Don't Censor Me Bro!

Most of the people who spend any time on this site are likely techies and already know that the road post-SOPA (and PIPA) is a long and dark one. For those of you who may not know exactly what it’s all about though, here’s a short summary from Wikipedia…​

The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders against websites outside U.S. jurisdiction accused of infringing on copyrights, or of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. After delivering a court order, the U.S. Attorney General could require US-directed Internet service providers, ad networks, and payment processors to suspend doing business with sites found to infringe on federal criminal intellectual property laws. The Attorney General could also bar search engines from displaying links to the sites.

— Wikipedia
Stop Online Piracy Act

That sounds pretty harmless, doesn’t it?

While the bill seems to have good intentions (who likes a pirate, right?…​), the overall consequences of it are heavily dependent on how the bill defines of "copyright infringement". The (very) unfortunate issue here is that the definition of a person infringing a copyright is very broad and could cover a very large portion of the internet. To quote section 201, subsection A of subsection A of the SOPA…​

  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--

    1. for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain;

    2. 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 public performance by means of digital transmission, 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

    3. by the distribution or public performance of a work being prepared for commercial dissemination, by making it available on a computer network accessible to members of the public, if such person knew or should have known that the work was intended for commercial dissemination.

That’s pretty broad. So far, that would most likely shut down Youtube, Facebook (people link to Youtube videos, right?), possibly WIkipedia, and most if not all of the video hosting sites out there (metacafe, vimeo, possibly netflix if their licensing isn’t right, etc). A big problem here is that there is that a person uploads to Youtube, yet the website will be taken down for one person, punishing the rest. But that’s aside the point (or is it?). Back to the legal talk. In section 201 of the SOPA legislation subsection C under subsection A the bill describes examples of copyrighted material that can be infringed upon (definition of "work being prepared for commercial dissemination") …​

  1. a computer program, a musical work, a motion picture or other audiovisual work, or a sound recording, if, at the time of unauthorized distribution or public performance--

    1. the copyright owner has a reasonable expectation of commercial distribution; and

    2. the copies or phonorecords of the work have not been commercially distributed in the United States by or with the authorization of the copyright owner; or,

    3. the copyright owner does not intend to offer copies of the work for commercial distribution but has a reasonable expectation of other forms of commercial dissemination of the work; and</li>

    4. the work has not been commercially disseminated to the public in the United States by or with the authorization of the copyright owner;

  2. a motion picture, if, at the time of unauthorized distribution or public performance, the motion picture--

    1. has been made available for viewing in a motion picture exhibition facility; and

    2. has not been made available in copies for sale to the general public in the United States by or with the authorization of the copyright owner in a format intended to permit viewing outside a motion picture exhibition facility; or

    3. had not been commercially disseminated to the public in the United States by or with the authorization of the copyright owner more than 24 hours before the unauthorized distribution or public performance.'.

So what we have here is a very broad definition that covers every single copyrighted work of music, software, and sound recording (you can copyright those?) in the United States. That definitely would shut down every single video hosting site and any other site that re-posted videos/recordings from those sites. The consequences of this could be so far reaching.

This bill is a reaction that reminds me of Stephanie Lenz vs UMPG, a mother who lost the suit and was put in prison for posting a 29 second video of her child dancing to a Prince song. This kind of response is juvenile at best. SOPA is very similar. I mean, who would shut down an entire website just because someone posted a short clip of your song on their website? This bill can only end poorly. If all it takes to have your website taken down, removed from search engines, and banks required to not do business with you is a single short clip of a copyrighted song or movie, what kind of punishment will we have in 10 years for doing 5 over on the interstate? Moreover, the issue just isn’t about an unjust punishment for something that can barely be construed as a misdemeanor in almost every case, it’s about censorship. How is it a good thing that one government (let alone more than one) have the power to censor the entire world? We’ve seen what this can do from China. Why is it that this is even an issue when we’ve already seen what this does?

Please check out the Wikipedia page (the only page that is currently not blacked out), read up on the subject, and contact your local government representative. Wikipedia will get you contact information for who that is if you go to their homepage. Also, if you would like to read the actual bill (as of October 26, 2011), please check out the Library of Congress site here.

Category:Politics Category:EFF