What is SOPA, and why should you care?
We take a look at the Stop Online Piracy Act, and why everyone is freaking out about it
It’s entirely possible that many of our readers have recently been too deeply buried in the likes of Skyrim, Battlefield 3 or StarWars: The Old Republic to pay too much attention to current-internet-affairs; but we’re busy experiencing one of the most contentious and possibly influential controversies ever faced by the World Wide Web, so you should probably pay attention.
So what is SOPA? It is a US government bill looking to be passed into law. It stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act, and at face value its intentions are quite noble – supposedly designed to restrict online piracy.
The bill has been put forward specifically to implement measures which will make it possible for companies to better control piracy originating from “foreign websites”. These would include dozens of torrent sharing networks such as The Pirate Bay, as well as a host of other online platforms which facilitate software and digital media piracy.
Opponents of the bill are quick to point out that the measures proposed would not effectively curb piracy. There are also serious concerns about the impact the legislation would have on things such as user privacy, freedom of speech, and internet security.
The 78 page act is an extremely complex document, and in an article published by Gamastura, attorney Mona Ibrahim counts no less than 8 moving parts. In fact, the sheer number of regulations which the act seeks to impose makes discussing it a very difficult task. “Tackling the entire body of the legislation in one go would be next to impossible,” writes Ibrahim.
An apparent lack of cohesion amongst the ideas being put forward by the act makes it difficult to really understand it in its entirety, but the chief concern raised by its detractors funnels back to the possibility that it would grant the US attorney general power to essentially shut down “rogue websites” without any real evidence that they are involved in elicit activities.
The act grants the US Department of Justice as well as copyright holders the ability to seek court orders against websites that they believe enable illegal digital content sharing. By doing so, they would be able to bar certain websites from receiving advertising revenue, cut them off from search engines, and disable their access to online payment gateways such as PayPal. Essentially, the Act grants copyright holders and the US Department of Justice the power to make it impossible for a website to operate.
The bill would also make unauthorized streaming of copyright content a crime, punishable with up to 5 years of jail time.
Many would argue that SOPA’s intentions are noble and just. However, the manner in which the document has been worded has caused distress. For example, as it stands SOPA would allow a company or the U.S Department of Justice to effectively cripple a website containing thousands of pages if it is found to have just one page which it deems to threaten copyright protection. Websites such as Wikileaks, Wikipedia and YouTube would not be exempt, and indeed would be extremely vulnerable to the power which SOPA would wield.
The core concern surrounding SOPA is that if passed, it will provide the US government as well as large copyright owning companies with inordinate power to control what is published on the internet. Furthermore, this power could be wielded without any evidence that the accused website is hosting copyright-infringing content. A baseless allegation could essentially bring any website to its knees should SOPA be enacted.
The US Judiciary Committee has to date approved SOPA, and it is currently awaiting a floor vote which is scheduled to take place on 24 January 2012.
As it stands, it would appear that SOPA supporters have a commanding majority in the deciding committee, and it is expected to be approved come D-day.
Wikipedia has called SOPA an “Internet blacklist bill” that “would allow corporations, organizations, or the government to order an Internet service provider to block an entire website simply due to an allegation that the site posted infringing content.”
One would expect games and software publishers to be in favour of such an act with the supposed primary aim to counteract piracy. However, the likes of Mojang (Minecraft), Nvidia, Bungie, Kaspersky, Razer, Good Old Games, Nintendo, EA, Sony and Riot Games have all publically disapproved or at least removed their support for SOPA.
What do you think of SOPA? Let us know in the comments and on the MyGaming forum.