There have been many mighty showdowns in the annals of martial arts. Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris. Gina Carano vs. Cris 'Cyborg' Santos. Kyu the Blackfly vs. Kimbo Spice. These great confrontations stirred our blood and thrilled us with the sense that something enduring and worthwhile was at stake. In recent days, the Internet has been convulsed with a similar confrontation as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its misbegotten sibling, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), wended their way through the US legislature.
These laws were drafted to give righteous authorities the power to smite Internet content pirates. Its proponents were primarily media companies ostensibly motivated by the desire to protect their revenue streams. Opposition to the bills has surged, culminating in a historic blackout of websites like Wikipedia and Reddit, who went dark in protest at the excessively draconian measures enshrined in the bill. Google and Facebook too stood with the armies of light, drawing lines in the sand defending a man's fundamental right to publish silly videos on YouTube.
It looks like for now, the pro-PIPA brigades have been beaten back by the surge of public opposition. No doubt they will regroup and relaunch. What I think is interesting from an MMA fan's perspective is that in this war, the UFC pitched its camp firmly in the Pro-PIPA tent. This is a list of the companies sponsoring the reviled legislation. The UFC is on Page 4.
The UFC is not present on this roll call of infamy for nothing. Their heavy hand of anti-piracy Kung-fu has infiltrated even MMA Mania. Just today, a reader of the site put up a highlights video to stir up and pique the interest of MMA fans everywhere- something you would imagine the UFC would want. Alas, like a spinning tornado kick that penetrates your guard, the UFC swiftly deployed the DMCA Monkey Paw technique, causing YouTube to take down the video 'due to a copyright claim by the UFC'.
I’ve noticed that when I want to view past MMA fights, to build and deepen my interest in UFC fighters and MMA in general, old UFC fight videos are very hard to find. YouTube has been purged of them by the jackbooted copyright police. Fight videos from Strikeforce, K-1 and other promotions however, are all over the place and widely accessible. As a fan, this is frustrating for me, and builds hostile feeling towards the UFC.
This phenomenon is symptomatic of the short-sightedness of media companies. When I was a young grasshopper before the digital era, we used to make ‘pirated’ mixtapes of our favorite songs. Was this illegal? Strictly speaking, perhaps. But it gave the artistes airplay, deepened our fan loyalty, built their brands, got more people listening to their music and inevitably drove legit sales.
As a martial arts fan, I’m more likely to pay for PPV or live streaming if I’m excited about the fighters on the card. Part of building this excitement is watching their past fights, assessing their styles, etc. If I can’t find these videos, there’s nothing to build interest. And without these videos, new fans have nothing to excite them about the sport. Where would awareness of the UFC and its fighter roster be without the tidal wave of fan-created highlight reels? Imagine an MMA Mania without these action clips, highlight gifs, etc. This would not only degrade the fan experience, it would cost the UFC millions in free publicity.
In the Internet age, having free content out there being discovered, shared and commented on is just part of viral marketing and brand-building. It actually drives sales of the legit product. Also, those who can’t afford the legit product won’t pay for it anyway, so it is better and more media-savvy to think of ‘piracy’ as a two-tier freemium strategy. By coming out in support of heavy-handed legislation like SOPA, the UFC is defending outdated and self-harming business models relied upon by a media industry blindsided by and afraid of change. Dana White, shame on you.