Networks, Rogues and Thievery: The Discourse of Immateriality and Materiality in the Stop Online Piracy Act Legislative Hearing

Rebecca Chui

Abstract

This study focuses on the themes of materiality an immateriality in the legislative hearing of the Stop Online Piracy Act (‘SOPA’). Driven by the associations between intangible intellectual ‘property’ and tangible ‘property’ voiced in the legislative hearing on the 16th of November 2011, this study seeks to explore the representation of materiality and immateriality. The SOPA hearing is used as a framework to help contextualise and ‘ground’ the different discourses. It is hoped that by identifying latent assumptions and discourses in the hearing, it may help encourage more transparent discussion and reduce the potency of the ‘property’ rhetoric in IP debates. 

Critical discourse analysis was employed to investigate the discursive tensions between materiality and immateriality. This was supported by a conceptual framework bringing together theories and concepts of networked information societies, globalisation, digital objects, the construction of national/digital borders, and the intellectual property rhetoric. 

The study finds that the articulations of the networked information society, consumer/producer, and the digital object are markedly different from the theory presented in this study. The networked information society is discursively demarcated into areas of legitimacy and illegitimacy, while drawing out parallels with physical networks of lawful behaviour and criminal enterprises. The information society is framed as a ‘gateway’ for the non-virtual world. Furthermore, the network is not portrayed as a site of user creativity or production, connecting the user to connotations of passivity and illness. Lastly, the digital object adopts qualities of physical goods, enabling the digital object to fit into the paradigm of non-virtual theft. 

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