Until 24 hours ago, I’ll be honest - I had absolutely no idea what SOPA was. As a Politics graduate I probably shouldn’t publically admit that, but honesty is the best policy and all that. So when my Twitter stream and Facebook timeline started filling up with talk of Wikipedia shutting down in protest of this so-called SOPA, Mark Zuckerberg spoke out against the bill and any number of other people began voicing their views and opinions, that I began to think that this must be kind of a big deal.
So I thought I would look into what exactly the bill entails, and how it might affect our industry.
SOPA – What is it?
SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy Act. It was introduced into the US House of Representatives back in October 2011 to expand the ability of US law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted property and counterfeit goods. Its Senate counterpart is PIPA which stands for Protect IP Act.
Sounds good so far right? Why would anyone oppose something which is fighting internet piracy? But opponents claim that this would violate the ‘First Amendment’, is ‘Internet Censorship’ and will potentially cripple the internet.
SOPA will apparently do the following things:
1) Give the US government the right to unilaterally censor foreign websites
2) Gives copyright holders the right to issue economic takedowns and bring lawsuits against website owners and operators, if those websites have features that make it possible to post infringing content
3) Makes it an offence to post a copyrighted song or video.
Pretty scary huh ?
SOPA – Why is it dangerous for the internet as we know it?
I’d imagine that many people who are opposing the bill or voicing an opinion haven’t actually read the bill. If you have some spare time on your hands, here it is.
I’m no lawyer and I’m not even going to attempt to understand some of the jargon, but from what I can work out, we’re not just talking about music piracy or stealing intellectual property. Copyright violation is incredibly easy, so ANY site with a comment box or picture upload facility is potentially at risk. Apparently any site which allows users to post content is “primarily designed or operated for the purpose of offering services in a manner which enables copyright violation.”
Hmmmm OK so we’re now not just talking about the sites which rip off music illegally. In short this means countless sites such as YouTube, WordPress, Facebook, Wikipedia, Gmail, Dropbox could be affected, not to mention sites utilising User Generated Content (UGC). And how many of these sites do YOU access pretty much daily?!
SOPA Blackout – Who was involved & what does it mean?
The widespread so-called ‘Internet Blackout Wednesday’ saw sites including Google.com, Wikipedia, Tumblr and Reddit go dark in protest of the bill. Interestingly Twitter decided not to join the blackout. And it actually seems like it may have done the trick and influenced certain members of the US congress who were originally in favour of the bill. Mashable’s blog post is worth a read on this topic.
SOPA – How will it affect us as digital marketers?
SOPA will require internet providers to monitor traffic on their sites and block websites suspected of copyright infringement or face being shut down. Surely this would affect a PR or Marketing professional’s ability serve client interests in the digital world we now live in? I’m sure the vast majority of marketers use sites such as Flickr, Facebook and Slideshare etc as additional channels to reach existing clients and new prospects? I know we do! It’s a vital part of striking up and continuing the conversation with the people we are targeting.
Suppose you upload a video, completely innocently which includes a snippet of a song which is copyrighted? Bang, that’s you done for essentially. Here’s a great article which expands on all the other areas which could be affected if the bill goes through. Well worth a look.
I’m all for protecting the works of artists, musicians, directors and so on – stealing is not right on any level. But as far as my small brain understands it, if this bill goes through, then basically you’ve either got to stop using the internet OR you’ve got to hope you don’t get found out.
The latest information I’ve read is that SOPA has been shelved (for now) but could at any time be resurrected, and Mashable just reported (at time of writing 8.30pm UK time 18/01/12) that SOPA’s Chief Sponsor Lamar Smith isn’t backing down. It ain’t over til the fat lady sings.
The irony of the fact that most of the references in this post are Wikipedia, other blogs, news sharing websites has not escaped me. Oh and you can comment on this too which would potentially put me in the firing line should the bill go through. I bet SOPA got your attention now?! It’s certainly got mine!