If you spend any amount of time communicating with the outside world, chances are you’ve heard about House Bill 3261, also known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Basically, if this bill becomes law, the government would have more power to fight copyright infringement on the internet. Websites that provide access to copyrighted material without actually holding the copyright(s) could be fined or shut down.
But wait! Isn’t that a good thing?
In some ways, yes. For example, the posts here on So Over Debt are my intellectual property. If someone copied all my posts onto another blog without my permission, SOPA would allow me to report him/her and the site would likely be taken down. I’m not a fan of someone stealing from me, so I would be all over it.
However, there are already multiple ways to deal with someone stealing my content. I can report them to Google. I can request removal of my content directly (which has typically worked in the past). I can contact the site’s hosting service. All of these options allow me to take action and prevent my content from being stolen, or at least remove anything that has already been used without my consent.
We need a better way to protect people from copyright infringement. But SOPA is not the right solution.
Now Consider This
Imagine that you’ve created a slideshow for your parents’ anniversary. You used all their favorite songs, including the ones used at their wedding, and spent weeks compiling pictures. You post this slideshow on YouTube so all your friends and family can watch it.
It’s possible that someone could come across your video and get all upset because you used a song that isn’t yours. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, enacted in 1998, would require that person/entity to contact YouTube and ask them to remove the video. That happens all the time – ever click a link and see the “Video has been removed” notice? Sometimes even when our intentions are good, we violate copyrights without realizing it’s technically against the law.
Under SOPA, though, your use of someone else’s songs doesn’t have to be met with a mere request for the content to be taken down. Not only could your video be removed from YouTube, but you could be banned from YouTube altogether. You could be sued for using music that doesn’t belong to you. YouTube itself could be shut down or sued. So if SOPA becomes law, what do you think YouTube is going to do? Probably stop accepting user videos because the liability is too great. And YouTube is far from the only service that would be affected by SOPA. Think of all the websites you use that accept content from users – Facebook, Twitter, Google, Wikipedia…. It’s a long list.
Something to Think About
What are the limits once the government has control of the content we view online? Would it stop at clear instances of copyright infringement? What about websites that contain hate speech? Nudity? References to drugs or alcohol? Pictures of Lady GaGa? What about websites that contain controversial views, or rants about the government itself? What if some law enforcement official didn’t like your tweet about Occupy Wall Street?
How long do you think it would take for SOPA to spiral out of control?