers to an artist if SOPA ends up being made law in its current form... because the artist may decide to abuse SOPA at a later time. In addition to that, what if the artist I'm writing about infringed on another artist that I'm not aware of? For example, if I interview Artist A -- and place examples of his work at the top of the post -- I will be at the mercy of Artist B -- if SOPA is law -- when she discovers that Artist A infringed upon her copyright. I would potentially be hit by the legal crossfire of their dispute.
In closing, based on what I know of SOPA so far I must stress that it would most likely harm the online art community -- at least in the way it is written now. The online 'conversation' about art would be rather limited due to the stranglehold over content and the potential for abuse of the law. I don't want to see that conversation silenced. There are other ways to handle the problem of copyright infringement in general. I'll offer some more thoughts on SOPA soon...
Take care, Stay true,