SOPA, PIPA and the State of the Internet
The Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) has been looming in the House of Representatives for over two months threatening to change the internet as we know it. The Senate has its own version of the law, the Protect IP Act (“PIPA”) that goes to vote on Tuesday, January 24th. Many of the sites you visit on a daily basis may have some form of protest against these proposed acts. Despite the outcry of criticism and support from both sides of the issue, we are fielding a lot of questions about SOPA and PIPA. So what’s all the uproar about and why are technology companies so opposed to it?
For starters, try to think of the internet like a jungle. The Internet has safe places, dangerous places, and everything in between. It has highly useful and informative areas like Wikipedia and Google and it has the not so useful areas such as every cute kitten viral video you’ve ever seen. Yet, all of these things are dependent upon the creative and innovative contributions of webmasters, hobbyists, entrepreneurs and artists all over the world. In short, it’s an organic structure that builds upon itself and is constantly evolving. This has created a vibrant and open atmosphere that is undeniably a source for good in world. SOPA and PIPA are a threat to this organic structure and will inhibit the internet’s ability to innovate and make people’s lives better.
How so? The Stop Online Piracy Act was introduced to the House of Representatives in October, 2011 by Rep. Lamar Smith (R.-TX). Intending to restrict the spread of pirated copyright material; SOPA would bar any advertiser or payment facilitator, like PayPal, from doing business with sites found to have pirated media. It would bar search engines from linking to the site as well as forcing Internet service providers to shut down access to the site. All of this can be done without due process. Also, illegal streaming of pirated material could carry a sentence of 5 years in prison. Opponents of the bill, such as Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, and many other technology companies (including Evolving Interactive) say SOPA would allow the government to censor the internet and moreover, violate the First Amendment.
With SOPA being the main lightning rod for upheaval, the Senate’s version, PIPA, has received less scrutiny and actually may have a better chance of making it through to the vote. PIPA is essentially the same as SOPA except for a few minor differences. In a minor upgrade from SOPA, PIPA lacks the power to tell search engines they can’t index flagged sites. In a glaring oversight, however, PIPA lacks any punitive actions the Justice Department can take against studios for lying about pirated media. As you’ll read later in this article, studios are not immune from lying and being hypocritical in their actions. Both SOPA and PIPA have at least had the DNS blocking provisions removed due to it potentially causing great harm to the structure of the internet. The fact the DNS blocking provision has been removed at least shows promise that there could be room for compromise. But there is much more to compromise upon.
Despite our opposition to SOPA/PIPA, piracy is still a very real problem. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) estimates that the economy loses $58 billion a year and threatens 19 million jobs in the United States due to online piracy. These exorbitantly high numbers have been called into question by a fair share of industry experts, including Julian Sanchez, who believes the loss of profit is closer to $445 million (roughly the worldwide gross for Chipmunks: The Squeakquel).
Regardless of the financial losses, the solutions proposed by SOPA and PIPA won’t get to the root of the problem. Congress has consistently shown that they don’t understand how the internet works. Every time a torrent or P2P site goes down, another five will pop up. If PIPA or SOPA are passed, the estimated cost for tax payers to enforce these laws is $47 million over five years plus the estimated $142 million hit on the private sector for maintaining and enforcing the blacklists. If PIPA or SOPA are passed, the United States will be a player in one of the most expensive games of Whack-A-Mole ever created.
Another central argument against SOPA and PIPA is the rampant hypocrisy involved. For instance, the author of PIPA, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D. Vt.), spoke out against internet censorship in other countries. In March of 2010, he stated, ‘One of the most pressing challenges posed by the Internet is the censorship
of online information. For some time now, we have witnessed the troubling efforts of repressive regimes — such as the governments of China, Iran and North Korea — to censor, or in some cases eliminate, their citizens’ access to information via the Internet.’ Just less than two years later, Senator Leahy is trying to do the very thing he spoke out against: censoring and eliminating the United States citizens’ access to information via the internet.
The hypocrisy doesn’t stop at just the politicians. Just check out TorrentFreak.com’s study on where pirated movies are coming from. Using a map of Hollywood IP addresses, TorrentFreak found that even studios are pirating. Computers from Fox Entertainment’s studio were torrenting films like Super 8, a Paramount Pictures production. It should also be worth noting that when one of their films, ‘X-Men
Origins: Wolverine’, was torrented, the person who leaked it was sent to jail for a year. Even computers from NBC Universal’s studio were torrenting their own intellectual property like the film Cowboys &
Aliens. If SOPA or PIPA are passed, will the studios be reprimanded? Unlikely since piracy is enforced collectively by groups like the MPAA, the studios, which are the backbone to these groups, will likely never be sought after.
In no way is the disapproval of SOPA and PIPA an act of endorsement for piracy. Piracy cuts the blood flow to the entertainment industry, stealing rightful profits from artists, performers, musicians, writers
and more. Yet, the tactics SOPA and PIPA would seek to rid the internet of piracy are draconic and heavy handed. A possible solution is the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN Act). With the OPEN Act, the International Trade Commission would be responsible for the enforcement of piracy, rather than the Justice Department. The International Trade Commission is already tasked with
seeking out counterfeits and forgeries of physical products from the US. Their experience dealing with these kinds of issues and the fact that they are less political than the justice department would make them better equipped to enforce piracy laws. The most positive aspect of the OPEN Act is due process and due diligence when investigating. As opposed to SOPA which would make the Internet service provider shut down the website, without due process.
To raise awareness and protest the proposed SOPA and PIPA, Google has censored their logo and Wikipedia and Reddit shut down their sites for all of January 18th. Countless other signs of protest can be found all over the internet. To add your voice to the issue, you can contact your local Congressman through Google by going here: https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/