There's been a lot of buzz and backlash these last few months around the tech blogs, websites and forums regarding this controversial new bill which was due to go before the US Congress. SOPA or Stop Online Piracy Act and the parallel PIPA or Protect IP Act, both aim to protect the Intellectual Property market and industry, protect jobs and revenue and is said to be necessary to strengthen enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites.
In many ways that sounds quite reasonable. Intellectual Property and copyright owners must have some rights to protect their creations, don't they? They do and they should. That aspect is not the problem with the bill, what is the problem is the knock on effects and the potential for severely excessive use of the bill against freedom of speech as well as destabilising and making less secure the foundations and very structure of the internet.
The eminent Yoast of Yoast SEO fame, one of the foremost and respected WordPress SEO experts unusually ventured into political territory with a recent blog post strongly against SOPA entitled Stop SOPA Help the Internet. In it he directed attention to a video concisely explaining the the very real dangers the bill poses to the safety of the Internet as well as freedom of speech and entrepreneurial innovation. Watch this video as it's a concise summing up of the argument against SOPA:
So who supports SOPA and who's against it? Hollywood and the entertainment industries such as the big studios and tv networks, book publishers and music industry players support it which isn't a huge surprise. View the complete list of SOPA supporters here. More enlightening maybe, are the lists of those in strong opposition or express concern with SOPA. All the big tech and internet companies are there; Facebook, Google etc but also the usually non-political WordPress and somewhat subversive but pro-democracy organisations such as 4chan. The anti-SOPA list really is a who's who of the internet, tech and pro-free speech, first amendment world.
Maybe more interestingly again however, GoDaddy, Electronic Arts, Sony and Nintendo were on the pro-SOPA side and defected over, many believe due to the extraordinary public outcry against the bill and the bad PR for those who supported it.
There was a crucial turning point for the anti-SOPA camp when the White House stated that they will not support the bill.
"While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,"
Nicely put by the White House. Artists need to get paid otherwise they will struggle to make more art. But we're not really talking that much about 'artists' here, we're talking about cases being brought by large Hollywood studios, tv companies, and giant corporations, many that churn out repetitive low grade schlock. These are the companies that could afford to take advantage of the SOPA bill, even banning personal youtube videos and accounts that have their song in the background.
Still, they have a right to protect that schlock or indeed quality work, as any author does. Almost everyone, supporters and detractors of the SOPA bill, agree that it is well meaning in what it's trying to do in protecting Intellectual Property rights and the jobs of those who create works, it's just how it plans to do that and on the devastating tertiary impact it will have that people massively disagree.
A few hours following the White House opposition to the bill, Congress shelved SOPA putting off action on the it indefinitely. It's quite refreshing when democracy and the voice of the people is listened to, but it's equally terrifying how close we came to this madness becoming reality. Obama may have been the final nail in SOPA's coffin, in this guise. But how long before it's back with a different name but a similar danger to freedom of speech?