The bigger concerns are the laws to which this blackout has drawn fresh attention. We're not entirely up to speed on this, so we won't say much. Here's a quick rundown from Gizmodo, and a better one from Wired. Here's a very watchable 13-minute rant by TED's Clay Shirky.
We will say this: America's intellectual property laws are already strict enough to stifle innovation. Copyright and patent laws have been strengthened and, in particular, their terms have been lengthened. Rather than benefiting the actual scientists or artists who make new things, the laws now provide a startling benefit to corporations -- and almost in perpetuity.
These laws do stimulate one kind of innovation, but it's a bad one. They have created the entire industry of patent warehousing, in which big companies buy up patents for things they didn't invent and have never produced, for the sole purpose of suing some other companies that eventually invent and build something similar. Suing them, and then essentially stealing their profits. The website paidContent.org describes it as "a protection racket in which an entire industry has to decide whether or not to pay a licensing fee up front or fight off litigation in court."
Add to this the unnecessarily high cost of pharmaceuticals, which contributes (a little) to the outrageous surge in health-care costs, and you begin to see the creepy moral questions which hunker around the margins of IP law.
But back up. So far as we can tell, the laws presently before Congress have nothing to do with patents, and therefore with drugs. They are designed to protect two industries: recording and film.
Protecting these industries is like declaring dinosaurs an endangered species. Except that the dinosaurs were bloodthirsty killers, not cocaine-addled moral degenerates. It took a planet-sized meteor to kill the dinosaurs; the recording industry has been kept alive by Congressional favoritism since the 1990s.
Recording, in particular, was a perverse blip, which for the first time in history allowed musicians to become wealthy for something besides writing and performing music; it made the sleazy middlemen even wealthier, and they built that wealth up by deceiving and defrauding the actual artists. Record producers were parasites, living off people with actual talent and depending completely upon the existence of the copy-proof vinyl LP. Protecting these guys is an idea so bad it makes bailing out Detroit look like probity personified. Their industry is dying; it deserves to die; let it die.
The irony here is that, although we at the Egg lack even the minimal tech savvy required to file-share or otherwise download protected content, we live in a country where it is rampant. Where the customary fashion accessory for Eastern Europeans was once an anarchist newspaper tucked under one's overcoat, it is now a terrabyte external drive containing ten movies, a season or two of HBO, and more music than J.S. Bach listened to in his entire lifetime.
This sounds like an argument for stronger laws, right? After all, these people are pirates. But do you know why they are pirates? Because nobody will sell the stuff to them. Try to use Netflix, Hulu, any of the legitimate vendors, and they send you a polite note saying "We are sorry, but we are unable to distribute content to your country." PBS Kids won't let Preschooler A. watch clips from his favorite programs about talking teddy bears.
Now, not everybody we know would pay for the stuff, even if they got the chance. But some of us would, and the media companies would make a few bucks they aren't making now. And they wouldn't lose a cent.
Or, to paraphrase our friends at the NRA: When it becomes a crime to download content, only criminals will download content.