The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA – United States H.R.3261) is a United States bill proposed by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (Republican) to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court-orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers (ISP) to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include streaming of copyright material, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The bill expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Proponents of the bill (including Hollywood, media firms, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and their lobbyists, who have spent over $91 million to push this new law through) say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites. Claiming flaws in present laws that do not cover foreign owned and operated sites, and citing examples of “active promotion of rogue websites” by U.S. search engines, proponents say stronger enforcement tools are needed.
Opponents (such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Yahoo!, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, Tumblr, Etsy, Reddit, Techdirt, Wikimedia Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and the Center for Democracy and Technology) say the proposed legislation threatens free speech, innovation, and enables law enforcement to block access to entire internet domains due to infringing material posted on a single blog or webpage. They have raised concerns that SOPA would bypass the “safe harbor” protections from liability presently afforded to Internet sites by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Library associations have expressed concerns that the bill’s emphasis on stronger copyright enforcement would expose libraries to prosecution. Other opponents state that requiring search engines to delete a domain name could begin a worldwide arms race of unprecedented censorship of the Web and violates the First Amendment.
New Wave Media strongly opposes SOPA for being a misjudged lobbyist-driven piece of legislation that is technically impossible to enforce, cripplingly troublesome to support, and would destroy the internet as we’ve come to know it.
If you take into account that you’ve worked hard on an album, book, video, photo, font or other product and discovered it being illegally distributed free of charge on a shady website, then fighting online piracy sounds like a good thing. Pirated copies of products are always available for download, and there are people who download these readily available products for free knowing it is wrong. Wishing there was some way to stop the illegal distribution of content would be reasonable.
Wishes are one thing, laws are another. If there is a way to stop piracy (and I think we’d have more luck legislating an end to adultery or overeating), SOPA is not it.
Tremendous Power Coupled with Vague Language
SOPA’s explanation is deliberately vague to allow corporate lawyers maximum latitude in fighting for their clients’ interests at $450 an hour. SOPA addresses the piracy plight with a wide brush, lights that brush on fire, and soaks the entire internet in gasoline. SOPA would allow corporations to block the domains of websites that are “capable of” copyright infringement. Once blocked, nobody can access it.
A news story on NPR’s website covering the copyright controversy between Shepard Fairey and the Associated Press could be seen as supporting copyright infringement, because the article includes a JPG of Fairey’s infringing “HOPE” poster as part of its news coverage, or because the article refers passingly to Fairey’s “fair use” defense. Under SOPA, the AP could legally block the entire NPR website in response.
But it doesn’t stop there, because the internet is about connections.
Say your friend Andy blog’s about that story and includes a screen picture. Under SOPA, your website could be blocked. If your blog is a subdomain of WordPress, all of WordPress could also be blocked.
Say you post a link to the story on your Facebook wall. Under SOPA, all of Facebook would be blocked. Now, to avoid this outcome, Facebook would be responsible for regulating the copyright status of every piece of content posted.
Don’t Forget the Search Engines
Google would have indexed the NPR story and included the pictures. This is what search engines do. Now Google could be shut down and blocked. To avoid that outcome, Google would be responsible for regulating the copyright ownership of every piece of content they index.
Internet Service Providers and hosting companies would face the same consequences. Any copyrighted image found or indexed on an ISP’s server (or even cloud), that server service must be shut down, along with all the innocent content stored on that same server. ISPs will be responsible for regulating the copyright status of every byte of content they store.
Most hosting companies have a hard enough time making a profit and maintaining uptime. How will hosting companies afford to employ content police, and who will train them?
Don’t forget the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. That’s full of copyright violations. Let’s just shut it down too, and Wikipedia with it (because there’s probably one file in the Wikipedia commons that is arguably copyright protected).
Spend five minutes on the internet and you get a good sense of how it works. You’ll quickly realize how technically impossible, not to mention economically challenging, it will be to police all of this content. No company can regulate that much content all of the time. There’s no bots for that, no spiders. SOPA is a job killer. You might as well bend over and take it.
Legislators know the side on which their bread gets buttered and they are enslaved to powerful lobbyists. These lobbyists have casually spent $91 million so far, monstrously outspending internet companies.
Even when admitting they have no clue in regards to the issue, Big Money gets what it wants.
What Big Money wants, Big Money tends to get, even when its experts testifying at the U.S. House of Representatives admit they don’t know what they’re talking about, as covered by Fortune, of all publications:
Internet companies worry that they could be held liable for the actions of people outside their control. Under the bill, Yahoo, for example, could be held liable if someone posted a copyrighted picture to that company’s Flickr site. And Google and other search engines would in effect be responsible for the actions of basically everyone on the Internet. But logic either doesn’t seem to matter much to SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and his 21 cosponsors, or else they simply can’t get their minds around the problem. Opponents of the bill have noted that it could disrupt the domain-name system—the Internet’s basic technical underpinning. But when witnesses who support the bill were asked about that issue, they said they were not qualified to speak to the technical aspects of it, even as they insisted that SOPA would present no such problem. And in a bit of delicious symbolism, the committee’s streaming video of the hearing basically didn’t work.”
American Censorship Day has come and gone, but you can still take action:
- Tumblr has created a system that will call you with talking points, and then connect you to your representative.
- You can contact your representatives and your senators.
We urge everyone reading this to take action today. Only an overwhelming show of solidarity gives us a chance of defeating this poorly written, dangerous bill.
For more information, visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Lifehacker, and read the bill for yourself (PDF).