Plenty has been written about the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, in the industry press with some coverage in the mainstream media. Like many controversial proposals, SOPA discussions seem to be stoked in rhetoric.  So, I thought I would break down what it does, the pros and cons and what it means for you.

The Bill

Texas Republican Lamar Smith introduced SOPA in October with bipartisan support.  The purpose of the bill is to give more power to U.S. law enforcement to fight the online selling of copyrighted materials (movies, music) and counterfeit goods (high end purses and drugs).  

Under SOPA, the Department of Justice or copyright owners could seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.  The relief can include anything from preventing credit cards or PayPal from processing orders from those sites, preventing search engines from listing the sites and forcing Internet Service Providers to block access to the sites.  

Supporters

It was not easy to find supporters of the bill on the internet because it appears most of the online community opposes it.  Your large content producers (music and movies), brand name manufacturers, drug companies, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support it claiming it protects their intellectual property and is necessary to allow the U.S. Government to take actions against people it can control within our borders to stop “rogue foreign sites.”  They cite the number of jobs and commerce that depends on the protection of copyrights and trademarks.

Detractors

Those opposing SOPA include Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, Mozilla Corporation, the Brookings Institution the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU.  Their main complaint is that the law is overly broad and ultimately ineffective because true pirates will set up new sites.  They suggest the bill will prevent innovations, move internet sites and services offshore, scare away investors and make it difficult for sites as common as Google and Twitter to operate.

These are both gross over-simplifcations of the issues, but each side could write 50-page white papers advocating their position.  The Wikipedia page on SOPA is a decent start for more information.

What does it mean?

Unfortunately, it is too early to tell.  A compromised version of SOPA, that will include some of the language from the Senate’s companion, PIPA, will get serious consideration and possibly become law. 

Looking just at the selfish interests of brick and mortar companies, it may be welcomed.  Whether you sell valves, records, books or other products, you should have less to worry about cheap knock-offs from overseas.  I’ve fielded calls from clients have had their sites mimmicked by foreign entities and this may provide one avenue of preventing those sites from making any headway in the U.S.  Otherwise, we’ve been forced to shoehorn DMCA claims to prevent this conduct quickly.  If you engage in e-commerce, then you may have mixed feelings.

For online businesses, there are some safe harbor-type protections, but you need to be prepared to act and act swiftly if you receive a takedown or are the subject of a takedown.  Imagine the damage to your business if for a couple of days you cannot process payments or can’t be located on Google.   There are some protections that would allow you to sue should the person filing the complaint “knowingly misrepresent” the allegations — a pretty difficult hurdle to overcome if you are truly a victim.

The real concern, in my opinion, goes to innovation and investment on the Internet.  The phenomenal growth of the Internet is a result of a largely hands-off government approach.  I would hesitate to invest in something that can be taken away by the DOJ or a complainant.  YouTube and Facebook have been promised they are safe, but how hard is it to imagine a similar service won’t be considered a facilitator of copyright infringement.

Tomorrow may bring some new development in the debate and hopefully a more artfully, clearer and narrower crafted law, if one is even necessary.

To the video

First the supporters.

http://vimeo.com/32592166

Now, here is some video agianst it.

  • Mangodudemartin

    Although I am not a fan of censorship; I believe that if SOPA is enforced where necessary, and only where content providers are TRULY loosing profits (not including accidentally posting a video where a song is playing in the background) it would be great! However, we all know that the MPAA, RIAA, and the US Government are largely populated with douchebags who will screw it all up….. sad but true….

  • Gonebeyond

    The sound on the “opponent” video sounds like it was Pirated:) , I saw this clip a few weeks ago , and it sounded MUCH better..This version has probably compressed and spread viraly 1000’s of times…is there a BIAS here ? Maybe a few contradictions ?

  • Chrisjuricich

    The basic problem here is that the middle class, which has seen its income reduced significantly in the past thirty years, has less money and less consideration for the niceties of content ownership and rights, particularly when many of the content providers are big business for whom they already have a good deal of antipathy.

    Our own family has cut back on its monthly cable fees (Comcast) from $160+ to something like $60 in recent months, and utilize Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon to find the least expensive option to download movies and such, not to mention whatever free content is available from the big networks. We dropped our landline and, like many families are doing without and doing with less and working longer hours for what they have.

    Consequently, the Feds can pass as much legislation as they can think of to protect their ‘friends’ who provide big business digital content (as an example), but until the basic inequity of wealth distribution is addressed in this country and the middle class starts to receive enough income to actually purchase what they produce, piracy will continue to be a fact of life. I believe that corruption trickles down as conditions worsen in any society. In the Philippines in order to get a public document expediently, I had to pay a bribe of…$1. Or call it a tip; whatever. The same could happen here in the states if things continue.

  • Excellent summary. I’m writing this comment right before the Wikipedia blackout, when the Wikipedia page on SOPA presumably will not be available. I’m going to post a link to this as a nice concise summary of the issues involved.

  • Thank you for a balanced, unbiased look at this issue!
    http://lauren-battenfield.squarespace.com

  • Harley B.

    not to be rude to the government but SOPA is quite certainly dumb in my mind. Why i think it is dumb is because think of the government as of a part time dictator. now the real question is ” If the GOVERNMENT can control OUR internet, What can he not control.” I mean it if the government can do that then they can do other stuff worse than that.

  • CENSORED FOR YOUR PROTECTION

    The Pro-SOPA People won’t even allow their PSA (Duh, that’s supposed to be public) to be viewed… this is our future if this bill passed. Then this site will be blocked for knowingly attempting to post the copyrighted content (Yes, even a PSA is copyrighted). No they won’t shut it down, just prevent it from paying their bills. Just look at what is happening to mega-upload today their accounts are frozen pending trial and they cant pay their ISP/HOST provider so they will loose all their files BEFORE a trial even happens! SOPA will put the burden of proof on the accused and allow the attorney general to freeze funds without due process. So much for innocent until proven guilty…

  • Whitewolf7655

    i find it honestly hilarious that the supporters wont allow their video to be put on this site without the “rights”….or at least without paying them to see it. Ya, that’s going to help prove your the “good guys.”

    ….viral marketing is completely lost on them…and that’s why they are going to lose.

  • Whitewolf7655

    i find it honestly hilarious that the supporters wont allow their video to be put on this site without the “rights”….or at least without paying them to see it. Ya, that’s going to help prove your the “good guys.”

    ….viral marketing is completely lost on them…and that’s why they are going to lose.

  • xx420stonebroo420xx

    faggot