SOPA: First Sign of 2012 Apocalypse?

1 Feb

Perhaps some of you may not have noticed but the world is going to end on December 21 of this year. How do I know this you may ask? No, not because the Mayans predicted it 5000 years ago, but because this past Wednesday Wikipedia was blacked out. We are going to die.

In all seriousness, for those of you who have not heard of SOPA, the Stop Online Pirating Act, this bill was proposed to the House of Representatives on October 26, of last year but has since garnered much attention due to protests from websites and Internet users and its recent debate in the House. Popular websites like Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, in addition to numerous smaller sites either shut down their services or altered their websites on January 18th in protest of the impending bill and to raise awareness for their cause.  These protests were staged to roughly simulate what may become of the Internet in light of SOPA’s ratification and to demonstrate potentially disruptive effects.

What is SOPA?

Representative Lamar Smith of Texas introduced the Stop Online Pirating Act in late 2011 and the bill has since gained about 30 more legislative supporters in the House.  These legislators believe in protecting the intellectual property of our American innovators; to protect the profits that are rightfully theirs and to, most importantly, cultivate and maintain Americans’ incentive to innovate further. Thus, SOPA intends to target “rogue websites” whose off-shore hosting currently evades US jurisdiction, but whose services cater to many an American Internet user.

Today, trafficking copyrighted intellectual property is rampant; Representative Smith has stated that “$100 billion [is lost] annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs.” The proposed bill (along with its sister PIPA, Protect-IP-Act) aims to recover this lost revenue and save valuable jobs.

The logic makes sense—technically. Protecting our musical artists, our movie producers and even our pharmaceutical companies from having their copyrighted material infringed upon by these “rogue sites” seems noble enough. However, the thought of policing the World Wide Web seems virtually impossible (no pun intended), but perhaps this daunting task is why the bill has been drafted to incontrovertibly eradicate the issue. The general idea is that any website suspected of copyright infringement, whether knowingly or not, will be immediately shutdown by court order.  Simply put, the criminal activity of a select minority (and you know who you are) could lead to the punishment of an entire online community.

Possible Developments

Aside from the hostile shutdown of rogue websites and the potential stifling of the e-commerce market, both of which I will soon revisit, the most astounding ramification of SOPA may be the criminalization of individual Internet users. According to the current stipulations of SOPA, users who download and stream protected intellectual property (for example downloading music) could receive up to five years in prison. This type of punishment is comparable to a prison sentence associated with trafficking (somewhere in the range of) 100 kilograms of marijuana. If the bill is passed, I would think twice about using MegaUpload, MediaFire or other hosting sites of the like, if you could even find them anymore.

The Stop Online Pirating Act levies so many increased liabilities on Internet users that we may see these fears hinder further innovation rather than encourage it.  The stricter regulations may cause jobs to be lost not only to website owners but to e-commerce investors, instead of saving them.  Should SOPA be ratified by the House of Representatives, e-commerce, a new and exciting venture capitalistic industry, could be fatally set back. A new debate arises in which legislators must consider whether the importance of securing all of Disney’s rightful profits outweighs the loss of confidence and belief in an up and coming industry (and probably its demise).

In the near future, students may have to visit the library more often or the movie theater every once in a while, even pick up a newspaper. And although I appreciate free music as much as the next guy, when you put the situation into perspective, the US government has good intentions. On the surface, Representative Smith and his supporters may seem to be coming to the aid a suffering entertainment industry, but those who really benefit from SOPA are the artists struggling to start a career; artists whose toil in the industry represent what American commerce was founded on.  Nonetheless, the evolution of the Internet and the emergence of the e-commerce industry provide equally excellent examples of American innovation and capitalism.

This happens to be only the latest episode of the cyber debate, and certainly not the last. I truly feel that although copyright infringement is a widespread practice, America is in no position to be wasting its time on policing Wikipedia.  Presently, there are significantly more important financial issues to be taken care of in our country, let’s just say $15 trillion of National Debt.

by Andrew Dwoskin

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One Response to “SOPA: First Sign of 2012 Apocalypse?”

  1. Mike Zissman February 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    I agree with your assertion that congress is focusing too much energy on copyright infringement. In fact, I would say that the public’s reaction to SOPA has greater implications than the bill itself. The strength of the opposition, especially among young voters, presents an opportunity for politicians to gain support in the coveted 18-24 demographic.

    If a politician, even a Presidential Candidate, were to harness this groundswell, the benefit to his or her political career would be immense.

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