Today SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) appears to have been shelved for the time being after President Barak Obama refused to support it and significant anti-SOPA public sentiment. There is however another similar bill PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) that is scheduled to go before the Senate next week.
Both bills are an attempt to combat online piracy of movies, music, art, trademarks and other copyrighted material. Supported heavily by Hollywood, the Entertainment Software Association and GoDaddy.com, an internet domain company, the bills would enable the US Department of Justice, individuals and companies as copyright holders “to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling of facilitating copyright infringement.” According to Wikipedia, “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. “ It would attempt to prevent American search engines like Google and Yahoo from directing users to sites which distribute stolen content.
Although the primary goal of combating online piracy is valid and of huge concern to us in the art world, the approach is in direct violation of the first amendment that allows for free speech and press. It is a censorship of the internet.
The bill shows an embarrassing lack of understanding of the internet and how it operates. The technical issues that would arise from this bill would have a significant impact on internet integrity, security as well as the privacy of resulting in technically less savvy users being monitored and major league internet criminals avoiding detection and easily remaining one step ahead of the law especially outside of the United States.
Another problem is that the bill is very vague and loose in its language of the boundaries of the proposed laws. It could easily affect a network site like the original Monkdogz Network which was linked to over 3000 websites – making Monkdogz responsible for policing all the linked sites for copyright infringement. For a small organization such as ours, it would be physically and economically unviable. In effect it could give powers which would be like closing a whole school down for the transgression of one student instead of disciplining the student alone. On top of all this, websites could be shut down without a lawsuit or trial, but just from one complaint.
Purely from my point of view it looks very much like a bill that has been driven by the movie and music industry lobbying Congress for extended powers to protect their own interests with little regard for the world of the internet which is likely to become a bigger and bigger part of their audience. It’s likely to be a bit of a cutting off their noses to spite their faces.
However the power of the internet has certainly been felt today with the coverage that the bill has received in the media and the impact of black outs by sites such as Wikipedia and WordPress and support from sites such as Craigslist encouraging Americans to lobby their Congressmen. Even my teenage son is talking about the bills with his favorite online gaming site Minecraft being affected and YouTube flooded with many anti-SOPA videos. With this sort of public outcry many senators are starting to have second thoughts about supporting PIPA.
What do you think? If you are a United States Citizen contact your elected officials here.