SOPA

Posted on January 10, 2012

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There’s a lot of buzz about the ‘net concerning the Stop Online Piracy Act.  Take a moment to read.  It’s lengthy, I know, so I’ll summarize what I got out of it, but realize that I might be wrong.  If you’re a stickler for accuracy (like I try to be), I suggest reading it yourself.

I think the SOPA legislation, which the Senate will vote on soon, recognizes a real problem for America’s entertainment and creative industries.  When you take a look at how many people are involved in the production of a single movie, it becomes clear that piracy, or any similar practice, represents a loss of revenue, which can translate into a loss of profits, which leads to a loss of money for employees.  Now, I know that corporations have a bad rep for the practice of not paying employees or taxes when profits are high, but I’m not so certain that’s really the case in all instances.  Either way, I’m saying it makes sense for the movie industry, among others, to be concerned with people stealing their products.

Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of arguments for SOPA.  I’ve pretty much identified the major problem: the movie and music industry (or entertainment industries) could lose a lot of money if their product is pirated.  However, there are a lot of arguments against SOPA, as written, as well as the PROTECT IP Act (a very similar bill also set to be voted on soon).

  • Free Speech Argument: The concept of piracy, as a negative thing, is not a universal one.  There are groups that believe we should freely share information, and the claim of sole ownership over something like a book or a movie is ludicrous.  Or, more to the point of the previous article, piracy has negative effects, but can also provide for innovation in the marketplace.  The point is that there is no consensus regarding what piracy is and whether it is bad for a society.  Thus, the Free Speech Argument against SOPA goes like this: if we let this legislation go into effect, it will set a precedent for any government to censor any form of speech or communication it deems inappropriate.  “What if France blocked American sites it believed contained hate speech?”  An extreme example, perhaps, but we’ve seen this sort of thing in China and the Mideast.
  • User Content Argument: Many websites, like Facebook and Youtube, don’t create their own content.  They’re akin to public forums, where people can come and go as they please, present whatever information they want, and consume whatever media they choose.  A bill like SOPA effectively places the responsibility for such content on the website host.  It’s the same as saying that an American citizen can go to a public place, like a park, and give a speech, but the owner/manager of the park is responsible for what that person says.
  • Ineffective Argument: Given the nature of the web, there’s very little that any government can do to actually stop a website from operating or displaying undesirable content if that site is hosted in a different country.  Let’s say the U.S. decides that www.stealthisstuff.com is in violation of our laws regarding piracy.  They can require that Google stop displaying the site, or they can require that internet providers block access to that site.  But this won’t stop the site from changing its name when its user numbers drop, and it won’t stop individuals from accessing the site if they know the numeric web address.  In other words, this policy would only minimally affect Americans (by deterring normally law-abiding citizens from visiting piracy sites) while offering a slew of complications that make it harder for legitimate sites to conduct business.
  • Redundancy Argument: Another piece of legislation, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which passed in 1998, provides a means for wronged parties to direct legal action against offending websites.  If I make a video and sell it through my website, and it appears on Youtube without my authorization, I can send a letter to Youtube asking that it be removed.  If they fail to comply, I can sue.  Naturally, this provision is intended to work for bigger organizations (movie producers, music distributors, etc).  But the law exists, and SOPA would effectively supersede it, unnecessarily placing the power to exercise cease-and-desist demands in the hands of the legal system.  Why should the government have to take on that responsibility?  The entertainment industry already has the legal system behind them, and they have means to stop piracy, and in many cases they are able to do so (say, practically every social networking site).  SOPA is completely redundant.

These are just a few of the arguments against, but they’re the ones that stick out in my mind.  However, this does not mean that I’m entirely against legislation that protects rights of ownership.  I want to profit from my creative work, because, though I will still create if I don’t earn money, it’s a lot harder to create on a regular basis.  I want to see awesome movies and hear cool music, and if the producers can’t make money, they’ll move on to something else.  Now, realistically, I know that someone like Justin Bieber or Beyonce can afford to not get paid for every single use of their music.  But a band like Wookiefoot can’t, because they don’t have the multi-billion-dollar industry behind them.  Therefore, piracy is bad and we should work against it.

But the way SOPA is written, it seems to me that it brings more bad than good into the picture.  And I don’t know that there’s much more that I can say about it…

So if you want to know more, check out these links:

  • Twitter Fail: Where they boil down these arguments even more.
  • Open Congress: Where you can see which individuals and groups support SOPA.
  • An open letter from the MPAA that outlines steps taken against the PROTECT IP Act.
  • Know Your Meme: Where they examine both laws in detail.
  • Ars Technica: Where an alternative to SOPA is proposed (one driven by users and not government).

And if you want to voice an opinion against SOPA, go here and sign the petition.

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