SOPA: What the fight is all about & why it matters

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve likely been barraged by a variety of blog posts and comments against SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act).

You’ve probably seen the likes of Wikipedia, Google and even this blog ‘black out’ their website in opposition to the SOPA & PIPA bills currently making their way through the US legislature at present.

I don’t really want to offer much in terms of my own opinion on the matter other than to say that I’m against both bills as I don’t think they’d work and would likely have a dampening effect on the tech industry, not to mention issues regarding free speech.

Look I get it, piracy is bad. It hurts artists, hurts economies & allows people who are not producing something to profit. However, there are already laws in place to help owners of intellectual property make a claim where they feel their work has been misused or stolen. Additionally, what right does the US have to exert state control over the internet? The arrogance of those bills is astounding.

 For those of you that don’t really know much about SOPA here’s a quick rundown:

SOPA is a bill that seeks to crack down on copyright infringement by restricting access to sites that host or facilitate the trading of pirated content of things like TV shows, games, movies and software.

The bills main targets are ‘overseas’ (non-American) sites like The Pirate Bay or Megaupload, which are a trove for illegal downloads.

But this isn’t the first time that content creators or IP holders have battled against piracy- remember the Napster lawsuits? – but it’s difficult if not near impossible  for US companies to take action against ‘overseas’ sites; for instance, The Pirate Bay’s servers are actually located in Sweden & Megaupload is registered in Hong Kong.

With that taken into consideration, SOPA’s goal is to cut off pirate sites’ sources of revenue & viewers by requiring US search engines, advertisers and other providers to withhold their services to these sites. That means sites like Google wouldn’t show flagged sites like the Pirate Bay in their search results, and payment processors like PayPal couldn’t transmit funds to them (effectively economically crippling the sites).

For many this sounds reasonable enough, and people on both sides of the argument sagree that protecting content is a worthy goal. However, opponents point out that vague and broad way SOPA is written effectively promotes censorship and is rife with the potential for unintended consequences.

The way that SOPA is written potentially makes site operators responsible for the content that their users upload. The bill says that a site could be deemed in breach of SOPA if it “facilitates” copyright infringement.

So what exactly does “facilitates” mean? Broad language like this would mean that sites like YouTube, which publish millions of user-uploaded videos each week, would be forced closely police the content that their users upload as much of that content would likely run foul of SOPA’s rules.

As Google policy director Bob Boorstein points out “YouTube would just go dark immediately,” due to the enormity of try to police users, “It couldn’t function.”

Tech companies are concerned with SOPA’s “shoot first, ask questions later” approach:

The bill requires every payment or online advertising operator to set up a system through which outside parties can notify the company if one of its customers is an “Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property.” Once a network gets a notification, it is then required to cut off services to that site within a week.

While filing a false notification of this is a crime under SOPA,  the process effectively puts the judicial burden of proof, and the legal costs of fighting a false allegation on the accused (another way that it cripples small start-ups or tech companies).

NetCoalition summed up what this means for website owners in their analysis of the bill: “The legislation systematically favors a copyright owner’s intellectual property rights and strips the owners of accused websites of their rights.”

Fortunately, SOPA and PIPA have been put on-hold for now with US President Barack Obama voicing his concern over the pair of bills. This is not nearly the end of the fight though as the November elections could see a different President and different viewpoint on the issue enter the White House.

Interested in finding out more about SOPA & PIPA? Then watch this video: 

Now do something about it:

Visit http://americancensorship.org/ to look at the various ways which you could lend your support to defeating SOPA & PIPA.

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4 thoughts on “SOPA: What the fight is all about & why it matters

  1. Dude, that was awesome, even for a techy like me you nailed it with what the whole thing is about. I spent a couple days up north and missed all the huu-har, and you nicely summed it up.

    • cheers man, thanks for the comment I’m pleased that a ‘techy’ like you approves. I tried to look at everything once the shouting match had settled a bit which is why I waited a bit before posting on it. Hopefully i’ll be posting some more detailed stuff on SOPA/PIPA soon

  2. A very good overview of the situation….thanks. You are right the fight is not yet over and unless Congress gets smart (somewhat unlikely) be prepared for the next round.

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