As you may have noticed, my site is showing you a “stop SOPA” page instead of my regular homepage today. It will also do it again on January 23rd. Obviously, I am against SOPA as are so many others (including Wikipedia, Google, AOL, LinkedIn, the Mozilla Corporation, and most of the blogs I read), but I know a lot of people don’t really understand what opposing SOPA and PIPA means. So I’m going to explain it to you the best that I can with some FAQs.
What is SOPA?
SOPA is the Stop Online Piracy Act; a bill currently slated to be voted on by the House of Representatives on January 24th. It is designed to give law enforcement agencies and copy right holders the ability to stop online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfit goods.
What is PIPA?
PIPA is PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011) is a similar bill, but put forth by the Senate. It’s aims are the same as SOPA’s, but it also focuses heavily on non-US websites. It is basically a rewrite of a Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which didn’t pass in 2010.
But online piracy is bad. Why are so many against something that sounds amazing and a good way to protect my intellectual property?
Because this bill is not designed to protect your intellectual property. In fact this bill doesn’t care about you (the internet user); this bill is about protecting big business and making money. From Wikipedia (who I actually trust on this issue):
Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.
Wow. That’s…really confusing. Can you give me an example?
I couldn’t come up with a better example than the one used in BoingBoing’s post entitled “SOPA and Everyday Americans”:
The harm that does to ordinary, non-infringing users is best described via a hypothetical user: Abe. Abe has never even so much as breathed on a company’s copyright but he does many of the things typical of Internet users today. He stores the photos of his children, now three and six years old, online at PickUpShelf* so that he doesn’t have to worry about maintaining backups. He is a teacher and keeps copies of his classes accessible for his students via another service called SunStream that makes streaming audio and video easy. He engages frequently in conversation in several online communities and has developed a hard-won reputation and following on a discussion host called SpeakFree. And, of course, he has a blog called “Abe’s Truths” that is hosted on a site called NewLeaflet. He has never infringed on any copyright and each of the entities charged with enforcing SOPA know that he hasn’t.
And yet, none of that matters. Under SOPA, every single one of the services that Abe uses can be obliterated from his view without him having any remedy. Abe may wake up one morning and not be able to access any of his photos of his children. Neither he, nor his students, would be able to access any of his lectures. His trove of smart online discussions would likewise evaporate and he wouldn’t even be able to complain about it on his blog. And, in every case, he has absolutely no power to try to regain access. That may sound far-fetched but under SOPA, all that needs to happen for this scenario to come true is for the Attorney General to decide that some part of PickUpShelf, SunStream, SpeakFree and NewLeaflet would be copyright infringement in the US. If a court agrees, and with no guarantee of an adversarial proceeding that seems very likely, the entire site is “disappeared” from the US internet. When that happens Abe has NO remedy. None. No way of getting the photos of his kids other than leaving the United States for a country that doesn’t have overly broad censorship laws.
Okay. This absolutely sucks. What can I do to make sure this doesn’t pass?
Contact your Representatives and Senators! Use this form for your representatives and tell him or her to vote NO on SOPA. Go here to locate your Senators and use the link provided to find their contact information on their webpage. If you don’t feel that sending a comment or email is enough, tweet your congressmen or women directly, or even give them a call!
What else can I do?
Use your voice. Tweet, blog, facebook, etc your opinions on SOPA and PIPA. Make sure everyone has the right information about the bills and why the blackout that happened today is necessary. The more you talk about it, the more word will spread, and the more people voice their opinions, the faster we can get this bill shut down, and have a free and open Internet.
ETA: Thanks to the outpouring of support from corporations, bloggers, and petition signers everywhere, both houses of Congress have indefintely delayed votes on PIPA and SOPA. Hooray for a victory!