SOPA and PIPA from the Eyes of Design


As the wave of SOPA and PIPA protests die down, it’s time to take stock of the implications such legislatures can have on the design community.
Please do take my thoughts with a pinch of salt as I do not live in the US, and very likely not have the same cultural background or government system. But I do think that such a Bill could find traction in many other countries should it be passed. So indirectly, I could be affected.
The importance of protecting Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights cannot be stressed enough. That is very clear. As designers, this protects the lifeblood of our profession, which is all about the creation of IP for economic or social benefit.
We have often seen designs stolen and used by others in the name of “inspiration” with little or no modification. Therefore I believe that the spirit behind the creation of the Bill can be a huge boon to our design profession.
But where do you draw the line? Not only that, when do we consider an IP infringed? Will it be so cut and dry that it is all about: “My chair has 4 legs so yours cannot have 4”? It cannot be. This is because there is no such thing as an original design. At least not since the paperclip, toothbrush or doorknob was invented.
We won’t go into the differences between a design and an invention, but you know what I mean!
As you know, I always encourage designers to have an online presence with their own name.com or by using sites like Behance or Coroflot to share their portfolio or ideas with the world. If you think about it, with Bills like PIPA and SOPA in place what could happen is that your inspiration images, mood boards, material textures, competitor product images etc. can be reported as copyright violations. “Casual” use of such images will likely be stamped out completely inside and outside of the studio.
The bill was also designed to actually stop the piracy of movies and music from non-US based websites by freezing payments via Paypal etc or by US Based Ads. This blanket act unfortunately also included creative content for blogs and user-based submissions to sites like Youtube and Vimeo. Even sites like Tumblr or Posterous, where the users usually crop and share interesting finds on the Internet, will be banned.
As you know creativity often stems from the leveraging on other ideas. So should a legislation like this be passed, we might see a new Internet that will be as bland as a dictionary. It will have tons of information, sure, but it will be soulless. As a side note, I think Creative Commons could find a new renaissance should a bill of such a nature be passed, but that system needs work as well.
From someone who creates Intellectual Property as part of his livelihood, I’m all for legislation that protect my intellectual property. I would love to ban/block that website that stole my blog theme! But “god is in the details” and therefore that defaulting line needs to be very clear. I’m not so sure how this is going to be done. If we consider how challenging it is to determine patent infringement, it looks like there is no clear and easy answer.
I love to hear your thoughts on this issue, especially if you reside in the US. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

1 Comment
  • Alex

    February 3, 2012 at 12:33 am Reply

    There are enough laws already, there should not be unlimited extensions to copyright like there is right now.
    Lifetime of the inventor/creator is far more than enough.
    Open source is viable for a lot of things, I believe we would progress faster without copyright. As a designer, yes it would be harder… that’s when you see good designers stand out…
    Sopa may be over ( it probably will be passed when no one is watching) but ACTA is far worse..

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