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What is SOPA? Why Does it Matter?

SOPA is a very hot topic online right now for many of us that are involved in website development or internet related fields. I hope I can shed a bit of light on what SOPA is and why it’s an important topic for everyone to take very seriously.

What is SOPA?

SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act and is a bill that was introduced into the US House in October of 2011. The initial goal of the bill was to expand rules and regulations on copyrighted materials and also give the government and companies more latitude in how they fight the unauthorized use of copyrighted materials.

What it Will Look Like

When it was first introduced I have to admit the idea seemed honest enough. The problem is the methods in the bill and the results that will occur because of them, there are simply tons of issues with passing legislation like this. As the bill stands if any site has any content that is considered “copyrighted” the US Government has the right to ban that website via internet service providers. For instance, if a website that you are visiting has a video on it with a soundtrack that contains unauthorized copyrighted materials, like a pop song or something, the government would have the right to tell Time Warner Cable or Verizon not to allow you access to that website. Worse yet, if the website with the video is Website-A and Website-B links to Website-A then with this legislation the Government has the right to censor Website-B as well! Website-B is also liable for using the copyrighted materials and can be sued by the owner, all because they simply have a link pointing to a site that has some kind of unauthorized use of copyrighted materials.

Great, So What The Problem?

So far it just looks like this would only hurt the bad guys. Just steer clear of any sites that are infringing on copyrighted property and you should be all set right? Sigh, if only it were that simple. Let’s look at a few distinct examples of how SOPA will really upset the internet while not completing it’s primary objective.

  1. What I’m doing right now would be illegal. Yep. Any content that furthers the concepts and ideas behind online piracy can be targeted by the government and companies that are heading up the SOPA efforts. That means if you post about where to find a great new song you heard on the radio or how you just watched the latest episode of an HBO show online you would be doing something illegal and would become a target. It also means that simply explaining why SOPA is incorrect and what the negative repercussions would be can be viewed as promoting the opposite, which is online piracy, and would be considered illegal. To put it bluntly me writing this article would be illegal if SOPA passed.
  2. Facebook, Twitter, Blogging all become censored. Yea, obviously sometimes we all wish they were censored anyways. But seriously, any platform that has the means to help users promote unauthorized copyrighted materials would become censored concerning such posts. You would not be able to post video clips, songs, etc to facebook or twitter and certainly not to your blog without express written consent from the owner of the materials. Think about how this would stunt growth for one of the most economically important tools of our generation, the internet. If SOPA existed when YouTube first came on the scene it would have been bombarded by lawsuits and chances are would never have made it long enough to be picked up by Google and become the source for video information on the internet. It would have crippled the internet video industry and slowed down growth immensely. YouTube told companies to invest in online video, that users wanted content online, and has led to many wonderful and fully lawful outlets for such.
  3. A four year old can outsmart SOPA. Perhaps the worst part of SOPA is that it will completely fail in it’s primary mission. As it stands the US Government will authorize blocking all website domains that share pirated materials. However, they will not block the accompanying IP addresses for those websites. You see each domain name has an IP address that goes along with it, the domain acts as a user friendly translation of this IP which is just a set of numbers. For example the domain www.google.com has an IP Address of 74.125.79.99, if you simply type this number into your browser you will be directed to the google homepage. What this all means is that all these “online content pirates” will have to do is know the IP address that accompanies the blocked site and they will be able to fully access the content once again! SOPA would not prevent this method and would therein not prevent sharing of copyrighted materials as it had initially intended. Sigh.

Okay, What Should I Do?

So far and just to name a few Twitter, Google, Reddit, Kickstarter, Tumblr, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL, eBay, Zynga, Facebook have all taken a position of opposition to the SOPA bill. If you are looking for actionable items the website Stop American Censorship is a great place to start.

Great Video Explanation of SOPA

Please let us know your thoughts

Please leave comments via the comment form below. We need to gain momentum and support to fight off this terrible bill that will really slow down the economic growth that is supported by the internet and internet based companies.

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