Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA – Bad for Everyone

The “Stop Online Piracy Act” – or SOPA for short – may sound like a good thing in concept, but looks can be deceiving. The act, which moves to prevent copyright infringement and intellectual property theft, is actually a bill that would make it very easy for the government to shut down any web site.

Current legislation in the form of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which protects copyrighted material, make perfect sense as it gives copyright owners the ability to have the specific infringing content removed from a web site. But SOPA goes even farther by targeting the entire web site. This is a chilling thought.

Wikipedia, along with other web sites, have gone dark today in protest. It is an interesting move as it highlights to the world what can happen if someone deems that the web site is showing any content that is copyrighted. Other web sites, such as Google, have their logo blacked out and it some cases, the content will also show black bars (but can still be accessed). Imagine if someone – ANYONE – posted content or a video where they did not own the copyright, knowingly or unknowingly, that was fed into the Google search engine. SOPA, as written, could mean Google could be shut down it its entirety. Or, imagine if someone did the same on Twitter, Facebook, etc. You get the idea. All those web sites could be shut down, and you could find yourself silenced and cut off from information.

A recent experience I had with YouTube highlights what can happen with SOPA. I had uploaded videos that were given to me with complete approval from a television network. But, YouTube’s “bots” that look for copyrighted content not only sent me an email to tell me that I uploaded copyright content, but they threatened LEGAL ACTION if I disputed the claim and the network disagreed. This was horrifying to me that my YouTube channel would be shut down, and as it is connected to my web site, my web site would go with it. This is also what could happen to anyone else, with any web site, and happen in the blink of an eye. (By the way, I removed the videos and complained to the network’s PR organization, and videos I uploaded afterwards went through with no problem.)

I understand why content owners such as movie and music creators and publishers don’t want their content stolen and/or given away for free on a mass scale. But it makes more sense to me that the content owners work the issue out with the web site and get the facts FIRST before shutting a web site down or even threatening to shut down a web site. In my case, YouTube didn’t say they would shut me down right away, but with SOPA, they would likely not only have done so, but they would have risked being shut down themselves. (By the way, I believe that if a person legally purchases music, movies, books, etc. that they should have the right to share them with whomever they want.)

We live in a digital age where content is easy to share and easy to spread. But the answer to protecting copyrighted material is not to silence everyone. A simple process to allow the content owners to file a grievance against the hosting site with a designated authority, and allowing the site to appeal the ruling or confirm that they do have the approval to use the content is all that is needed.

The entire content of the SOPA can be found here:
Library of Congress: H.R.3261 -- Stop Online Piracy Act (Introduced in House - IH)

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