The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is causing a lot of talk across the internet as activists, bloggers and concerned citizens debate the merits and risks of regulating internet usage. The current consensus seems to be that this bill is the means by which the media conglomerates, Hollywood moguls and the security apparatus of the US state can come together in some form of unholy alliance to regulate and to some degree censor the internet. The legislation is being debated not only in the media but within every online community that can read English, which is basically all of them. Granted, folk in China with their massively “regulated” Google presence, are unlikely to be among the debaters but SOPA is far from simply an American political issue. The fact of the matter is that everyone has already predicted that if this bill passes, servers will simply move out of US jurisdiction and within a few years this kind of bill will be being pushed across the developed world as the noose around the original internet’s neck becomes tighter and tighter. Are these conclusions accurate? Will this bill even pass? What are the ramifications for online workers? Let us explore SOPA!
Representative Smith and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors introduced this bill to the House of Representatives on October 26, 2011. The stated purpose of the bill is to enable federal agencies and copyright holders to better challenge the piracy of intellectual property. If passed, it will obligate Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) to filter Domain Name System (DNS) queries of what it refer to as offending websites and then render them un-resolvable. The House Judiciary Committee introduced the bill suggesting it will modernize the civil and criminal statutes of United States to cope up with new Internet Protocol (IP) enforcement challenges and that it will also protect American jobs (in Hollywood?). In fact signees to the controversial proposed anti-piracy measure get nearly twice as much campaign cash from media interests as they get from the technological industry, which vehemently opposes the bill. It is not hard to see where the mandate for this bill has come from.
The hearing for this bill took place on November 16th in front of the House Judiciary Committee. The strong support from a bipartisan base, likely created by the bipartisan appeal for money, ensured the bill passed initial review but it has not left the Committee yet. Further talks will take place next year due to interference in scheduling arising from the Democrat’s tax plans. It appears then that the public is left in the position of knowing not whether this bill is a real threat to online freedoms and potentially first amendment rights, or if the bill will fade quietly into nothing.
Protests against SOPA
The Information Technology sector’s biggest market leaders have threatened to walk out of the United States Chamber of Commerce due to the bill as it would make Web companies liable for pirated content on their sites and a few “incriminating” links would be enough to severely impact a website full of legitimate information and products. Yahoo quit the powerful business trade group in October in defiance of the group, which supports the legislation. In addition, Google has warned the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents over 2,000 firms, they may take the same course of act if the bill is not reconsidered. Are these the opening salvos in a new corporate civil war?
Protests against the SOPA reached a real high in November. Dissent reached fever pitch with an open letter against SOPA bill written by the industry giants such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo and AOL. The letter was addressed to the initial sponsors of the bill and urged them to withdraw their support. The letter appeared as a full-page ad in The New York Times. Yet members of the House Judicial Committee said the legislations only purpose was to protect the intellectual property of American citizens. It is clear from this quote and others like it that the line the supporters are taking is purely a structure of commercial law. Larger economic and social issues are not being taken into account it seems. They also claim there would be no impact by the SOPA upon the structuring of the internet, is this true in the long term?
Apart from the open letter in the New York Times a lot of other websites are protesting against this bill in their own way. For example Reddit drew broad black lines over content on their websites to protest against this proposed law. When a user logs in at Tumblr it appears as if all user content has been blacked out. When a user clicks on the lines to investigate, a message appears about the bill and encourages them to contact their representatives. Mozilla also censored their logo and turned them into links for contacting representatives about the bill. Mozilla has created a page against SOPA.
Nobody could argue that internet users have not been violating copyright laws however many academics and thinkers believe the open access nature of the internet which makes this infringement possible is also what makes the internet, well, the internet. The fact of the matter is that the ramifications of the SOPA will only be in America. This bill, if it passes, could well be considered the “stimulus bill” for Asian and European internet ventures! Ironically the movement of billions of dollars worth of servers and their associated revenue undercuts the commercial argument for the bill.
In terms of the workability of the SOPA, Google routinely deletes and demotes links from its search engine, using both bots and human readers. Censorship does already exist, often in the form of demoting search rankings. It is also the case that YouTube has been caught resetting the viewing figures for certain documentaries. We know already then, and China is a great example of this, that internet censorship is definitely possible.
Supporters of SOPA
Here the list of SOPA supporters.
GoDaddy and SOPA
GoDaddy has burnt their fingers by supporting SOPA. The whole web world strongly reacted against GoDaddy on their decision to support SOPA. Several bloggers and online entrepreneurs started migrating their domains and hosting services from GoDaddy . Competitors began offering discounts and coupon codes to welcome the GoDaddy switchers. This compelled them to amend their stands and announced that GoDaddy no longer supports SOPA. However the boycott campaign is still on and they are facing enough backlash across the web. Today Mashable published an article on How to move your Domain account from GoDaddy.
Infographics explains SOPA
Infographics prepared by americansensorship.org gives a clear picture on SOPA.
Petition against SOPA
Submit this form and express your concerns against SOPA. You may not be a US citizen, but the law makers of your country will follow the same route. Hence it is our responsibility to react against this to preserve the freedom of speech.
In conclusion, the SOPA’s impact on free speech and the internet as an international whole is not known at this time. The threat to first amendment rights certainly exists, though this bill is probably not an “online patriot act” as described by some critics. We do not know if it will even go before Congress for certain. What we do know for certain is that the bill will serve only a small fraction of the US populations interests whilst actually leading to commercial failures for the US as an internet presence. For that reason alone we must conclude the bill is not in the economic nor indeed social, interests of the American people. We must show that the whole web world is against this black regulation.