Stop SOPA! What? Wait.. Let’s use a little common sense before jumping on the “censorship” bandwagon. Instead of taking a stand on an issue by reading the rants of others who have formed their opinions from the rants of uninformed others, ad nauseum, let’s take a deep breath and use a little logic to get some background on the topic.
First, a disclaimer before I plunge headlong into the subject. This is not an attempt to persuade in one way or another. I work for neither Congress nor the RIAA, nor do I condone piracy in any form.
Why stop SOPA? Is it bad? It must be, judging from the reactions of others. That is an assumption. My mission is to turn assumptions into understanding by asking relevant questions about the topic, and then finding answers to said questions whereby I can gain an understanding of the subject. In short, exercise professional judgment.
What is SOPA? SOPA is short for Stop Online Piracy Act, which is an act being pushed through legislature right now. If this act gains enough votes from Congresspersons, it will become law. The bumper sticker, “If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns” comes to mind.
What does SOPA contain? You can read the full Act for yourself here, but I’ll give a very brief summary of my perusal. This is a movement to combat piracy by making owners of websites accountable for pirated content, including links to sites that may host offending material or encourage the pirate community with links and pirated content. What is piracy? This is a vital question that I’ll discuss later, perhaps in Part 2. Moving on, should a website be found to have offending material or links to a site that has offending content that site will be taken offline within 5 days without a court hearing. That doesn’t sound too unreasonable unless we realize that many sites have millions of pages with content that the owners and administration of the website have no control over. A vendor selling copycat Rolexes or DVDs on eBay could get eBay closed. A blogger posting an excerpt from a book or posting a cartoon image could shutter the millions of blogs hosted by the blog site. Existing legislation allows the intellectual property owner (IP) to file a complaint and have the page delisted. Google processed nearly five million DMCA page removal complaints in the first 11 months of 2011 (source). SOPA takes this a step further by darkening the entire site rather than only the offending content.
Another common line is that SOPA will stop innovation. How? Well, one argument is that since the entertainment industry, as huge IP owners, will have wide discretion to report sites with offending links or material, it will behoove web administrators to carefully screen—censor—any and all material within their domain in order to avoid tripping the sensors (censors?) of the rich and plodding IP industry lords.
An argument I don’t hear too often is that the IP industry is too immature to deal effectively with piracy. The eight-track days are OVER. Definitions of piracy are unfinished, and the technology used by IPs piggybacks on pirate networks. Pirates represent the cutting edge of the Internet as a giant network. They have protocols and file sharing techniques that the “legal” entertainment industry only dreams of. Sure, these protocols are open by nature, and in many cases it’s still easier to grab a pirated movie than it is to watch one legally; so how can the IP lords expect people to always purchase a product that is slower, more complicated (what happens if I forget my password or use a different computer?), and of lower quality than free pirated versions? Wouldn’t it be more innovative to have the IPs come up with a technology-based answer to piracy rather than burdening our legislators with lobbyists? Are pirates, or IPs, to blame for the lazy economy?