SOPA Won’t Protect Your Content

If you haven’t been on Wikipedia, Reddit, Google, Craigslist, Wired, The Oatmeal, or any number of other sites participating in today’s protest against SOPA–well, you’re probably still in bed with the lights out.

Proponents of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, claim it will help the government prevent copyright infringement–a very respectable goal. However, the specifics of the bill (and its companion bill, PIPA) give the federal government unprecedented power to change the basic structure of the Internet: full censoring of foreign websites by blocking IP addresses, forcing ISPs to prevent browsers from resolving IP addresses of infringing websites, and removing DNS records entirely.

These are technical statements–check out Mashable‘s explanation of the bill if you, like most of us, are not entirely sure what all the language means. To bring the point home, the article provides a real-world example of how SOPA might impact someone who makes a YouTube video.

This means, for example, if you upload a video to YouTube of you singing a popular song, and that song might sell for $1, and your video gets 2,500 views, you are guilty of felony copyright infringement. Furthermore, you can tack on “willful infringement for commercial gain or valued at more than $1,000.”

This would make you a felon, and if a copyright holder were to bring a suit against you, would give you a criminal record that would make it virtually impossible to gain future employment, and may subject you to up to three years in prison for singing a song. You don’t have to receive any money. You don’t have to gain anything from your video. Simply receiving 2,500 views on a song you sung, which happens to have copyright held by someone else, makes you a felon.

I suspect almost everyone reading this blog has had some exposure to this issue. So why am I writing this anyway? Because I don’t want our industry duped into thinking such bills will work in our favor. Even if the current ones are abandoned, the issues of copyright protection and an open Internet won’t be.

Many other writers explain this much better than I can. Copyblogger, for instance, does an excellent job outlining what is dangerous about SOPA and why the act will not help protect content or meet the needs of content providers. But wait, the site is blacked out. Luckily, I have an archive of the article in my Google Reader. Here are some of the main points, verbatim (please don’t accuse me of copyright infringement). Check out the link tomorrow for the full story.

It’s bad for Internet security and stability: Because SOPA fiddles around with how domain names and registrations are handled, it may open up security loopholes in the global DNS.

Your site can be shut down whether or not you’ve done anything wrong: A site can be shut down for a single infringing link–even if it’s a link you didn’t post. SOPA says that [infringing link] makes you liable to the full extent of its broad enforcement powers. Those include shutting off your domain name to censor your site, or cutting off your PayPal account.

SOPA is bad for the economy, at exactly the wrong time: Small, privately held companies are where the new jobs are coming from. They’re where game-changing innovation is coming from. As anyone who’s ever worked in (or founded) a small company knows, the little guys tend to live on the edge. They don’t keep an attorney on retainer to fight a fraudulent accusation. The last thing in the world we need right now is a law that puts small businesses, especially small web-based businesses, in danger.

It’s not just small business that takes the hit: The big technology-based companies (you know, the kind that create tens of thousands of excellent jobs) are intensely worried about SOPA. They’re afraid they can’t build the next chapter of the web (which will almost certainly continue to be based around sharing and social activity) if they’re hamstrung by a clumsy, over-broad law.

Opposition to SOPA is coming from all corners, including the content industry. Marketing Land provides an excellent overview for marketers. On ReelSEO, Grant Cromwell posted his interview with new media attorney Gordon Firemark about the threat SOPA represents to video commerce, accompanied by a collection of other videos on the issue. Mashable is providing a deluge of articles with great information and updates–most recently, that some of SOPA’s and PIPA’s sponsors are abandoning the bills.

We’re not at all interested in ignoring valid and persistent copyright infringement. Heck, we are content providers: our livelihoods depend on an online system that values and needs original content. But measures like these don’t protect that system.

Let's work together.