What If Cable Networks and Movie Theaters Blacked Out for a Day?

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Well, among other things, they’d lose millions of dollars in advertising and ticket sales — not to mention piss off their customers and partners.

A mass-media blackout, like the one Wikipedia and others engaged in on Wednesday to oppose Congress’s proposed SOPA and PIPA antipiracy legislation, will probably never happen. Even Google didn’t put its money where its mouth was: It put a “censored” black bar over its logo instead of shutting down the Internet’s No. 1 search engine (see Keeping the Web Safe for Pirates and Eshoo: More Than 10,000 Sites Join SOPA Protest).

But it’s an intriguing thought experiment, suggested by Charles Segars, CEO of the Ovation cable network and co-creator and executive producer of Disney’s National Treasure movies.

“What would happen if all the movie theaters, cable and broadcast channels, book stores and radio stations did the same thing — went completely dark, off the air, closed their doors. Would you miss Wikipedia more than, say, being able to watch American Idol or go to AMC theaters and see the latest movie in 3D?” he said in a statement distributed by Ovation. “Would it take a total shutdown to make the point that entertainment content is something of value and therefore needs protecting?”

Continued Segars, “As a writer and producer, I believe SOPA is the first step in protecting my rights, and my copyrighted content from being stolen by digital thieves. Theft is not a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is not a form of self-expression. It’s stealing, plain and simple… The Internet shouldn’t make it easy for pirates by letting them hide behind the First Amendment.”

Blackouts, by the way, are used strategically in the TV industry in retrans and carriage disputes, when a broadcaster or cable network wants to extract higher fees from a pay-TV provider (see MSG’s Knicks Ratings Leap 82%, Even without Time Warner Cable Carriage and Sunbeam’s Miami Station To Let DirecTV Carry NFC Title Game Amid Retrans Fight).

There are elements of SOPA and PIPA that should be modified or removed, such as a provision that would let the U.S. government force search engines to remove links to rogue sites. That’s pointless and intrusive.

The bar for shutting down pirate sites needs to be set extremely high. But if piracy is allowed to flourish, content industries — while they wouldn’t “go dark” overnight — will get progressively dimmer.

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