If you've not heard of either SOPA or PIPA in the last few weeks and months in your journeys through the internet, now's the time to get educated, and quick. While the most recent news has been that the White House reaction to the SOPA bill specifically has effectively curbed it, there's no reason why it can't pop up again with a different name or a couple of simple changes that allow it to pass silently. These two bills, SOPA and PIPA, are amongst the most dangerous pieces of legislature ever to be written up for passage by the United States government in regards to innovation and the free market on a global scale today: this post will tell you why.
SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy Act and its sibling bill is PIPA, or the Protect IP Act. Both bills are written in a way that makes them appear to attempt the killing of online piracy - the hosting of media like videos, music, software, and the like, and offering it for download when the hosts do not have the right to do so. What they actually would do, instead, is to put up a screen door to block a wave, this stopping all of the law-abiding fish when its the water they're trying to get. SOPA and PIPA give rights to businesses and the government itself to stop and sue companies out of existence, even if they're not actually doing anything illegal.
SOPA and PIPA work with non-US sites by attacking the sites inside the USA that work with them to bring their content to US citizens. Just to be clear, the US government already has the right to seize domains inside the USA (.com, .net. and .org) they believe are used for piracy, and have been doing so since 2010 through the "Operation In Our Sites" act with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) - having seized hundreds of domains thus far. The Pentagon has "Cyberspace" as an Operational Domain as well, if you want to know. What SOPA and PIPA do instead is to force US-based internet service providers, search engines, online payment groups (like Paypal), and ad services to stop working with, indexing, and paying groups outside the USA if they host illegal content.
Copyright owners will be able to write up a certain kind of letter under SOPA and PIPA to a media host such as YouTube or any manner of data host (like the ones that host SlashGear) demanding that if the group (like us) take down any little bit of content we have, without proof that it's theirs. If we do no respond within five days, our host would have to either take us down entirely, or face themselves being sued into a corner as well. Can you see how this might be harmful to more people than just those who are "real" pirates of illegal content?
SOPA has a section (section 104, if you're counting) which allows for a big bad conflict of interests that favors giant companies like Comcast. As mister Nilay Patel notes, legal immunity to ISPs like Comcast to block websites at will. Comcast owns NBC, and if they found a group from somewhere outside the USA that competes with them, they could claim, technically, that if they had "reasonable belief" that they were "dedicated to the theft of US property," they could stop them from being shown to everyone under their Comcast umbrella.
That's not an open and free Internet, and it will not stop piracy.
And this is just the beginning. The people writing up this bill are not alone, and they're not going to stop just the same as the people pirating media are not going to stop, ever. You're not going to get someone to stop looking at your painting if its out in public, you're not going to stop someone from smelling the lovely smells your bakery gives off - the only thing you can do, media creators, is evolve.
These lawmakers are not protecting the interests of movie makers, they're not helping out those who make music for a living. They're attempting to control the free and open internet as it stands today so they can profit from a closed market. Plain and simple.
Get educated, do everything you can to stop this kind of outright evil.