Many of you folks have probably heard the buzz in recent days about SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) but if you’re like I was, you may be asking, “What is SOPA? And what is the commotion all about?”.
Over the last few days, I have been bound and determined to try to figure this whole thing out so I cracked open my Google and started reading. Then I read some more. And after that, I read even more and think I finally sort of get it. In a nutshell, SOPA is a bill that has been proposed to hammer down on copyright infringement by restricting access to websites that host pirated content. The main target of the act is evidently evil overseas websites that are digital treasure chests for illegal movie or music downloads.
So, what’s the big deal? We already know that providing or downloading copyright protected stuff is illegal (flashback Napster and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998) so why is this back in the headlines?
The bottom line is that musicians, actors, movie producers, software companies, etc. have fought piracy for eons claiming that they are losing jobs and income because of it. Yup. That’s probably true but there are some problems attached to SOPA. Big ones.
For example, say Billy Bob Gobstopper from Twinkle Town, Alabama uploads ”Gone with the Wind” to YouTube. The next day, when Ted Turner sits down in front of his laptop at lunchtime to enjoy a plate of mini corn dogs and tator tots he happens to run across this movie…his movie…on YouTube. He immediately speed dials YouTube and gives them a “take notice” to yank his movie from the web. The rules say that YouTube is protected against liability as long as it removes the content within a reasonable timeframe.
In the mean time, YouTube is required to contact Mr. Gobstopper to alert him that uploading Ted’s movie violates copyright laws. If Mr. Gobstopper disagrees and thinks he has a right to share the movie, the entire crew can land in court. Fun stuff, huh?
But SOPA wants to up the ante. They know that forcing overseas companies to take copyrighted work down is a losing battle so they figure, “Hey…let’s stop piracy by demanding that U.S. companies quit providing service to all of those foreign bootleggers. It’ll be great because, SCORE! Americans won’t be able to access these sites anymore.”
But in doing so, SOPA also wants to hold site operators responsible for every drop of media they provide. A site could be pegged an evildoer by SOPA if it takes “deliberate actions to avoid confirming a high probability” that the service they provide will be used for copyright infringement. This would probably be enough to put sites like YouTube into ancient history books. They would be too scared to function due to the constant fear of prosecution.
The other problem with this concept is that once an overseas pirate has been blocked by U.S. companies like Google or Yahoo because of SOPA, people will still be able to access the site simply by entering their IP address, or the crooks will just change their business name, website address, and IP — basically starting fresh with a whole new identity until eventually, they’re discovered once again and the cycle starts itself over — new name, new website, blah, blah, blah….
But I guess there is an even bigger issue and that’s the entire subject of censorship. How do you feel about the U.S. government filtering what citizens are able to access on the Internet? Personally, I think that’s an infringement of your First Amendment rights. And if SOPA is put into effect, what other content will be screened from our view? Where will the government drawn the line? I dunno. To me SOPA would open up a really huge economy-sized can of worms (like you’d probably find at Sam’s Club) and if you start researching this topic more deeply, there is a lot more at stake including Internet instability and great economic downfall. There is an excellent video you can view here that explains the issue in more depth.
So, why am I tell you all of this? Well first, because I can. And second, because you should be aware that your First Amendment rights are on the verge of being violated. And third, because on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 you may find that many of your favorite websites are blacking out in protest because of SOPA including Wikipedia, MLG, Reddit, and others. There is even rumor that Google will be igniting the protest in some way, shape or form although the extent of their participation hasn’t been specified. Even many Twitter users have vowed to be”Tweet free” in protest of SOPA’s freedom-limiting provisions. And don’t be surprised if you stop by a few of your favorite blogs on Wednesday and they’ve temporarily disappeared. Many of my blogging friends have also decided to band together in light of their disappoval.
What are your thoughts about SOPA? Do you believe it’s a good way to deter piracy…or a recipe for disaster? Do you think in this day and age, creators of all types of media just have to expect piracy as a “part of the business?” Please share your comments and don’t forget to subscibe to my RSS feed!
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