What is SOPA, and why should you care?


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.

However, the backlash against SOPA has not been insignificant, and companies such as Mozilla, Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, and many more big names have publically opposed the Act.

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.

Source: Gamasutra
Forum discussion

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  • Anonymous

    Leave it to the land of the free and the home of the brave to begin the
    systematic destruction of the greatest technological innovation since
    the invention of the PC. I find this highly ironic, them being the
    leading country in IT. Next stop, China…

  • Alex

    Thanks for the clarification. But can you also explain how it affects users in SA? Surely a US court doesn’t have international jurisdiction? Can anyone tell Mweb, WebAfrica, Afrihost etc to block a certain site? Thanks.

  • William Smith

    As far as I understand they have no jurisdiction in other countries. Basically any trace of it would be removed from Google, PayPal accounts will be terminated and so forth as mentioned in the article, above and beyond that, American ISP’s will be forced to alter servers to prevent their DNS servers from resolving to that website IP.

    In essence, they are going to make that site’s life a living hell. Or at least try to. It may not seem so bad for us, but eventually, the pot will boil over into other countries. The movie and gaming industries housed in America could be forced to cease trade with countries that don’t conform and adopt similar legislation. Although this comes across as a bit conspiracy theorist paranoia, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Americans actually attempted to pull this card.

    This act threatens to impose itself on the world and could possibly become the next step in global censorship. If other countries fall prey to this, we’ll be catapulted back into the Dark Ages and in the Information Era, that is a horrific idea..

    Also take into mind, PIPA also comes into play and runs parallel with SOPA. PIPA allows a company in the US to place a court order against a foreign company infringing on Copyright Laws and essentially bypasses the requirement for jurisdiction if memory serves me well enough. I’ll look at it again later.

  • http://profiles.google.com/andrew.craucamp Andrew Craucamp

    Don’t neglect PIPA, equally as bad but more likely to pass.

  • Guest

    This is shear insanity but what do you expect from a government that voted the patriot act into effect. The US will be able to bully any ISP in the world by forcing US companies to not deal with them. A website without access to any credit card company or Paypal cannot operate in an international environment.

  • Nic Simmonds

    Sorry Alex, was AFK. William’s post below is pretty much spot on though :)

  • YePsy_ZA

    Can you do the same with PIPA, no idea what that is, was actually about to go research SOPA when I saw this, thanks for the great read

  • Anonymous

    Here are the Bill if anyone is interested in reading:

    Excerpt from SEC 102 (where is starts):
    (a) Definition- For purposes of this section, a foreign Internet site or portion thereof is a `foreign infringing site’ if–
    (1) the Internet site or portion thereof is a U.S.-directed site and is used by users in the United States;

    And from SEC 101:
    (8) FOREIGN INTERNET SITE- The term `foreign Internet site’ means an Internet site that is not a domestic Internet site.

    So it’s actually just say that it will only affect foreign-based US-directed websites, since US sites already falls under the US jurisdiction. The only way it will affect us is that we won’t be able to use the foreign-based US-directed websites IF they are closed down…I think.

    As William Smith said, PIPA can bypass the US jurisdiction law and place a court order to these foreign websites. This means, if you, the foreign website owner receive this court order, you can appeal to it, but you’ll then have to go to court in the US…Not really sure about this, but I think I read it somewhere.

    Edit: just skimmed read SEC 103:
    (d) Actions Based on Court Orders-
    (C) VENUE FOR SERVICE- A copy of the court order may be served in any judicial district where an entity resides or may be found.

    I’m not exactly sure whether this means if the “VENUE FOR SERVICE” is just US-based or internation.

    Hope this helps.

    Here are more well put together stuff about SOPA:

  • Anonymous

    Actually I think big businesses are more involved in this one. Since they just about run America.

  • Pur1Fier (bf3!!)

    Dude China is even worse btw… Google had to make a hole new browser just so that the Chinese government could approve it, because their government doesn’t want their people knowing about some of the crimes the government had done in the past.

  • Pur1Fier (bf3!!)

    Download everything while we can!!!