2011-11-16

SOPA: The Year of the Zombie Internet

I haven't really talked about issues like these in a while, but there is a hugely important bill making its way through Congress right now that could make the Internet a mere shell of what it is right now. It's called the "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA), and it has terrible implications for the whole Internet as it exists today.

But you must be wondering, "Isn't stopping piracy a good thing? What could possibly be bad about it? And won't it do its job right? What's there to worry about?"

1. I don't know if stopping piracy is such a good thing. Study after study has shown that piracy is merely a symptom of a need being unfulfilled. No, that need is not "greedy freetards wanting everything for free". It's people getting content they like in formats they can use in an easy way for reasonable prices. Many studies have shown that once iTunes came around selling music super-conveniently for $0.99 apiece and once that music started coming without DRM (which was supposedly made to increase sales by preventing piracy), piracy of the songs on iTunes dropped precipitously. All you need to do is compete with piracy by giving people something even more compelling; it may sound strange, but while it may be free of charge, piracy isn't actually all that convenient to carry out. And despite what major movie studios and record labels would like you to believe, you actually have to dig pretty deep into search results on sites like Google to find actual pirated content.

2. There are tons of things horrible about it. Foremost among them, it basically upends the justice system which requires that defendants be innocent until proven guilty and which requires that defendants be able to defend themselves in a court of law. This throws all that out the window: now, people can be punished severely just on accusations of infringement, and the burden of proof falls on said defendant and the website that supposedly enabled the infringement (even if it was a link to a link to a link or if the content was generated by other users of the site, not by webmasters). Basically, the big record and movie studios have admitted that they're too lazy to police their own content, so they're asking the government to do it for them and to play by their rules.

3. No, it won't necessarily do its job right. Recently, Warner Brothers admitted that it took down a whole bunch of legitimate content from other sites that they didn't even own in the first place. And Viacom has had a history of legally uploading its own videos to YouTube; under SOPA, it could basically shut down YouTube for its own stunts like that.

4. Well, considering what I've already told you, it should be pretty obvious by now that the Internet would be a far, far worse place under SOPA. Everyone from civil libertarians (i.e. the ACLU) to tech companies to small independent productions studios to libraries to lawyers to [et cetera] have come out against it. Petitions are growing by the day. It's really only supported by Hollywood and the recording studios (and maybe the big drug companies too who don't want to admit that generic drugs are legal and are not counterfeits). It's gotten to the point where a recent House of Representatives hearing was carefully stacked with 5 speakers supporting SOPA and only 1 speaking against it. That should tip you off as to how flimsy the case for SOPA really is.

There are a whole bunch of different petitions going out around the Internet. I myself have signed about 3 of them. Please, sign the petitions, tell your friends, and call your senators and representatives in Congress and convince them that you, as a humble constituent, matter more than big entertainment lobbies, and that the government can do better than being Hollywood's hired thugs. Do it before it's too late!

(Note: this law has gone through a few different names. In 2009 and 2010, it was called "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeiting Act" (COICA). After that it was called PROTECT-IP. After that it was called E-PARASITE, though I genuinely thought the sponsors of the bill were unwittingly referring to themselves as the "e-parasites", as they have just been reaping all the rewards of the Internet and are now going to kill it to make sure no one else can. Now it's called SOPA.)

6 comments:

  1. I admit it, sometimes in a case like Silent Hill 1 or Final Fantasy 7 where the company has long since got its money and the only copies go for hundreds of dollars on Amazon, I`ll download a torrent. As far as new content, no I won`t. I wonder if anyone else will admit to it...

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  2. Plus, I live on Youtube, and I shudder to think of the chilling effect that this will have there.

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  3. One last thing, one error in the article. It isn`t hard at all to find pirated copies of anything on Google. Just saying.

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  4. @Neuromancer: That is a huge problem with the constant upward ratcheting of copyright; what no one seems to realize is that 99% of sales occur in the first 5-7 years, so with very few exceptions, no one really depends on sales 60 years on to make a living. And yes, YouTube would probably cease to exist under SOPA because some users out of its control have uploaded infringing material. And finally, while I agree that it is technically quite easy, quick cursory searches through the first few pages of results by typing in just a movie name don't show unauthorized material; some movie executives tried to claim that the first few results of every search of a movie are links to pirated contented, which is plainly false. Thanks for the comments!

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  5. Good point about the first few searches. If someone doesn`t include "torrent" in the search it won`t show. Youtube actually closes users that upload copyrighted material very quickly now, it`s the fact that some companies, (and countries), insist that everything is copyrighted even when it isn`t. Good article!

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  6. @Neuromancer: That's exactly right. And even if you try to search for pirated content on YouTube, in most cases all you get are 3-minute long troll videos designed to bait people into thinking they're about to see pirated content; apparently the Hollywood executives would rather not admit that they got totally baited and trolled too. Thanks for the support!

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