SOPA & PIPA Could Not Only Cripple The Internet, But It Could Cripple The World Economy Too
Written Wednesday, January 18, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Quick! Some of the internet’s biggest websites like Wikipedia are supporting the anti-SOPA movement today by “blacking out” their services for one day only to show their disgust at the proposed US legislation. Let’s jump on the bandwagon and write something about it… That’s how it works, right?
"Wikipedia is leading the blackout anti-SOPA movement today."
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its companion bill, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), plan to stifle the internet as we know it and set the world back tens of years. That’s obviously not its intention – its intention is to protect the intellectual properties of others – but the poorly drafted bill, that seems like its been penned by someone who’s never used the internet before and is taking backhanders from the music and film industries, is going to do just that.
SOPA grants copyright holders and the US government the ability to seek out court orders against online properties – US-based, “US-directed” (which is essentially most Western sites) and foreign websites – who are associated with copyright infringement and the like. If found guilty of said infringement, websites could be blocked by ISPs and be de-indexed from search engines like Google. Hell, they can even be prevented from making use of such online services like PayPal, which could be fundamental to their wellbeing. Not only does this draconian proposal set to change the internet as we know it, but it’s going to send catastrophic ripples throughout the world in the same way that throwing a meteorite the size of Texas into the Atlantic Ocean would. It’s like staring down the barrel of a gun with an adolescent infant hovering his finger over the trigger.
The legislation is a lot more sinister than that though if you dig deeper. Beneath the surface you’ll realise that it actually grants the US Attorney General the power to seize websites that infringe – either partially or possibly – someone else’s copyright without due process (website owners won’t be given their chance to defend themselves), it grants the courts the power to block payments for advertising if the site is found guilty of copyright infringement, it makes websites liable for their users’ communications and can even result in jail time or fines for those that post derivatives of copyrighted material – no more guitar covers on YouTube then. Hell, using other people’s catchphrases, even jovially or sarcastically, could land you up shit creek without a paddle… or come to think of it, without a boat. League of Legends creators, Riot Games and their lawyers even go as far as to point out that someone singing a song during a live-stream would put the whole site at risk for copyright infringement. This would almost certainly censor the internet and as we’ve already seen companies suing over the most minor infractions, it’s a slippery slope to be treading.
"Wired censored its text as a sign of support for the protest."
What does this mean for us as an industry though? Well, considering that the livelihood for media outlets like ourselves rely on covering other people’s IPs in an independent capacity, it could have wide-reaching implications. You can’t help but think that it’d compromise the integrity of every media outlet out there – “If you don’t support our products, we’ll hold you liable for copyright infringement and get you closed down,” or something to that effect. Cynical, yes, but welcome to the twenty-first century when you hear rumours and whisperings of ad money being pulled due to bad reviews like in the case of former Gamespot Editorial Director, Jeff Gerstmann. When you factor in such things like walkthrough videos, e-Sports leagues, live-streams and all other forms of user-created content, the impact such a piece of legislation could have across the internet - especially in the gaming industry - is rather disconcerting. Sure, it might be a piece of legislation that’s aimed specifically at the United States, meaning that sites like ourselves could potentially only get blocked in the US, but for a site whose audience is 45% American, its implications would be far more severe. We’d certainly class as “US-directed” and be held accountable to such a diabolical piece of legislation too. Why the US government thinks they can police the internet is beyond me, but that’s a different story for a different day.
I know what you’re thinking though, “Cripple the world economy? That’s a little farfetched, right?” It’s easy to think that, but when you factor in who’s at risk, it’s not really that much of hyperbolic statement. Think of it this way, if search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing; video platforms like YouTube, UStream, Justin.tv and Viddler; and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter; are all at risk, that’s a considerable amount of redundancies that would follow if anything would happen to them – Google alone employs over 30,000 people worldwide and if they were forced to scale back, a considerable amount of jobs would surely follow. If you think of that in lost tax dollars and the rise in people “signing on” alone, that’s going to make the financial situation a lot worse globally.
SOPA and PIPA’s most alarming impact could come in its ability to stifle creativity and ruin innovation. Would sites like ourselves, Wikipedia and YouTube be able to come to fruition if SOPA and PIPA were passed when we were starting up? The sad truth is, no. Would independent stores be able to flourish in an environment that is so stringently policed? Again, the answer is, no. That’s not because those outlets, stores or publications have negligently disrespected the copyrights of others, of course not, but because SOPA and PIPA intend to be so strict that even forums and the like – where it’s impossible to moderate everything in a timely fashion – can be used as an excuse for punishment, even when the content is being posted by others. If that doesn’t open a doorway to corporate sabotage, I don’t know what will. Start-ups and smaller independent companies will become the bitches of every billionaire conglomerate out there. It’s a piece of legislation that will have a horrifying effect on freedom of speech on the internet. It’s a piece of legislation that intends to censor the internet. It’s a piece of legislation that will cover the floor of the internet with eggshells.
"Fark.com decided to go "white" instead as an interesting take."
The most baffling thing to come out of all of this though is that the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), who’ve been lobbying for freedom of speech in the games industry and the rights of video game developers for many years now, are actually supporting it. Yes, this is the same ESA that actually runs E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo). And when I say support it, I mean, they’ve thrown $190,000 behind their pro-SOPA & PIPA lobbying. That’s $190,000 of its members’ money, which was handed over willy-nilly without its members’ consent or their support, pretty much undoing the last ten-years of hard work its done and splintering its membership in the process. They’ve annoyed their membership and the industry so much so that former World of Warcraft team lead, Mark Kern, who is now a CEO at Red 5 Studios, set up the League For Gamers to lobby against the ESA and fight against SOPA and PIPA. Check out their site and their petition here for more information. It does make you beg the question though, if the industry is so against it, who’s pulling the strings at the ESA now if it’s not its members?
The truth is though, that the intentions of SOPA and PIPA are noble at their core, but their intended implementations are careless, negligent, without foresight and as draconian as they come. Instead of cracking down on those who continue to infringe the copyrights of others, they’re punishing the many for the acts of the few. We encourage the US government to tackle piracy, but not by ruining free speech, stifling creativity and censoring the internet in the process. Sure, the bill might be on hold after it was deemed “flawless legislation” and sure, it might be so draconian that anyone with half a brain would see that its far-reaching implications would set us back an incredible amount of years – even the Whitehouse are against it in its current state – but it’s still important to make your voice heard while you still can. We as a network are fully against SOPA and PIPA, and we urge you to make your voices heard in the most mature fashion possible, but as always, the power is with you and not us. It’s merely our job to cover video games and the culture that surrounds them.
For more information, check out the ECA’s website, the anti-SOPA website and the American Censorship website on how you can do your thing to help out. If this piece of legislation does by some miracle make it through to be a part of our lives, we can kiss the internet as we know it goodbye and we can watch the world spiral further into economic recession, which is not as fun as it sounds.