Let me begin by saying that I love the internet. It has enabled near-instantaneous communication across nations, cultures and languages, creating an interconnected network of humanity across the world. It provides an interactive global platform for news, art, entertainment, activism, industry and much more. The internet allows for unprecedented amounts of innovative content to be created, explored and shared on a daily basis. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has the potential to end all of this.
In case you haven’t been following the news lately, SOPA is a bill currently making its way through Congress with the intent to “promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.” The purpose of the bill is ostensibly to combat online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods. Unfortunately, despite the optimistic name, SOPA has dire consequences for the future of the internet.
SOPA proposes two approaches to preventing digital piracy. The first is composed of blocking revenue to sites deemed to be in infringement (or capable of infringement) of any sort of copyrighted material. This is achieved by banning advertising and search result listings.
The second method is direct blocking of domain names, which are the alphabetic representation of numerical IP addresses. (Think Facebook.com, Google.com or 4chan.org.)
These propositions have serious ramifications for most of the internet, including any social media, file-sharing and file-hosting sites.
For example, if someone uploads a video to YouTube of a party with some copyrighted music playing in the background and they didn’t appropriately credit the artist playing, then all of YouTube could legally be blocked on the Domain Name System and removed from all search results. The same consequences apply to any form of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Reposting, retweeting and general sharing of digital content would become highly regulated. Social media sites would have to resort to self-censorship in order to prevent compromising themselves. Obviously, this would drastically alter the web as we know it.
SOPA’s problem is that its methods are ineffectual and contrary to the integrity of the web, while it simultaneously promotes censorship and the restriction of civil rights, free speech and net neutrality. SOPA addresses the symptoms of piracy, not the root cause. Anyone with moderate computer expertise would be able to bypass the proposed restrictions with relative ease.
SOPA is also an attack on civil rights and free speech. The bill could blacklist legitimate social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, destroying online freedom of speech and net neutrality. Innovation would be stifled and censorship (in the name of copyright-protection) would black out entire swathes of the internet.
Fortunately, due to a massive online protest on January 18 and heavy lobbying from the tech industry, SOPA seems to be shelved, at least for the time being. It is due for a markup in February and hopefully will remain dormant. If SOPA is passed, the internet may never be the same.