Share & Connect
In late October last year, former Texan ranch manager Rep. Lamar Smith introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to the House of Representatives. The legislation was announced under the banner of being the United States next and ultimate weapon against ‘rogue sites’: offshore web sites in nations less concerned with copyright infringement than the States, but whose location makes them an out-of-reach target for American prosecution.
The Chamber of Commerce phrased their motivation in the following way, to the New York Times: “Rogue web sites that steal America’s innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs.”
Over 400 businesses and organizations have expressed enthusiasm and support of SOPA, but the most vocal supporters have been the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
As you could expect, the entertainment industry is on the front line when it comes to seeing this piece of legislation to term and have outspent Internet companies in lobbying effort, funneling more than $91 million into support for SOPA and its related Senate bill the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which is under similar scrutiny. This is more than the entertainment industry has ever spent on lobbying. Ever.
While anti-piracy laws have been in place for years, many would not be unfamiliar with the idea that efforts to stop illegal downloading of copyrighted content fall short of discouraging the practice. Opponents of SOPA have equally acknowledged that protection of copyrights and trademarks both in and outside of the US is a real concern which should be addressed. However, as lifehacker.com puts it:
[T]he Stop Online Piracy Act, is another one of those bills that sound like it’s going to do something mildly positive but, in reality, has serious potential to negatively change the internet as we know it.
The outcry throughout the digital community has been strong and continues to grow. Netcoalition.com has compiled a list of companies and organizations who oppose SOPA/PIPA and voice after voice has broken down the issues and dangers involved in the legislation for everyone to understand:
There is even a protest song.
Like the supporters, the opposers have one overall reason against: it will be the end of the Internet as we know it. The effects are expected to ripple through the landscape of electronic content and ruin many of the services which have become deeply ingraned in the 21st century.
Though supporters deny that the impact will be as severe as anticipated, the expected negative impact range from user content websites becoming reliable by default and forced to either censor users or shut down (Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) mentions that sites such as Etsy, Flickr and Vimeo would be blacklisted), to seriously undermining DNS, DNSSEC and other means of internet security to full blown invasion of privacy and threatening freedom of speech online.
In between you have the discouragement of investing in web-related businesses, the downfall of open source software and the dangerous presumption that the United States ‘owns’ the Internet and can overextend its laws beyond its borders.
In mid-November, the nay-sayers were joined by high profile web companies who sent a letter to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, signalling the battle to come. But the months ahead could be a battle uphill; Cnet.com reported that support for PIPA is “remarkably broad, and for SOPA a little less so.”
Apparently, an analysis show that out of 1882 bills introduced in the 112th Congress, PIPA is one out of only 19 which has enjoyed substantial bipartisan support. This has made it one of the most popular bills so far, and while SOPA is newer in comparison, it has been gaining an equal momentum.
PIPA is currently on the fast-track to approval, and SOPA seems to be right behind it. What internet users and web businesses around the world seem to have most animosity towards is the wording of the bill; there are serious concerns that the bill makes overreach a real liability. However, the real scope of the repercussions will have to be assessed once the bill’s approval goes into its final stage, and it is possible that the bleak predictions will be curbed.