Lately, we have been hearing the acronyms SOPA and PIPA; most people are wondering what they stand for and what are the effects? Imagine a world with no Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube or any other site with user-generated content. If the far-reaching legislation were to pass, these sites would be down to bare bones because copyright violation and censorship are an Internet wildfire.
The conflict derives from the fact that Intellectual Property, IP, is the foundation upon which every business is built and it is a precious commodity stolen everyday. Yet, it is also the foundation for very valuable, business, software, entertainment, art, photography, music, historical information and newsworthy media.
In easy to understand terms, last week the government weighed in on their idea to expand the Congressional and Department of Justice patrol over copyrights. The legislation was countered with people of the US, for the most part, siding with the Constitution of the United States and the rights of the First Amendment. Many think the bills will bleed to censorship ending the free and open Internet, as does the “hacktivists” group Anonymous that takes down any site they feel like whenever they feel violated. The day before the vote in Congress, citizens and site owners voiced their opinions by the power of Internet protest, voting, blogging and contacting government representatives; neither bill moved forward, however, they will be revisited very soon.
The proponents of the Hollywood film industry, the gaming industry, the music business and the computer software industry pushed for the bills in order to recover some of the billions of dollars lost in the piracy of movies, games, music and television. While most US citizens don’t want to see business dollars garnished from the US by international pirates, many were leery about the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. SOPA is a “has-been” bill tossed around in Congress since 2008. The particulars allow some drastic measures like allowing a US Attorney to seek a court order that forces search engines, advertisers, servers, DNS providers and payment processors from having anything to do with copyright infringers. The list of what SOPA can do is painful if you are a website host allowing any user-generated content. You will have to closely monitor all content for copyright violation. For example, payment processors would have the power to cut off any websites they work merely by providing a strong reason why they believe there are copyright violations and they would then own the responsibility for inaction against violators making them violators of copyright infringement. The law is a tangled web of ambiguity.
According to the Washington Post, 115,000 websites went dark to users and made their point for 24 hours leaving a trail of Senators and Representatives to voice opinion about the possibility of free sites being overturned in the name of censorship. As neither bill passed, it left Hollywood befuddled, but not ready to raise the white flag.
PIPA, the Protect IP Act, is also rewritten legislation from the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA). PIPA allows the government to take control over the following:
1. Force US Internet providers to block access to websites deemed enablers of copyright infringement.
2. Seek legal action by suing search engines, blog sites, directories, online encyclopedias and require them to remove the “said” infringements.
3. Give companies the power to sue any new websites that get started after the bill is passed if they believe they are not doing a good job of preventing infringement
Most of the scene is set on the international front since many of the infringers are not on US soil. Every country is seeding its viewpoint and thus forming their laws, both liberal and conservative, on “new media”. Canada is making it illegal to “Google” perspective employees deeming the search as an invasion of privacy while the US media industry is trying to close the doors on free media. Canada doesn’t own Google or lose the billions of dollars in the film industry like the US does and as goes the story with every country’s priority. The lack of priority is the case in many countries since the US is the greatest victim generating more IP than any other country in the world.
Take the case of, The Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent Swedish file-sharing site, now an international community that was accused of pirating films by the Motion Picture Association of America. The US did arrest two hackers and take the site down for a brief moment, but the results were a weak attempt to shut off users from the free content. Their response was that SOPA means “trash” in Swedish and “PIPA” means “pipe” claiming that the United States government is not the patrol of the Internet. Worse conversely, the response according to The Pirate Bay and the group Anonymous is that they say they cannot be stopped.
Now, you are probably wondering the solution? It is the billion-dollar question that no one has figured out. Those who create IP truly know the need to protect their hard-earned dollars. Then there are those who think that all information should be free, no matter what. Chasing a group like Anonymous is like a dog chasing its tail, if it catches it, then it bites itself. These groups are not going to settle for any middle ground, no matter what. Their further retaliation, though it may be wrong, costs US businesses money in sales as well as paying for technology and recovery. Until there is a united community equal to the hackers across the world, this issue is a dog chasing its own tail.