SOPA/PIPA: The Battle isn’t Over! It Just Shifted

I must admit, although I knew that the defeat of Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) & Protect IP Act (PIPA) didn’t mean things were over and that copyright holders would continue to push for laws that would get what SOPA/PIPA was intended to provide, the issue had become secondary to me. It began to fade like flood waters after a storm. In fact it was on April 8th, 2012, a few days before Eric Goldman’s talk, that I decided to remove the banner from my website.

A few days later (4/10/2012), Goldman, director of Santa Clara’s Law School’s High Tech Law institute, stopped by the University of Washington’s Law School and gave a presentation called “SOPA/PIPA and Online Copyright Battles”. Though I have not put the banner back, Goldman’s presentation reinvigorated me. It reminded me why we cannot become complacent.

The Black Out

On the days leading up to and after January 18th, there were two groups at odds, copyright holders and the general public. The first felt that laws did not do enough to protect creative works, while the latter felt copyright laws did too much. Goldman’s presentation confirmed my belief that most people against SOPA/PIPA did not REALLY understand what it means for the creation and use of content online. Think back in time…do you remember January 18th, 2012? Some amazing things occurred on that day including

  • Popular sites (Google, Wikipedia, etc.) doing either a partial or full black out,
  • Well-known individuals (e.g. Kim Kardasian) expressing their displeasure with the possibility that SOPA would be passed and
  • Nineteen (19) senators changing their votes from supporting SOPA to opposing it.

How many of the events listed above were you aware of? Did you ever consider there significance? For example, why did 19 senators change their position on the issue over night?

Going After Everyone

Goldman, an articulate and entertaining speaker, explained how SOPA/PIPA really targets stakeholders who are indirectly linked to those accused of violations in an easily understood fashion. Below is the graphical representation Goldman used and my attempt to summarize his explanation.

At the most basic level you have uploaders and downloaders who use a host/P2P to complete their transactions. The clearest “bad guy” is the uploader who is said to be making content that shouldn’t be available accessible to others. Instead going only for the bad guy, SOPA/PIPA focuses on punishing everyone else–literally. Everyone else includes, investors, consultants, directories, search engines, registrars, ad networks, payment systems, landlords, phone companies and power companies.

You can see how this can quickly get out of control. Such a law would have detrimental effects on the cyber-landscape. It would inevitably lead to a “take down first, ask questions later” approach that would hurt the “little guys” the most. As articulated by Goldman, hosts would probably start doing ad-hoc risk assessments of sites that are flagged to determine whether keeping it up is worth the potential financial loss. In situations where they are not willing to take the heat, the creator would justly or unjustly suffer the consequences. In the best case scenario, an individual would go through a long elaborate process to get their information restored, resulting in the loss of time, money and more.

What has happened Since?

Fortunately, SOPA was successful defeated. Copyright holders didn’t know what hit them! But they are not done. They are hard at work trying to recover from a devastating defeat. At the same time we, the general public has become complacent. If this continues, copyright holders will surely slide comparable laws under our nose. Using true political tact they will do it by getting a seemingly harmless laws passed. Later they will amend those laws (a much easier process) to include stipulations that are aligned with what they wanted all along.

To summarize, the fight for intellectual freedom and against censorship is NOT over. Though the opposition underestimated us in the past, they will be better prepared in the future. So should we. In the words of Goldman, “the only way we’re going to beat SOPA [and other variations of it] is to go on the offensive”.

How do you think we can keep the issue front and center? Use the comments section to let me know.

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