At some point, most of us have been guilty of downloading content hosted on a server with pirated content. In other words, we’ve all downloaded music and movies that violate copyright infringement laws. The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act made copyright infringement on the Internet illegal. However, DMCA doesn’t apply to websites outside of American jurisdiction. And most of the websites we access to get our daily dose of downloads have servers located overseas, thus the law isn’t being broken.
However, to get around the legality of where DMCA can be applied, the “Stop Online Piracy Act” was introduced. SOPA is a proposed bill with the goal of restricting access to sites that host or facilitate the trading of pirated content or copyrighted material. So it’s just not the downloading of music of movies they are after. Think about it like this: SOPA would require U.S. search engines – and other networks – to block such websites and hold them responsible for any association.
According to the Motion Picture Associate of America, “online piracy leads to U.S. job losses because it deprives content creators of income.” In fact, MPAA estimates that $58 billion is lost annually due to piracy.
I’m not convinced that number is accurate, but is rather an exaggeration. Furthermore, is it really a good measure of loss considering MPAA didn’t need to be “bailed out?” While I don’t doubt that they lose money to piracy, is it significant enough to enact SOPA, which would ultimately censor the Internet?
To explain the implications of why this proposed bill is detrimental to Internet users can become complicated. For one, the Internet is extremely hard to regulate. For example, YouTube videos are great and users are able to post comments. Users have free reign to say what they want and post for that matter. This also means that a user could link a website that violates SOPA to YouTube and YouTube would be responsible (for its unwilling association) and subjected to legal action (shut down). Furthermore, sites like Flickr could also be subjected to shut down according to the wording of SOPA, if a user uploads a picture, for example, and doesn’t have a copyright to it.
To me it sounds as if we’d have to live in a paranoid state where user-generated content would always be subjected to scrutiny under the false pretenses of gaining back money lost through piracy. Our favorite websites would be under pressure 24/7 to monitor activity to ensure that they don’t unknowingly host copyrighted material.
Companies like Google and eBay wrote in a letter to Congress that they support the bills’ stated goals, but “Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites.”
Many critics of the bill have also noted that it completely goes against our First Amendment.
Companies have raised awareness by staging “blackouts” on their sites. On Jan. 18, Wikipedia blacked their site out and Google put a black banner across its name. Reddit also followed suit. People have responded to the opposition of this proposal. Google obtained more than 7 million signatures for a petition against SOPA. As a result, the bill lost some Congressional backing and was tabled as of Jan. 20.
But, be wary of becoming comfortable. It is scary enough to think that this type of legislation was even proposed in the first place. If and when the bill is brought back up for discussion, it needs to be made clear that the Internet is not a place for censorship. Our right to freely share and discuss user-generated content can’t be compromised.
Kierra Bussey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.