You’ve probably heard about the “Stop Online Privacy Act” (SOPA) and its sister, Protect-IP Act. Both bills have a lot of money supporting them with the funds coming from the pharmaceutical industry who is tired of seeing counterfeit medication purchased in lieu of their own products and from an entertainment industry afraid they’re losing too much money from sites illegally hosting copyrighted media.
That’s an idea that most people can get behind. Artists should be compensated for their work, even the modern day Picasso’s who came up with Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, and websites selling bad counterfeit medications shouldn’t be allowed to operate. The problem is that there are a lot of unintended consequences in the language of the bills that would change the way we use the Internet.
Currently, online copyright infringement is enforced by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DCMA) of 1998. It protects online service providers (OSPs) from copyright infringement if a user posts protected content on their site as long as the OSP removes it when asked by the copyright holder. For example, someone posts a copyright protected item in a comment on your blog, if you get a letter telling you to remove it, you do so, end of story. SOPA on the otherhand, could automatically remove offending websites from search results as well as have the sites blocked by ISP DNS servers, making them virtually inaccessible to the common Internet user. A major concern is that Americans will start using foreign DNS servers to access the Internet at a potentially high security risk.
If the Baby Geniuses were in Congress, we wouldn’t have this problem…
We’re going to get in trouble for posting this video if one of the bills are passed.
Many of the most popular websites rely on user generated content (Youtube, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr). Even news sites try and keep the conversation going with user generated comments after every story. With the new legislation, the entire networks could be shut down if just one person were to post a copyright protected item. Do you want to share David Freese’s game winning home run from game 6 of the World Series to your Tumblr? You better have expressed written consent from Major League Baseball or you’ll be known as the person who got Tumblr shut down. That won’t look too good on the resumé (unless you want to work for WordPress).
So what’s the debate:
Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), TV Networks, Pharmaceutical Companies: Piracy is forcing entertainment companies to make personnel cuts as a result of lost revenues. Similarly for the pharmaceutical industry, the counterfeit prescription drugs many order online are not only hurting sales but are inferior products that aren’t helping patients. According to the Chamber of Commerce, U.S. companies lose an estimated $135 billion per year to counterfeiting and piracy. This is a strong argument to pitch a Congress with horrid approval ratings based mostly on a lackluster economy.
Seemingly everyone else: There are some pretty big wallets in opposition, too. Google, AOL, eBay, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and many more are being very vocal in their opposition to the bills. The sentiment by those opposed is that the bills are a form of censorship and are too extreme. Could you imagine being the person at Twitter assigned to screening tweets to make sure there’s no copyright material? Good luck. Youtube is aslo flooded with copyright protected material, but most of it gets taken down rather quickly. (Although you can watch the 1996 hit film Kazaam for free… Again, millions of dollars are lost).
The opposition has been very vocal and has gotten the public’s attention. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tx), is said to be open to changes. On December 15, SOPA will go before the House floor for debate and markups.
The opposition is growing and is becoming more vocal. Tumblr created a “Protect the Net” page encouraging users to call their congressperson. In one day, they helped complete 87,834 calls to Congress. Sandia National Laboratories, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, concluded that SOPA would “negatively impact U.S. and global cybersecurity and Internet functionality.” Opposition to the legislation has gone viral:
What will happen:
If versions of these bills are to pass, they will be dramatically different. The DMCA is not a perfect piece of legislation, but it is far more reasonable than SOPA’s all-or-nothing approach to dealing with online copyright infringement.
In one form or another, the part of the bill relating to the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals is likely to stick around. The stories that have been shared on Capitol Hill about people buying counterfeit prescription medicine because it was cheaper, only to find the medication was completely fake or far less effective are heartbreaking. This is a legitimate safety concern. If websites are selling bad drugs, they should be shut down. However, it’s very difficult to argue that international drug sites should be restricted in the US because people can buy their prescription medications for cheaper especially when the sick can’t afford to buy the medications in the US. You will see a lot of people arguing that instead of trying to make it impossible for the sick to get affordable prescription medicine online, lawmakers should be figuring out how to make medications more affordable at the local pharmacy.
We look forward to watching the debate on December 15th. If somehow one of these bills does go through as is, the next big job of the future will be “Internet Moderator” (*shudder*).
How do you feel about the legislation?