Normally I avoid politics, but there is something big on the horizon for all of us internet users. If you’re big into your social media (or 9gag), then you’ve probably already seen a lot of stuff related to SOPA already. Before you think I’m jumping on the bandwagon here, I actually work for an intellectual property law firm in real life – so I’d like to tell you about something important that’s happening in the world of the internet.
Some of the biggest competitors on the internet have joined forces to voice their opinions on the matter today, January 18th 2012. The most well-known and respected of which being Wikipedia. See
#FactsWithoutWikipedia on Twitter for more info.
What is SOPA?
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is a bill that is making it’s way through the US congress. The bill grants intellectual property owners (read: movie studios and record labels) the ability to effectively pull the plug on foreign sites against whom they believe that they have a copyright claim.
If Disney, for example, says that a site in Norway is torrenting a copy of Pirates of the Caribbean, the studio could demand that Google remove that site from its search results, that PayPal no longer accept payments to or from that site, that ad services pull all ads and finances from it, and—most dangerously—that the site’s ISP prevent people from even going there.
Worst of all, it allows IP owners take these actions without a single court appearance or judicial sign-off. All it requires is a single letter claiming a “good faith belief” that the target site has infringed on its content. Once Google or PayPal or whoever received the quarantine notice, they would have five days to either abide or to challenge the claim in court by providing a counter-notice.
Now, if you provide a counter-notice, or an ad network or payment provider fails to cut off service within five days, then the accusing party may then serve you (the site owner) with a lawsuit. If they can’t get a hold of you, they may serve an in rem lawsuit against your site. If they win the lawsuit (and they will, if nobody is there to challenge them), then the court will award them ownership of your site (likely, the domain). This is the point where your accuser is required to notify you that they are taking action against you.
You might not think this is a big deal or that it affects you but it could potentially create an internet blacklist of sites – it also means that big sites like google, facebook, twitter have to have some kind of scanning process in place for every single piece of content that they list, that YOU write otherwise they are already in breech of the law.
How? Well for a start, Google could easily take it upon itself to delist every viral video site on the internet with a “good faith belief” that they’re hosting copyrighted material. If your social networking status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Same goes for tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr and even WordPress posts (my blog! 🙁 ), or sites indexed by Google. And if Google, Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, etc. let it stand? They face a government “enjoinment.” They could and would be shut down.
Any site that allows users to post content is “primarily designed for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables copyright violation.” The site doesn’t have to be clearly designed for the purpose of copyright violation; it only has to provide functionality that can be used to enable copyright violation.
This means that YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Gmail, Dropbox and millions of other sites would be “Internet sites…dedicated to theft of U.S. property,” under SOPA’s definition. Simply providing a feature that would make it possible for someone to commit copyright infringement or circumvention (see here) is enough to get your entire site branded as an infringing site.
Furthermore, you may be painted as infringing if you, the site owner, “take deliberate actions to avoid confirming a high probability of the use of…the site to carry out acts [of copyright infringement or circumvention].” This means if you deliberately decide that it’s not cost-effective to screen every piece of content and determine whether or not it is copyright-free before it is posted to your site (whether there is infringing content on your site or not), then you are labeled as an “Internet site…dedicated to theft of U.S. property.” Simply the act of not actively screening every piece of content makes you a criminal under SOPA.
How will SOPA affect gaming?
As well as granting the original game producers the ability to shut down any private servers without a court action, it also gives them the right to remove any videos which show ingame footage. That’s right folks – all your PVP videos, bosskill videos, all the unofficial game reviews you’re used to watching, live gaming streams – all that could be gone in the blink of an eye.
A lot of people could argue that the gaming industry benefits from these kinds of videos, as they help to promote their games. While this might be true – a site which hosts these types of videos can be shut down completely (or blocked on a major search engine) for not running spot checks on every video it lists. This means that if the videos are not scanned for copyright violation, the site can be taken offline. If the videos it lists (whether beneficial to the gaming industry or not) are a violation, it may decide not to list them at all – so as not to risk legal action or blacklisting from search engines.
- Gives the government the right to unilaterally censor foreign websites.
- Gives copyright holders the right to issue economic takedowns and bring lawsuits against website owners and operators, if those websites have features that make it possible to post infringing content.
- Makes it a felony offense to post a copyrighted song or video.
If you’re not American, other than whinning about it on the internet, joining campaigns, attending protests, and signing petitions – not an awful lot, sadly. Here’s a comical post by the Oatmeal.
SOPA Bill (in detail)
A list of companies to boycott (i.e. that support SOPA)