Opinion: Considering SOPA in Cultural Heritage

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I’m guessing you’ve already heard of the two bills that have been introduced before Congress in the United States, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House. It would be hard not to notice the uproar this has sparked on the web, with sites like Wikipedia, Craigslist, and BoingBoing going dark; Google organizing a massive petition; and companies large and small making statements of protest.

We certainly join the many librarians, archivists, museum professionals and creatives that we work with in voicing our concern. I love what Rachel Hodder wrote about the impact SOPA may have on cultural heritage for the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative at Michigan State University. And the Digital Public Library of America made a powerful statement on their site today, stating:

We are against the theft of intellectual property, but SOPA/PIPA will hurt, not help. Some of us feel strongly that libraries should never close, even in support of our deeply held beliefs. We show our respect for that position by posting it here, and one by community consensus to go dark.

Of course, cultural heritage institutions around the world are under assault in many ways, not least of which from drastic cuts in funding in lean economic times. Yet contrary to so many companies in the entertainment and publishing industries, the many stewards of cultural memory content around the world are responding NOT by holding tighter to their assets or litigating or lobbying their way out of failing business models, but instead are innovating and opening and sharing like never before. We’re seeing this in movements like the grassroots Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives and Museums we’ve been a part of; in efforts surrounding orphan works in publishing; and in an increasing tide of academics, researchers and institutions publishing with open licenses.

Copyright and licensing is obviously a complicated issue, and one that we at Historypin continue to put a tremendous amount of thought and care into as we work with a myriad of individuals and institutions around the world sharing creative works. Yet there’s no question that legislation like SOPA and PIPA would very likely have a devastating effect on sites like Historypin that encourage community, conversation, creativity and innovation. And that seems worth fighting for.