Lots of you have at least heard someone say the acronym "SOPA". If you've ever wondered what it is, this bit's for you. If you're not interested in the least about American law or your legal rights being eroded by corporations, don't bother with this post.
Most of you know that I'm not a conspiracy theorist, and that I'm not against large corporations. In America, businesses aspire to become large and successful. And that's perfectly acceptable to me. But, the capitalist free-market system breaks down completely when you give one group preferential treatment over another. And, like most forms of government, it's easiest to influence officials with money. Lots of money.
So, what does this have to do with SOPA? And what is SOPA in the first place. S.O.P.A. is the acronym for the "Stop Online Piracy Act"- A bill that is currently being proposed by the US House of Representatives (Here). In effect, SOPA boils down to a few basic ideas:
- Piracy is running rampant on the Internet
- More piracy means less revenue
- Less revenue means fewer jobs
- Industry needs tools to stop piracy
- Law enforcement needs more swift authority to stop piracy
- Law enforcement needs to be able to seize sites, servers, and domains suspected of piracy
On the surface, you'd think this is something worth supporting. It's a bit of hyperbole to say that piracy supports terrorists or that piracy is taking down the entertainment industry, as their TV and radio advertisements would have you believe, but we get the point. Lots of people are stealing lots of content, and we need a way to stop that.
But as you begin to really think it over, you quickly realize law enforcement agencies already have the authority to seize property used to commit a crime, and property obtained through criminal acts. So, there's no need for new legislation granting them the same tools they already have. But wait! SOPA doesn't want to take down sites whose owners have been convicted. They want to take down sites that are suspected. And this suspicion doesn't have to come from a lengthy investigation, like it would if the police suspected you of a crime. Instead, all a copyright holder would have to do is believe content has been pirated. So, if you post a video to Youtube and it has a clip from a popular NBC show, they will flag it to be removed. Under SOPA, this literally means Youtube.com could be seized from Google! Even though your clip should be protected under fair use. Even worse, this kind of action has already been used to censor videos, text, and pictures by several different groups. All these groups would have to do is file a complaint that your site is pirating material, and down goes your site!
This might seem far fetched, but as I alluded to, most of the provisions requested in SOPA already exist in one bill or another. A perfect example of what can happen is the case of Dajaz1.com. A site that legally posted music for viewers to listen to. It was swept up by the Department of Justice with 350 other sites at a single time. The domain was taken from the owner! This is tantamount to the police taking your car without actual evidence you've done anything wrong! And in the end (a year later), the DoJ determined that Dajaz1.com was, in fact, operating legally and the domain was returned. Meanwhile, the site's owner was out of business for an entire year with literally no legal avenue for recourse. To read a long report about what happened, check out the NYTimes piece here.
I'm not the only one that believes this will become the rule and not the exception if SOPA were allowed to pass. In fact, today (Jan. 18, 2012) is SOPA Blackout day. See the list of sites, action items, protest sites, etc. at http://sopastrike.com/. The list of sites is pretty impressive, and the number of companies putting their money where their mouth is impresses me.
So, to learn the facts about SOPA, I'd urge you to check out the Wikipedia article here, the Google information here, and of course to SOPAStrike site here. You can find Google's search results for SOPA here, which is currently blowing up with information from news sources around the world. I also think you should read some pro-SOPA info including the GovTrack page here, the MPAA letter to the House of Representatives here (PDF File), and finally an article found on the eMediaLaw site here.
We, as Americans need to defend our intelectual property rights, but we need to do it in a way that doesn't come at such a severe cost the the citizens. After all, while a corporation may be recognized as a legal entity with all the rights of a person, they still can't vote. Please use the Wikipedia page here to contact your representatives and tell them what you think of SOPA- for or against.