SOPA: Mark WIlliams, Our Tech Writer, Gives His Opinion
- Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Many of you may have noticed some of your normal go-to websites are blacked out. Don't panic-it's not your computer! Rather, it is an organized protest of SOPA (The Stop On Line Piracy Act). There is a great deal of controversy about this bill. Will it prevent piracy and protect our copyrighted works or completely restrict freedom of speech and destroy the internet? Lots of people are weighing in including The American Library Association who co-wrote this letter against the bill.
Our tech columnist, Mark Williams, expresses his views below:
Over the holiday break, some interesting news lurked just under everyone’s busy radar. No, I don’t mean Amazon’s announcement that they sold a million Kindles a week through December (four million more potential readers, on that platform alone -- we haven’t even discussed Nook sales yet. How many downloads would you need to make a comfortable livelihood as a writer?)
The news came in the form of a law the House attempted to rush out of committee called SOPA – the “Stop Online Piracy Act.” This might sound like a good thing initially, but it’s not a law designed by artists or content-makers. Instead, from what I understand, it was written by lobbyists for large entertainment conglomerates and could threaten to change what remains of the web’s freewheeling nature. (And since we're delving onto political terrain here, let me note I'm expressing solely my opinion as my own columnist self, and not necessarily any views of SCBWI)
Here’s an explanation from the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Corynne McSherry: “Let’s make one thing clear: despite all the talk about this bill being directed only toward ‘rogue’ foreign sites, there is no question it targets U.S. companies as well. It sets up a system to punish sites allegedly ‘dedicated to the theft of U.S. property.’ How do you get that label? Doesn’t take much: some portion of your site (even a single page) must
1. be directed toward the U.S., and either
2. allegedly “engage in, enable or facilitate” infringement or
3. allegedly be taking or have taken steps to “avoid confirming a high probability” of infringement.
“If an IP rightsholder (vaguely defined – could be Justin Bieber worried ) thinks you meet the criteria and that it is in some way harmed, it can send notice claiming as much to the payment processors (Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, etc.) and ad services you rely on.
Once they get it, they have five days to CUT off your financial support. Of course, the payment processors and ad networks won’t be able to fine-tune their response so that only the allegedly infringing portion of your site is affected, which means your whole site will be under assault. And, it makes no difference that no judge has found you guilty of anything or that the DMCA safe harbors would shelter your conduct if the matter ever went to court. Indeed, services that have been specifically found legal, like <http://torrentfreak.com/rapidshare-wins-appeal-against-atari-110106 could be economically strangled via SOPA.”
In other words, whole sites could be shut down for accidentally being linked to ostensibly 'copyrighted material".
In late December, the House Judiciary Committee (the Senate’s version of the bill is called “PIPA,” by the way -- “Protect IP Act”) was hoping for a quick out-of-the-limelight markup to send the bill to the floor, where easy passage was expected.
Enter the Internet. Once other giant companies – like Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc., -- realized they could be “shut down” for over accidental links, alarms were sounded. The grassroots, through sites like Reddit (which would be affected, since it exists via user links they can’t oversee) also joined the fray.
Caught off guard, the committee pushed hearings to 2012 – where SOPA still exists as a threat. But where this ties in to our work – and what was missing from the urgent holiday discussions of SOPA’s effect on music, filmmaking, and political dissent (since sites could be shut down on the basis of a mere complaint) – is how would it could affect books, and their writers, sellers and reviewers. Would bloggers be afraid to link to “copyrighted material,” especially if the publisher was owned by a litigious film studio or media combine?
As we go to press, virtually speaking, the ground on which SOPA and PIPA sit is shifting, minute by minute. The slim majority consensus supporting both pieces of legislation on capitol hill began falling apart over Martin Luther King weekend, with the Senate delaying a vote on its version, and the House sponsor of SOPA saying he would rework his bill. The now-notorious DNS blocking provisions -- which may have shuttered websites without due process -- will be taken out, in the wake of a statement of rebuke from no less than the White House itself.
For more on this story check out these articles from The New York Times, The BBC and CNET