Have you heard of the Stop Online Piracy Act?
If you have, this is old news and hopefully you’re as pissed as me. If you haven’t, well prepare yourself – because it is an over-the-top attempt at curbing online piracy that could potentially damage the very fabric of the Internet, censor entire sites, kill start ups and some the many strides we’ve made as online journalists.
SOPA, as the act is known in short, was introduced to the US Congress early November by Congressman Lamar Smith (there is a similar bill making its rounds in the Senate, the PROTECT-IP Act). It would in short, provide the US government with the power to:
- Block access to infringing domain names that are complicit in piracy, and sue search engines, domains, blogs and whatever else to have those links removed
- The two bills also give power to corporations and the government to potentially cut off funds to web sites via US-based advertisers
Now, the language to the bill is extremely vague in key parts. This means that companies could potentially sue any sites, especially start-ups, that are not filtering and monitoring their content well enough. Whatever ‘well enough’ means, is arbitrary and lost in government legalese.
Social media could very well be a target. The bill as it stands is vague enough for judges and lawyers to interpret it that way.
Some sites we commonly use that could be affected would be:
The video below does a much better job at explaining the bill and its inherent dangers than I ever could. It also has nice animation and some pretty colors, both of which I cannot provide.
But more specifically, how does that affect us as journalists?
Well thankfully Mediabistro put together a great breakdown of that exact point.
It’s absolutely chilling stuff. We’re talking entire web sites like Youtube potentially being blocked for one user’s copyright infringement.
Whatever we think of citizen journalism – the entire notion could be at risk. Hyperlocal sites could struggle. Student papers would have to invest quite a bit more time on making sure nothing is violating copyright laws.
Hell, even elements of this very site could be at risk.
It’s easy to get riled up and slightly alarmist about this whole thing, but the innocuous language and the potential for abuse and misinterpretation is vast. The US government is effectively following the example of China and Syria, and setting the pace for an all too grim future. It is scary.
BUT – the one ramification that stands out well and truly apart from the rest is third point Mediabistro makes.
“If SOPA passes, the legal risks of starting an online venture would greatly increase, de-incentivizing innovation and creativity.”
It’s been said, good lord it’s been said over and over, but we as young and tech-savvy journalists live in an exciting time. We have the future in our hands, but if SOPA goes through, that future could essentially be taken right away from us.
As an American from a country with a proud tradition of many freedoms the notion that this bill could go through (and it is likely, House supporters far outnumber the bill’s detractors) is quite frankly, shocking.
Here’s to this nonsense getting shot down – and it looks there could be a glimmer of hope.
So please, share your comments on this bill. What do you think? How could it affect you?
Comment below and tweet us @wannabehacks
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look