For the past two months, H.R.3261, more commonly referred to as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), has been furiously debated in Congress, and, most notably, among the Internet community. To my surprise, many of my peers have never heard of SOPA or know little about its consequences. This needs to change.
SOPA was introduced as a bill that allows law enforcement to stop and prevent the sharing and selling of copyrighted property such as movies, games, and music. Basically, the entertainment industries want to protect their products by stopping websites that allow you to stream or download movies and music for free. Piracy has become the bane of the entertainment industries; the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) claims that "$58 billion is lost to the U.S. economy annually due to content theft, including more than 373,000 lost American jobs," but these numbers are widely contested. Stopping piracy? Sounds like this bill is a good idea! No, it's not. The proponents of SOPA rely on a Machiavellian point of view: the end justifies whatever means. However, in this case, the means absolutely do not justify the end.
SOPA works like this: in order to stop you from downloading or streaming music and movies, the U.S. Justice Department is allowed to serve court orders on websites that "engage in, enable, or facilitate" infringement on copyrighted content. Any company that believes its copyright is being infringed upon can accuse a website of copyright infringement and can easily allow that website's domain, or address, to be blocked. This bill could allow a site like the Huffington Post to be blocked indefinitely if even one of the thousands of articles on the site includes something that would be considered a copyright infringement. Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, and sites like these would be affected the most. Numerous search results in Google would be blocked by SOPA-related court orders. YouTube, the home of hundreds of thousands of videos made using copyrighted music, video, and images, would be engulfed into oblivion by SOPA claims. You posted a copyrighted picture on Facebook? Theoretically, all of Facebook could be shut down because of it.
The bill itself even reflects the inability of Congress and the entertainment industry to grasp a correct understanding of the Internet. The bill allows for the blocking of a domain name but not the numeric IP address. Users can still access the blocked website if they know this IP address. This completely contradicts what the bill stands for -- it blocks websites most popular to Internet amateurs like Facebook and YouTube, while tech-savvy users can easily search the IP address of their favorite illegal movie streaming website and access it. What we get as a result, is the censorship of the Internet similar to that of China, Iran, and Syria.
The online community has responded to SOPA with all-out ferocity. Go Daddy, the largest website hosting company, initially advocated SOPA; however, after a boycott of Go Daddy that originated from the users of Reddit and resulted in thousands of websites such as Wikipedia to switch their hosting from Go Daddy, Go Daddy soon recanted from their positions on SOPA and proceeded to oppose SOPA. The opponents of the bill, notably Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Twitter, eBay, and AOL, have even considered a coordinated "Internet blackout" where all their websites are to be shut down in protest for a day.
The giants of Silicon Valley have taken arms, but blocking them are the three big proponents of SOPA: the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Joining the big three are Viacom, Nike, and numerous other companies who feverishly oppose online piracy. The entertainment industry has spent nearly 50 percent more money on lobbying Congress than the tech industry just in the past two years. In fact, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the man who introduced the bill into Congress, received $59,300 this year from the entertainment industry alone.
How could a bill that so blatantly threatens our freedom of speech and brazenly fail at its purpose enter Congress? On November 16, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SOPA that ended abruptly; each lobbyist of the MPAA was told to sit down and shut up as they had no obvious knowledge of the workings of the Internet and SOPA's impact on the Internet. December 15 marked the day for any amendments for the bill to be considered. In total, more than 20 amendments were submitted and all were systematically rejected by the House Judiciary Committee, many within the committee are lobbied furiously by the entertainment industry. The current winter recess of Congress has put all SOPA talks to a halt.
In the end, everything in this situation is based around the money and the profits. In order to prevent piracy, the entertainment industries are willing to take away your First Amendment rights just to increase their millions in profits by a tiny fraction. The entertainment industries are forgetting that sites like Facebook and YouTube are powerful means of advertising their products, and by attacking these sites they are only hurting themselves.
I remember the days when Congress took our First Amendment seriously. How did we get this close to oppression? I thought America was founded on principles of free speech; with this bill, our country stands for nothing. The only way to fight future oppression is with the spread of knowledge. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream news networks are owned by SOPA supporters, thus we see little on SOPA being reported on CNN or voraciously debated on Fox News. Rep. Lamar Smith has said that SOPA supporters are "Not legitimate or large in number;" let's prove him wrong. Tell everyone you know about this bill and what it will do if passed. We may not have the lobbying power of the entertainment industry, but we do have a voice.