In case you hadn’t noticed yesterday (18 January) in America represented a veritable fiasco online, with some of the world’s most popular websites going black to voice their opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA in a day of protest.
What is it?
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by Representative Lamar Smith and a group of 12 initial co-sponsors.
The bill expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. 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. [Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/index.html?curid=33629639.]This could have serious impacts on sites which host user-generated content such as YouTube, Etsy, Flickr and Vimeo i.e. they could be shut down if the bill becomes law.
Additional concerns include the impact on common Internet functions such as linking or access data from the cloud. Some say the bill would ban linking to sites deemed offending, even in search results and on services such as Twitter.
The motive? According to Rep. Goodlatte:
"Intellectual property is one of America's chief job creators and competitive advantages in the global marketplace, yet American inventors, authors, and entrepreneurs have been forced to stand by and watch as their works are stolen by foreign infringers beyond the reach of current U.S. laws. This legislation will update the laws to ensure that the economic incentives our Framers enshrined in the Constitution over 220 years ago—to encourage new writings, research, products and services— remain effective in the 21st century's global marketplace, which will create more American jobs."
What the ‘big boys’ are doing about it• Google - Have blacked out their logo but this is only viewable in the United States.
• Wikipedia - Blacked out their entire website for 24 hours.
• Mashable - Have dedicated high prominence to the issue on their site and are generating multiple articles to increase awareness and understanding of the issue.
• Reddit - Blacked out their entire site in protest
• Mozilla - Blacked out their logo and Google landing page
• WordPress.org - Wordpress Protests The Protect IP Act and has dedicated their front page to a statement and information video about the issue.
• Facebook – Mark Zuckerburg made a post on the social network, some say a little belated, saying:
"The internet is the most powerful tool we have for creating a more open and connected world. We can't let poorly thought out laws get in the way of the internet's development. Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the internet.
The world today needs political leaders who are pro-internet. We have been working with many of
these folks for months on better alternatives to these current proposals. I encourage you to learn more about these issues and tell your congressmen that you want them to be pro-internet."
You can read more about facebooks views here — The post is blowing up: it has 250,000 Likes at time of writing, and 100,000 of those were gained in the past hour. He has not at this time taken any action on the site.
Other opponents include Yahoo!, YouTube, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, Roblox, and human rights organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the ACLU, and Human Rights Watch.
The ‘dark list’ of sites who have displayed a visual protest to SOPA that is being updated regularly.
What we think about it:As a digital media agency that regularly develops content both for ourselves and our clients and empowers communities we are opposed to SOPA and what it could spell for the broader internet industry. It is clear the bill has been drafted by people who do not intrinsically understand the internet, its history, its players and how it is used by the day to day user.
Specifically the proposed bill is vague, could see some sites we know and love shut down, and would disable us from carrying on our day to day operations in a way we have been accustomed to for a long period of time.
We believe internet users should have the right to freely source uncensored material on the internet, but of course that we should all take responsibility for taking necessary precautions to protect our children and other vunerable members of our society from inappropriate content. There are softwares and other solutions to achieve this, without SOPA. People should take responsibility for their own self-education, and tap into some of the excellent resources made available by the Government to achieve this.