SOPA UPDATE: Read “SOPA Far, So Good” Here!
A Case of Censorship VS. Free Speech
Raise your hand if you can tell me what SOPA stands for. Okay, well how many of you have at least heard of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)? How about the Protect IP Act (PIPA)? If you still didn’t raise your hand, you should pay close attention to what follows as SOPA and PIPA could change the Internet as we know it as early as January 24th.
Introduced on October 26, 2011 by Representative Lamar Smith, (R –Texas), the SOPA bill targets rogue websites (mostly located outside the US) that infringe upon the rights of intellectual property owners by offering illegal downloads of movies, music, and other copyrighted, trademarked, and patented material.
PIPA: The Senate’s Older Cousin to SOPA
The Senate will have their own vote on their bill, PIPA, which was first introduced May 26, 2011.
According to MediaBeat:
“Under PIPA, if a website is accused of containing copyright-infringing content (like a song, picture, video clip etc.), the site could be blocked by ISPs (like Comcast), de-indexed from search engines and even prevented from doing business online with services like PayPal.”
How Do SOPA & PIPA Affect You & Me?
If any of the bills pass allowing governmental regulation of the Internet we could, at the very least, see the demise or severe depletion of content shared on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Reddit, Tumblr and other popular social media websites. Blog authors would be putting themselves or their websites at risk of copyright infringement every time they post a link, video, or share a photo with their readers.
For other websites and small business owners, even if you’re clean, one of your visitors could post a link to copyrighted material in your blog’s comment section and put your site in danger under these new guidelines.
Social media sites aren’t the only ones affected by these bills. Monster Cable, “the world’s leading manufacturer of high performance cables that connect audio/video components…”, cites Ebay and Craigslist (as well as Costco and Sears) as “rogue” sites because their users offer Monster’s secondhand cables at cheaper prices.
Craigslist now offers a page with more information on SOPA, including a list of supporters and opponents of the bill. A Craigslist representative added:
“SOPA/PIPA authors and supporters of course insist they’re only after foreign piracy sites, but Internet Engineers understand this is an attempt to impose China-style controls on the Internet, complete with DNS hijacking and censoring search results. Except in the US, instead of to the Communist Party, that control will go to the highest bidder.”
It’s a perplexing issue for lawmakers. On one hand protecting U.S. jobs and earnings is very important for the economy. However, the hasty fashion in which this legislation is being drawn up and voted on could result in major repercussions for small-to-medium size companies doing business online; something that I don’t think the government is addressing.
Who is supporting these bills?
The entertainment industry loves the idea of ending online piracy. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)issued a press release alleging that content theft has cost the U.S. economy $58 billion dollars annually, “including more than 373,000 lost American jobs, $16 million in lost employee earnings, plus $3 billion in badly needed federal, state and local governments’ tax revenue.”
However there are plenty of people who oppose SOPA & PIPA and for good reason.
Together We Stand
In a letter titled “We stand together to protect innovation” addressed to Congressional leaders several Internet giants expressed their concern for the bill:
“We support the bills’ stated goals… Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new and uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites. We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.”
The letter, which was signed by Google, Facebook, Mozilla, Zynga, eBay, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and AOL, also cites the already-strict Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which “…criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself… while limiting the liability of the providers of on-line services for copyright infringement by their users.”
Under the DMCA, sites are responsible for removing content or users who use or share copyrighted material when they receive a complaint; a sort of honor system. That disappears with the passing of SOPA or PIPA and instead leaves the policing of websites up to the government.
Just when you thought that was enough, there’s a third “solution” for combating online piracy.
SOPA and PIPA essentially assign responsibility for policing every site on the Internet to the government, but who is actually the watch dog? If it’s up to the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Ace (OPEN), policing international online pirates will be a job for the International Trade Commission (ITC).
Sponsored by a coalition of lawmakers including Representative Darrell Issa (R – California), OPEN is a somewhat less severe option for policing overseas piracy. As reported by the Washington Post, Issa explained, “OPEN would address the problem of piracy without resorting to denial of service, he said, by empowering the ITC to cut off the money flowing to copyright infringers.”
While OPEN may enlist the help of the ITC for overseas matters, they cannot regulate domestic matters. That would be left up to whom? SOPA or PIPA? Even if that is the case, would all of this regulation actually “fix the problem”? According to NY Times reporter David Carr, no.
“…Even if it made some progress toward reining in rogue sites, the collateral damage would be significant. Under the terms of each proposed bill, the federal Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, could seek a court order against a Web site that illegally hosts copyrighted content and then wall off the site permanently.”
The letter to Congress concludes by pointing out the major impact the Internet has had on the US economy.
“We are proud to be part of an industry that has been crucial to U.S. economic growth and job creation. A recent McKinsey Global Institute Report found that the Internet accounts for 3.4 percent of GDP in the 13 countries that McKinsey studied, and in the U.S., the Internet’s contribution to GDP is even larger. If Internet consumption and expenditure were a sector, it’s contribution to GDP would be greater than energy, agriculture, communication, mining, or utilities. In addition, the Internet industry has increased productivity for small and medium-sized businesses by 10%. We urge you not to risk either this success or the tremendous benefits the Internet has brought to hundreds of millions of Americans and people around the world.”
David Carr is as unbiased a reporter as they come, however he may have put it best when he wrote, “Given both Congress’s and the entertainment industry’s historically wobbly grasp of technology, I don’t think they should be the ones re-engineering the Internet. The rest of us might have to just hold our noses and learn enough about SOPA to school them in why it’s a bad idea.”
Blackout Imminent… Hopefully
Reddit, a social news website, has proposed a blackout day to the veritable Internet superpowers who drafted the letter Congress. Reddit has promised to go dark Wednesday January 18th from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. just over one week before the House’s scheduled floor vote on SOPA the 24th. Whether or not Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter or any others will follow suit is still up in the air. Will they walk the walk or let Congress walk all over them and their users? We’ll just have to wait and see.
What Can You Do?
While it is important to stop these pirates to curtail the hemorrhage of jobs and capital that is otherwise due to the entertainment industry and the US in general, it is also important to consider the ramifications that imposing such harsh laws could have on everyone who does business on the Internet. SOPA, PIPA, and the OPEN Act affect nearly everyone. Stay informed. The Washington Post recently reported that Congress is starting to back down on SOPA and PIPA. However, that does not rule out a revised SOPA or PIPA bill resurfacing in a few weeks or months.
It will be interesting to see how Congress handles this matter going forward. In the meantime, contact your State Senator and tell them you are against SOPA and any other bill that imposes governmental regulation of the Internet.
Speak up! Contact your representatives today.
Be sure to sign Google’s petition that tells your representatives to vote “NO” on SOPA and PIPA:
Visit Wikipedia’s homepage today, enter your zip code and you’ll be linked to a list of your Representatives with their contact information:
Craigslist offers a plethora of links to tell Congress that you oppose SOPA & PIPA:
SOPA UPDATE: Read “SOPA Far, So Good” Here!