Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Criminal Irony of SOPA: Broadcast Referrals vs Online Referrals

Over the weekend, I happened to catch one of those commercials where they advertise gold collector coins. The commercial lists a "$50 coin" covered in "the purest gold". Whether you've seen the commercial or not, you can probably imagine the flow of the spot. Basically, they talk about this coin with descriptors that make it sound like it was gold coin that the government issued, then changed their minds. Based on the size and weight, it would probably be worth a lot if it were solid gold coin (a conclusion that the commercial tries to lead you to make), but it is a plated coin with no description of how thick or how much gold is in the coin. And, just in case you didn't think you were getting over on them with the gold coin part, they'll sell you this "$50 coin" for $10.

Of course, most of us are not foolish enough to purchase these items, but deep down we have a pretty good sense of who the ads are targeted at. While it may not constitute fraud, you can bet that the people who wind up buying these coins probably were confused and didn't know any better.

Like snake oil of old or the "natural herbal male enhancement products" of a more recent era, the sellers are profiting on a product that they know will not meet the purchaser's expectations. You know it, I know, and the broadcast companies know it. So why do they run the ads?

This is the irony that occurred to me over the weekend. Nobody suggests that Comcast should be liable for all of the people that lose money buying these "gold collector coins". Caveat Emptor, right? And yet, here they are, profiting on selling a pointer to a bogus deal that skirts the edges of fraud.

Contrast that with the online world, SOPA, and the laws that Hollywood and the media companies are driving through Congress. That law essentially hopes to "turn off the channel" on a site that links to content with reported copyright violating content. Imagine if you could call Comcast and force them to take down a channel because they ran one of those "natural male enhancement" ads.

The difference is that, if you send money to the coin seller, that's your money. The broadcasters don't care about your money. The media companies look at the copyright material online and they see their money. If they have somebody willing to buy broadcast ad space (and they can get their money), they could care less about the other side of the transaction.

In what might even be a greater irony, Google is probably more conscientious about advertising content -- kind of funny when you think about how the media companies behind SOPA characterize the search engine giant as the bad actor.

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