Anyone with a sliver of ethics would agree that stealing is not a social behavior to be supported or condoned. Yet stealing of intellectual property goes on every moment on the internet. It has become almost a badge of honor for some people to download music, movies, or other intellectual content for free when instead a payment would be required.
I have heard all sorts of excuses, from "I will buy it after I try it" to "I can listen to it free on the radio, so why shouldn't I store it on my device". Of course one does not listen to anything for "free" on the radio, and one does not watch anything for "free" on television. Even programs aired by "public" stations are paid for if the owner requires a payment, a license, or a royalty. Yet, somehow, a portion of internet users think that they have the right to distribute and use things that do not belong to them for free.
The mantra that the net belongs to everyone is faulty. The net is a communication mechanism, not a social institution. Companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and countless others make a lot of money on the net: certainly in different ways, but this is the beauty of the medium. One can use the net for profit in different ways.
SOPA is an attempt by the US Government to regulate the distribution of intellectual property through the internet. It has flaws to be sure, but at least it recognizes that we cannot continue in the mode we are now. The drawbacks of the legislation are important enough that it should not be passed in its present form, and in fact I question whether a government should be in the business of managing the movement of data through the internet.
Yet something needs to be done to protect property rights. I am surprised that there has not been a movement within the New Media industry to put together a policing mechanism to do just that. For example, search engines can determine whether or not a site distributes content illegally. After all they do not seem to have much trouble identifying spammers. Although some people admire hackers for their creativity, the majority of users do not welcome their destructive activities and an entire industry has grown up around net security.
We, the internet community can do a much better job of policing ourselves, as long as we believe that using someone else's property without having the proper rights is unethical and dishonest. Governments should not be in a business that looks a lot like censorship, or is in fact censorship. But we can. The internet is a source of revenue for many corporations and institutions, so they have a vested interest to keep the profit motive integrated with the distribution medium they themselves use.
Traditional publishing companies, who claim they are victimized by the internet, and new media companies, who use the internet for profit, need to put together a plan to regulate commerce within the medium. The obstacles I believe are both political and cultural, but they can be overcome. It is clear what an organization enforcing property rights should do. What is less clear is who should pay for it. My answer is that both parties should pay for it. For "Old Media" this cures a problem; for "New Media" it prevents one.