This past week has seen a lot of chatter both online and offline about the passing of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) also called the E-Parasite Act or the Worst Piece of Internet Legislation ever. For those of you who are not familiar with SOPA, the passing of this bill has been said to destroy the internet as we know it today. If passed, SOPA would allow the U.S. Department of Justice as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites suspected of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. So, as an example, sharing and/or streaming a video containing copyrighted background music, film clips, clips from last night’s game, or even posting a video of your kid singing a cover song could now be considered a felony with a potential 5 years sentence if guilty. Websites who facilitate the sharing of copyrighted content (basically every single social networking site out there today) could be blocked or taken down. Once a court order has been issued, the U.S. Attorney-General could then ban ISPs from displaying links to the blocked sites.
The ramifications of the passing of the SOPA bill are speculated to be catastrophic for normal internet use and to become the end of e-commerce. A website operator could face blocked US web traffic, blocked ad-revenue, and blocked search traffic. Due to a riskier legal climate, venture capitalists stopping funding, and the blockage of open-source software projects, fewer startup companies will be launched and that translates into a loss of jobs and GDP decline. David Sohn, senior policy counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology stated “it would force pervasive scrutiny and surveillance of Internet users’ online activities. It would chill the growth of social media and conscript every online platform into a new role as content police.”
Who’s against it
As it is to be expected, social media giants have already expressed their discontent and companies like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter and others presented an open letter to congressional sponsors of the bill. More companies have also protested the ‘censorship’ by tweaking the design of their main pages and encouraged users to speak out against the Stop Online Piracy Act.
The Library Copyright Alliance and the American Library Association are also against the passing of this bill as they rely on Creative Commons Licenses and ‘a series of established, community-led open collaboration processes to ensure that its information and media are a part of free culture’.
Who’s supporting it
Organizations and industries that rely on copyright protection have immediately enlisted themselves in support of SOPA, these include the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, the American Federation of Musicians and Screen Actors Guild, Comcast, NBC Universal, Viacom, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as various unions in the cable, movie, and music industries. There have also been retractors; the Business Software Alliance initially backed up the SOPA bill but has recently withdrawn its support, with their CEO Robert Holleyman citing that “Valid and important questions have been raised about the bill. It is intended to get at the worst of the worst offenders. As it now stands, however, it could sweep in more than just truly egregious actors”.
Defenders of the bill; however, are saying that without a bill like SOPA, copyright will cease to exist. This is their opportunity to stop online piracy and counterfeiting once and for all. They are trying to combat the unregulated theft of U.S. copyrighted content by shady foreign sites and they insist that the law will mainly fight offshore sites; however, some U.S. based sites may be targeted as well.
An analysis by MapLight.org decided to follow the money and uncovered that supporters of SOPA have given 4.5 times as much money to members of Congress than those opposing the bill.
Companies opposing the bill have declared that SOPA will tamper with the DNS (Domain Name System) as a means to limit access to online content who they think infringes on copyright – you would only be able to access the site through its ISP. It will have a negative impact on the Internet Security Protocol (DNSSEC), diminishing its standing and significance. Adam Thierer, senior research at the Mercatus Center complained that “The techno-ignorance of Congress was on full display. Member after member admitted that they really didn’t have any idea what impact SOPA’s regulatory provisions would have on the DNS, online security, or much of anything else”.
The bill has also come under fire as being the result of powerful lobbyists (mostly Hollywood and the music industry) peer-pressuring Congress into stopping online piracy so they can retain earnings lost since the beginning of internet sharing.
What’s it to you?
The SOPA bill was first introduced on October 25, 2011 and it has seen a primary hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Nov 16th. If history is of any reference, the bill has a high likelihood of passage as it is backed by influential and resourceful corporate interests.
Are you currently exercising a Social Media campaign? Are you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn? Are your employees sharing content through these sites? Either way you will be liable if any copyrighted material gets disseminated right under your nose.Current Social Media policies will need to be reviewed and strictly reinforced. You entire infrastructure will have to be adapted for a completely different way of doing business online, as you will be exposed to new and uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require a more detailed and invasive monitoring of websites.
Several valid concerns have been raised by both supporters and opposition. These concerns will have to be discussed in depth before the bill moves on to the next stage.