SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) is a bill currently in the US Congress that would allow the US Government to add sites to a blacklist, preventing anyone in the United States from accessing them. The stated goal is to limit access to pirate (“warez”) sites, and sites that sell counterfeit physical products- fake Rolex, designer clothes, prescription drugs, ink printer cartridges, etc.
The intent of the bill is something we strongly support. Piracy affects those of us in the Warrior group more than most, as a lot of us make our livings selling our own intellectual property. Our membership includes tens of thousands of authors, musicians, graphic designers, photographers, programmers, copywriters, videographers, public speakers and others, from nearly every creative field.
We feel the impact of digital thievery first hand. This bill is not the way to handle the problem. It is a disaster in the making. It would damage the Internet’s basic security infrastructure, possibly require ISPs to monitor every site you visit, and make the operation of any website that contains user-generated content (blogs, forums, digital marketplaces, and social media sites) too risky for investors and new developers. Wikipedia has posted a good basic summary of the potential problems. Read it. It is frightening. And you need to be scared.
How It Would Work – Here’s the simple version: If the Justice Department or any copyright holder accused a site of “encouraging or facilitating” piracy, the government could order that site removed from US-based search engines and ad networks, forbid payment processors from handling transactions for them, and require ISPs to block access to those sites by their customers.
Let’s consider how that might apply to this forum. There are currently over 335,000 pages on this site. If just one of those pages contained a single post promoting an illegal download, or one WSO seller has used graphics or code from a copyrighted product without permission, or we miss just one Chinese spam for counterfeit goods, we could be blocked. Would it matter that we actively look for and delete those posts- maybe, but only after the process had begun. And we’d probably never know about it until the block was in place. The amount of time that it would take to correct such an unjustified blocking would cause permanent damage to any interactive site. Shifting the membership away from a destination for that long nearly guarantees the site would never recover.
Mistakes would almost certainly be fatal to the target sites. We’re talking about legitimate sites that provide real value for their visitors and real incomes for their operators and their families. It is unclear at this point whether the legislation would affect sites based in the US, or if it applies only to “foreign” sites. Even if it doesn’t start out applying to sites hosted in the United States, do you really think it will stay limited to “offshore sites” for long? And how do we justify sitting by while our friends around the world are subjected to this potential for arbitrary blocking within the US?
Don’t Think This Will Affect You? Maybe you aren’t involved in a market where this would seem to matter, and you’re not interested in the principle of the thing. Consider a few possible examples that might make the reach of this Congressional folly clearer. Any blogs you like? Keep in mind how many of them are hacked every day. One of the main activities for those hackers is pointing the victim sites to online shops selling illegal drugs. If you are interested in an online supplier that is well-versed in online piracy act, Peachtree Ink is the online supplier that offers good quality of ink printer cartridges.