This is going to be my opinion (meaning you shouldn’t take this as gospel) about the SOPA act currently in contention. Is it really a Bill to turn us into China? Or is it mainly focusing on attempting to curtail the rampant online piracy issues that abound on the internet. Well like everything the government does its a bit more complicated than that.
Currently as of this writing I can attest that if there is a piece of digital media, software program, music, movie, or video game – it is out there for FREE right now. Well it isn’t free technically as you would be stealing it. The definition of stealing in this case is this: Utilizing any internet connection to download the aforementioned to your personal electronic device using a site/service/individual that is re-distributing said <insert above> without the owner’s consent or permission.
In simpler terms – if you download something that you are supposed to have paid for? Your stealing. PERIOD.
The RIAA, MPAA, and BSA have been trying for years to try and stop online piracy without making a dent in it. If it isn’t a couple of College kids creating software like Napster to assist your downloading needs, there are always the Newsgroups, IRC, or Bit Torrent websites. It has gotten so bad that the RIAA has targeted kids to try and curtail online piracy!
And none of it has worked. You can still go out on the internet today – and if it’s in a digital form and don’t want to pay for it? It is out there waiting for you to download it.
Now… let me be perfectly clear here. I do not condone stealing. I think if someone puts their blood sweat and tears into something and wish to charge for it and I want it? I should pay for it. It’s what capitalism/consumerism is based on after all.
The Protect-IP Act
So now here comes our U.S. government to the rescue. Instead of addressing our overwhelming unemployment rate, big business taking away jobs and moving them overseas, an education system that doesn’t work, our medical system that Obama probably just made 100 times worse than it is currently with his recent bill… we get them to try and conquer online piracy. Because you know how well they are doing with the War on Drugs or how we were able to free the people of IRAQ and introduce Democracy for them?
Well… specifically one guy started this mess Senator Patrick Leahy. With his well intentioned bill in the Senate the Protect-IP Act. The bill stands for: “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011”. The summary of the bill states: “To prevent online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property, and for other purposes.” which seems a little bit too broad for my taste.
What it’s intention is to be able to give carte blanche to the Attorney General to be able to investigate and then shutdown any site deemed to have violated the bill’s statutes (oh… foreign and domestic!). They have a right to not only shutdown the site and go after the users, but they can demand that any online advertisers or credit card processors to immediately stop any payments to said website.
The Protect-IP Act creators made sure to write a “Get out of Jail Free” Card clause into the bill. This means if the government accidentally were to shutdown the a website and the site was then found to be not in violation after it went through the gruesome appeal process the government could not be held liable.
And let’s not forget about the awesome immunity for being a snitch clause too! Essentially if anyone turns in a site that is violating the act and someone voluntarily reports it – they will not be charged with anything! They too get the “Get out of Jail Free” Card.
Example of how the Protect-IP Act could Effect You!
So… for a quick example. Lets say this site was allegedly distributing music illegally and charging a service for it. The government can order my Registrar, ISP, and my Hosting Service to shutdown my site immediately. Then they will go to Google (my advertiser) and PayPal (my credit card processor) and give then a cease and desist order to kill any pending transactions I might have with them or people who have paid me for the alleged illegal service I was offering. Seems like a legitimate thing to do … if what I was doing was illegal.
It turns out after I do the appeal process; I am now destitute, my online business is now essentially gone due to no revenue and my site has been off the web for about 6 months. BUT! Good News! They finally recognize the fact the services I were offering were NOT illegal since it was my OWN music I was selling! By this time it is too late. I’ve lost my user base, advertising, my registrar, hosting service, and paypal still do not have my account re-activated to try and get some of those pending transactions that have been suspended by the government are still pending.
And there isn’t a damned thing I can do about it. I can’t sue the government. I don’t have a case for suing anyone else either since they were ordered by the Attorney General and the Federal Government to kill the site to begin with. Oh and if I was stuck with any type of fines and jail time on top of the attorney fees with the whole appeal process? I’m screwed. I can’t get anything back. I pretty much get to eat the crap sandwich and don’t even get the cherry on top.
Scary stuff eh?
Finally, now I can start talking about SOPA! OPA! OPA! (breaks a plate) Oh… sorry drifting off topic here. So since Senator Patrick Leahy has been involved with the movie industry and decided to come up with his Protect-IP Act the House of Representatives decided they would create their own bill to try and trump it. While the Protect-IP Act is terrible – it was at least simplistic in nature and allowed the government to jump in whenever it wanted to and screw up the internet without any type of repercussion.
SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act. The “spirit” of the bill is listed as: “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.” (Note: “… and for other purposes” is the really spooky part.)
The SOPAact is all that the Protect-IP Act was and a lot more! They are proposing to create another agency that does nothing but try and shutdown sites that they find in violation to SOPA and Protect-IP Act. There is the potential for outrageous fines and jail time if found to be in violation of the SOPA act. (If it’s government or pertains to national security? Up to $15,000,000.00 in fines and 25 years in jail!)
So besides all the items presented in the Protect-IP Act – SOPA adds onto it with a steam shovel. Where the Protect-IP Act was mainly focusing on stopping websites from illegally distributing digital media the SOPA act twists that to include:
Sec. 201. Streaming of copyrighted works in violation of criminal law
(1) IN GENERAL.—Any person who willfully infringes a copyright shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, if the infringement was committed—
(A) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain;
(B) by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-
day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, or by the pub-
lic performance by means of digital trans- mission, during any 180-day period, of 1 or
more copyrighted works, when the total retail value of the copies or phonorecords, or of the
public performances, is more than $1,000; or
(C) by the distribution or public performance of a work being prepared for commercial dissemination, by making it available on a com-puter network accessible to members of the public, if such person knew or should have known that the work was intended for commercial dissemination
This means about half of YouTube would potentially be in violation immediately and YouTube would be held responsible right along with the people who posted the offending material. Both will face huge fines and penalties along with the website being shutdown permanently. And this is just but one example of many sites out there that currently have at least ONE user posting something they found on the internet that could be held in violation of this part of the ACT
Then there is that “…… and for other purposes”. These are the addendum or additions/changes that get tossed onto just about any Bill being written today.
In this case they are:
Sec. 202. Trafficking in inherently dangerous goods or services.
Sec. 203. Protecting U.S. businesses from foreign and economic espionage.
Sec. 204. Amendments to sentencing guidelines.
Sec. 205. Defending intellectual property rights abroad
The short answer to these are… don’t do it – the fines and jail time are insane!
So How does SOPA Effect YOU?
Besides my examples I listed above where it can directly effect your legitimate online business by having your website shut down. It can effect just about any major website on the web if found to be in violation of either act. Imagine entire sites like YouTube, Hulu, Pandora, Last.fm, or even giants like Google or Yahoo being shutdown due what it’s user base posts to it.
Or even worse if you own a domain and someone hacks it as a re-direct – you are still held accountable even though all you ever did was purchase the domain and parked it.
Both Acts give the government the right without repercussion to censor any site in the U.S or Internationally based solely on their investigation and the information provided by outside parties.
Businesses or Individuals can be given complete immunity for assisting the Attorney General in either providing information or assisting with shutting down websites.
And you cannot do anything to stop them if the bill is passed. Like the Patriot Act if your found to be a Terrorist against the U.S. you lose all your rights. The only difference is it pertains to the Internet. You could end up facing serious fines and jail time – and your presence on the Internet will be gone forever.
I don’t know about you but I enjoy the freedoms I have on the Internet as it stands today. Sure the government should try and work out something to try and stop online piracy. But this blunt force method is only going to end up hurting honest people while the criminals will keep finding new ways to keep pirating software.
If your reading this – make sure you contact your local congressman, senator, mayor, or hell anyone in the government that will listen to try and stop these bills from passing. Otherwise the “Wild Wild Web” will become a ghost town….
- – Read the SOPA Bill Online in all its boring detail.
- Protect-IP Act Read about the Protect-IP Act online.
- Venture Beat – Their article on who is contributing and a lot less rant about SOPA and PIPA
- Maplight.org – See who is actively contributing to SOPA or Opposing it.
- CNet – Actually has a bunch of decent articles keeping you up to date on the SOPA madness.