The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, is a United States bill that has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. A similar bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate entitled, “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft Intellectual Property Act,” or PIPA (“Protect Intellectual Property Act”)
These two bills have been in the media a lot over the past six months or so, and back in January 2012, many major websites, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Amazon, AOL, Mozilla, LinkedIn, EBay, PayPal, and Wikipedia, were considering an internet blackout in protest of the bills. Wikipedia actually conducted a blackout of all content for 24 hours on January 18 through 19, which asked its visitors to “imagine a world without free knowledge.” Obviously, much has been discussed about these two Acts, but what should we think about these two bills?
Many of us do not actually understand what is behind the bills. The two bills have been vilified and have been represented as something that will inhibit growth and will not protect artists when, in actuality, there are some good elements in the bills. The main goal of these Acts is to stop overseas websites that infringe copyrights or at least prevent users from viewing those sites. The bills would actually prohibit U.S. companies from providing services, such as payment, to foreign websites that sell stolen U.S. content, including movies and music, as well as medicines that infringe on patents. The bills give content creators the power to force ISPs, search engines, or payment services to down access to websites that the owner believes violated its copyright.
Many believe the bills are overly broad.
These bills could potentially affect websites that display user content, which is of great concern with the major websites, such as Wikipedia or YouTube, sites that are driven by users and user content. However, on certain websites, if copyrighted material is posted on the website, the website could potentially be shut down, even though everything else on the website is non-copyrighted, user content. The same could apply with blogs that might be infringing copyrights. Sites could also be killed without proof of ever having violated a copyright. This part of the bills is a bit unclear as to what exactly the protocol would be for shutting down a website, but it appears to be easier than most people would want it to be.
As stated earlier, many of the major websites and the ACLU are against these bills. To name one corporation that is actually in favor of these bills is the Motion Picture Association of America, which is not surprising as it is just trying to protect all of its copyrights of movies.
Why are Wikipedia and Google are fighting these two Acts?
It is just a pretense that Wikipedia and Google are fighting these two Acts to protect the users or the little, unknown artists. Rather, they are only trying to protect themselves and their bottom lines. Websites such as Wikipedia or Google are not starving artists trying to earn a living with their art. In all actuality, such websites make much of their money off copyrighted material, and they have been able to get people to side with them, such as the small artists or moviemakers, when, in actuality, if those people learn more about the bills, they would probably not be so inclined to oppose them. Such small artists have to display their work in order to sell it. If a website decides to copy the image or design, start producing it, and making money off of it, then the market becomes flooded with that image, and suddenly the artist’s original works have lost their value and are no longer marketable or valuable. There exists a very real fear that if something is not done about piracy, content creators, such as the small artists, musicians, and filmmakers, will not be able to make a living creating their art form. If somebody is infringing their copyright, they need to be able to have some recourse, as it will cut into their bottom line and, ultimately, their livelihood.
SOPA and PIPA are just another step by the government to try to protect copyright owners.
The government has been pretty slow in this aspect, as the internet has been around for a good amount of time now, and yet the government is just now trying to solve all these “new” copyright infringement problems that have arisen over the past ten years or so. In 1992, the Congress passed the Audio Home Recording Act, which declared that taping, making mixed tapes, sharing with friends was okay, but making copies to sell was not okay. In that case, Congress thought that it had defined that distinction and solved the problem. This just goes to show you that now, in the new era, we have discovered a very similar problem, although more technologically advanced, for which Congress must adapt and find some middle ground to protect copyright holders, because it is important that something needs to be done. These bills may be overly broad, but the bottom line is that something needs to be done, especially when countries such as China and Russia do not enforce copyrights. For example, in those countries, you can purchase bootleg copies of Microsoft Office, video games, movies, etc., which cut into the bottom line of not just the big moneymakers like Microsoft and Google, but also the smaller individual artists and filmmakers.
Who are the “bad guys”?
I think it is important to note that many opponents of these bills are citing that millions of dollars of support are received by politicians from the traditional media outlets which support the legislation and, therefore, portraying them as the bad guys. However, companies such as Google and the giant and powerful tech industry are fighting against these bills for their own interests and not those of the little guys. The little guys need to become informed about these bills before deciding to just go along with the side they think is looking out for their best interest, because nobody is looking out for their interest. They have to look out for themselves.
The House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to have debates on SOPA in January, but those were postponed due to the protests. They have postponed consideration of this legislation until there is a wider agreement on a solution. If something does get passed, it appears that these bills will probably be more watered-down versions. Hopefully, an agreement can be worked out and these bills, in some form, can be passed in the near future, as I believe it will protect copyright holders and content makers, the small entrepreneurs.