The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which has already got flak from Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yahoo! and others is getting a lot hotter. Wikipedia is going to be offline on Wednesday in protest.
The news about SOPA gets more ominous by the day. Hollywood, the music industry, the Business Software Alliance, the National Association of Manufacturers and the US chamber of commerce are supporting the legislation. The theory is that the “copyright proprietors” can apply to a court to have sites using copyright materials blocked from search engines.
Copyright infringement is estimated to cost the US $58 billion a year. (Sure, it does. If you include the routine copyright infringements by corporate America in the form of commercials, use of copyright terminology from other sources, etc. and sweatshop payments to copyright content producers, it’s a lot more.)
The trouble is that “copyright infringement” could mean anything, depending on the interpretation by the copyright owner and/or their altruistic legal counsels. A website is held responsible for the information on it under SOPA.
There are a lot of things wrong with the likely realities of enforcement of SOPA:
1. Copyright owners are supposed to be able to find actual infringements, to start with. That’s almost impossible.
2. Copyright laws are so vague and litigious that trivia-based cases could bury the legal system.
3. The new SOPA law is unlikely to bother pirate sites outside the US which could care less about search engines. All that’s required is a URL, a phone and they’re in business.
4. SOPA could literally become a soap box for litigation, and crash the US court system. It would also simultaneously make possibly innocent people liable to respond to every claim of infringement, however dishonest or ignorant. No ISP would ever get a moment’s peace.
5. SOPA gives litigants something to gain from legal action beyond the natural right of defence from injury.
6. SOPA in effect makes ISPs accomplices of copyright infringers by statute, regardless of their realistic abilities to check copyright infringements.
7. SOPA is also in possible contravention of the First Amendment and Fair Use laws in the US. If material being cited for the purpose of free speech or comment is copyright, it’s immaterial, unless there’s a significant use of copyright outside the needs of those uses.
International copyright holders can rightly smile grimly at the holier than thou aspect of this copyright crusade. The US hasn’t exactly been famous for enforcing foreign copyrights. Quite the opposite, it’s been a hellhole for foreign copyright owners with incredibly expensive legal actions. US courts also tend to side with US firms, if the Australian experience is anything to go by.
According to someone called Stilgherrian described as an “internet commentator” (presumably there’s no vaguer description available) is quoted on ABC Australia:
"The court could then issue an order doing a number of things, which would include telling internet service providers to block access to that site or search engines like Google to stop indexing that site and so on."
As Stilgherrian goes on to say, copyright holders tend to describe their copyright broadly. In Australia, an ISP called iiNet is currently subject to legal action which has gone all the way to the High Court regarding use of materials by its users. This turgid bunfight has ramifications for international copyright holders too, and may be the first working instance of SOPA in what seems to be its intended form.
I’m more than ambivalent about SOPA. I produce a lot of content, all strictly Copyscape-worthy under multiple contracts, I have about 6000 articles and 14 books online, I’m signed up to a syndicate which is supposed to protect my content, from which I have yet to see a cent, and I have no trouble finding bits of my stuff all over the net.
I also have some difficulty believing that people I consider from personal experience to be scum, criminal parasites like the music industry have suddenly become enforcers of the rights of copyright owners. If the other parties to SOPA are in sympathy with the music industry and its way of doing business with copyright infringers, I’d suggest legalizing the Mafia and giving it generous tax breaks.
This is also a very bloody primitive approach to “regulating” the internet. I did an article a while back called “Intellectual property- Copyscape for everything?” which discusses the issues of copyright infringement from a content producer’s viewpoint. Producers of materials may infringe unintentionally, simply because they’re not aware of the existence of other copyright materials.
A few other points:
If you’re looking for plagiarism, you can find it easily with a search engine. I’ve done it many times as an editor.
Reworking to the point of making copyright infringement very hard to prove is a common part of the internet content production process:
“Now is the Winter of our discontent”
“Now is the Westinghouse freezer of our moodiness”
Tough, eh? And you can include commercial content. Believe it or not, this crap can even be made readable:
“Now is the Westinghouse freezer of our cute but sultry discount moodiness”
Yes, there is a use for management science terminology…
Congress, take a long hard look at this, because you’re at risk of creating a monster.
Exactly who produces copyright materials and benefits from all this frenzied protection of them is highly debatable. Who’s making money out of this? If industries want to start cashing in on copyright materials, great; you can pay us producers about 10 times more than you do, because you’re prima facie collecting the extra cash.
Content is what the Internet is all about, and it’s a prime commercial asset, true enough- Raising standards, eliminating plagiarists, fine; going nuts is not OK. This law needs caveats and defences, not pitchforks and propaganda.
Another thing: Actual plagiarists aren’t at risk from SOPA. They’re not penalized at all, from the look of the materials I’ve seen. They can go right on plagiarizing? Doesn’t look right, does it?
Important note: DJ regular and core contributor Debra A Myers has advised me of a petition for Wikipedia to go dark, which has obviously had an effect. The petition link also asks people to contact their lawmakers about SOPA's effects. That could be a good idea; it's a matter of opinion whether Congress really understands what SOPA can do to the internet and all the online businesses using content which might breach copyright. Foreign users can also use this link.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com