Dark Days ( #StopSOPA )

I do not get political on this blog, and that is intentional.  While I have strong opinions politically and do not hesitate to share them - usually on other people's blogs - but this is a place for discussing music, movies, families and technology.

Unfortunately, there is a storm brewing which affects much of the core of what I do here, along with what many other bloggers, webmasters, churches, small companies and others do .  It is called "SOPA" and it is bad.


SOPA stands for the "Stop Online Piracy Act" which is a bill currently working it's way through the U.S. House of Representatives. (along with its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act, or PIP) On its face, SOPA is designed to protect US copyright holders from online piracy and copyright infringement, none of which is a bad thing.  Criminals should be stopped, and I think we can all agree with that.


The problem is (and there are many problems) that this is a really poorly written bill that is so sweeping in its scope and so vague in its language that it could potentially be a threat to the very fabric of the internet. And I'm not exaggerating, sadly.

SOPA empowers the US Attorney General (meaning the Justice Department) to take action against foreign and domestic websites that are "facilitating the commission of [copyright infringement.]" in any way.  What's frightening about that is that there really no guidance or definition for what "facilitating" means.  Basically, it's whatever the AG says it is.  So what happens once that determination is made?

The if the website is a "US-directed" site, meaning that their income (ad revenue) or user base (visitors) come from the US, Justice can do a few things, including:

  • Force US companies from paying for advertising on the site
  • Force US service providers to block access to the site. 
The first one is a big stick.  The AG can choke off a website's income, without notice to the website owner.  So basically, a copyright owner or their agent (like RIAA or MPAA - an we know how careful they are) files a claim, and without investigation or verification, the site is flagged as infringing.  Ad money stops coming in, and so does traffic.  The site owner can file a "counter-notice" - but in order to do so they must submit to US jurisdiction (if offshore), file the notice "under penalty of perjury" (a felony) and open themselves up to a lawsuit by the copyright holder.  If they fail to respond to the lawsuit, or they lose (and they will), the copyright holder has the right to seize ownership of the website and domain. 


Still doesn't sound bad, right?  Except that under SOPA's vague language, virtually every website is a potential infringer.   Not only that, but SOPA basically throws out the safe harbor provision of the DCMA, which protects websites that honor takedown notices.  Not only sites like YouTube or Wikipedia, but every blog, forum, or website that allows users to create content, post comments, add photos, or provide links.  So, basically every website out there.  Websites that accidentally or unintentionally infringe may be seized and shutdown with out so much as a notice.  

Church websites are particularly vulnerable.  Church folk tend to be good people, but not too wise when it comes to intellectual property laws.  Post a video of your youth dance team or a clip from a service that happens to have had some recorded music playing in the background and BAM - shut down and sued. 

It gets worse according to SOPA, criminal copyright infringement is defined as "...at least 10 copies or phonorecords, or at least 10 public performances by means of digital transmission, of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of $2500."  So, of that background song sells on Amazon for 99 cents, and you get 2526 hits or more on that video, then congratulations, you are now a felon. 


The irony is that SOPA and PIP will not stop piracy.  The big offshore bittorrent sites do not derive revenue from US-based ads.  Internet blocking us usually limited to DNS blocking which means you can still get to the website if you know its IP address, and most of the big pirate sites are moving targets anyway.  

So who are we protecting at whose expense?  SOPA is largely driven by the MPAA - Hollywood.  Hollywood (by some estimates) contributes about $10billion annually to the global economy.  That's a pretty  hefty number.  But the internet is estimated to contribute upwards of $8trillion annually, and is responsible for as much as 21% of the growth of the global economy.  Basically, some Hollywood fat cats are upset that no one wants to by a DVD of their lousy remake-of-a-remake, and want to make everyone else pay for their lack of creativity and inability to understand the marketplace.  Ditto for the recording industry.  

More importantly, SOPA and PIP are a slap in the face of the free exchange of thoughts and ideas.  


Many websites are taking a stand.  There are many, many people writing in opposition to SOPA, including this excellent opinion piece on Mashable.  (which I used as a resource, please don't sue me or shut me down, Chris Heald!  Please!) Websites like Google, Mashable, Reddit, Yahoo! and others are giving prominent positioning to articles and banners fighting SOPA.  Mozilla has replaced it's landing page with a call to action. Wikipedia - the third busiest site on the internet - has gone as far as to actually go dark for 24 hours today.  The graphic at the top of this post is what any Wikipedia page looks like today.  Boing Boing did the same below. Imagine an internet where every site looks like that. 


Do what Hollywood does!  Lobby!  Write to your congressional delegation.  Let people know what's going on.  Raise awareness.  Share this post or the Mashable post (or any other post) Use the hashtags #SOPA and #StopSOPA.   The power is in our hands - let's not waste it. 


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