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What’s this SOPA Thing I Keep Hearing About?

The following viewpoint was offered by Mike M., a 24-year-old intern who supports the ConstructionCitizen blog.

The painful truth is that the vast majority of Americans are dangerously oblivious to the decisions being made in Congress; before yesterday's organized blackout of hundreds of the most popular websites across the Internet, I only knew one or two people who had ever heard of SOPA or PIPA.  Even now, most of those who are aware lack a true understanding of the provisions of these two bills, bills that are being sold to the public as “protection for intellectual property rights”, but are in reality the beginning of something far more dangerous: the regulation and censorship of the Internet itself.

The authors of these bills claim that the bills are designed with the sole objective of preventing the mass-downloading of music and movies that is allegedly hurting the entertainment business.  I say “allegedly” because the theory that every downloaded album is one less sold is ludicrous, and media companies still seem to be doing just fine for themselves.  Videndi, the corporation that owns Universal Music Group, posted $2.2 billion in pure profit for 2010, just to name one example.  That point aside, an actual reading of SOPA (the House bill named “Stop Online Piracy Act”) and/or PIPA (the Senate version of the same bill called “Protection of Intellectual Property Act”) reveals several disturbing facts.

Let us assume, for argument's sake, that SOPA/PIPA were passed into law.  Under the provisions of these acts, the owners of a website are responsible for any copyright infringement made by any of the website’s users, no matter how large the site or minor the infraction.

Suppose that Jake is a 15-year-old high school student who has a crush on a girl in his class named Mary.  He “friends” her on Facebook and posts a note on her wall containing a poem that he “wrote” by making very minor changes to a popular song he heard on the radio.  Under SOPA/PIPA, Facebook would be shut down.  Yes, ALL OF FACEBOOK, because a single user unwittingly forgot to credit the record label at the end of his innocent flirting.  And I don't mean, “Facebook would go to court and then only if they lost, their site would be shut down.”  Because of the way the bills are written, Facebook gets shut down until they send representatives to court, and if the court rules in their favor the site can be brought back up.  This is not exaggeration, theory, or misinterpretation; this is honestly how much regulatory the power SOPA/PIPA are attempting to give the federal government over the Internet.

Perhaps the most distressing part of these bills is that they do not even address the actual issue of illegally downloaded media: the vast majority of content transferred illegally is done through peer-to-peer connections, a way of transferring data that does not use DNS addresses (the type of address used to navigate a web browser, and the only type affected by these bills).  The only people who would be stopped from downloading pirated music are the ones who break the law so rarely that they had to use Google to find a place to download music.  The people who download thousands of albums and movies and TV shows every month would not even be slowed down by these new laws.

While you're thinking about that, I'd like to leave you with proof (as if you even needed it) that nobody in Congress understands anything about computers or the Internet, and therefore have absolutely no business regulating it: Twitter post by Andrew Bloch about Lamar Smith (R-TX), author of SOPA.

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding SOPA/PIPA.  For more information check out an article posted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Seth Godin’s blog: Knock, knock, it’s the future (Building 59), Wikipedia’s update on the progress of the bills, and the following 14-minute TED video by Clay Shirky which offers an explanation of the history of related legislation up to now.  Additionally, you are encouraged to contact those who represent you in Congress through phone calls and letters, and make your opinion known.


Anonymous's picture

The scary part is that most people have NO idea of how vague and open ended they wanted to leave the laws. Like you said, even if everything on your website is legitimate and someone randomly posts a comment that they would deem as a violation, your website can easily be shut down. It would be next to impossible to police every single comment on a big website to ensure that the content in post responses is original. We have a large online kitchen cabinet site (http://www.rtacabinetstore.com) that gets a lot of customer interaction, comments, pictures, etc... if this law were to pass, our site could be shut down completely if someone posted a picture that was owned by someone else and we would have no idea that it wasn't original. THAT is a scary concept....especially since it opens the door for people intentionally trying to post stuff to get your site shut down.

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