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How SOPA Can Make the Internet Better (And Why It Won’t)

I'll show YOU a blue screen of death!

This legislation shivers me timbers!

What are SOPA and PIPA?

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) are bills currently working their way through the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, which would require certain American companies to block access to, stop payments to, and stop running advertisements for websites accused of copyright violations and counterfeiting. These bills have received a lot of media attention due to the major players in each corner and the potential compromise of Internet security.

What are the actual violations that make a site subject to SOPA action?

The U.S. Codes listed in this bill include:

  • trafficking in counterfeit labels, illicit labels, or counterfeit documentation or packaging (U.S. Code 2318)
  • criminal infringement of a copyright (U.S. Code 2319)
  • unauthorized fixation of and trafficking in sound recordings and music videos of live musical performances (U.S. Code 2319A)
  • unauthorized recording of motion pictures in a motion picture exhibition facility (U.S. Code 2319B)
  • trafficking in counterfeit goods or services (U.S. Code 2320)

If a foreign-based website makes fake things, sells fake things, or provides copies of or free access to copyrighted material, SOPA will scrub out the site. However, the wording is vague and refers to “U.S.-directed sites,” which may make U.S. based sites vulnerable to the same legal action.

Wait'll you see what I downloaded into my diaper.

Apparently, time-outs were ineffective for combating piracy.

What happens when a site is accused of violating those codes?

After the Attorney General sends a court order detailing the alleged violation and intention to proceed with the domain host and owner of the accused site, the following entities have to take “technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible, but in any case within 5 days after being served with a copy of the order” to block access to, stop payments to, and stop running advertising to the accused website:

  • Internet service providers (e.g., Comcast, AT&T)
  • domain hosts (e.g., GoDaddy, Namecheap)
  • search engines (e.g., Google, Bing)
  • payment network providers (e.g., PayPal)
  • advertising services (e.g., AdSense)

Why is it so important to protect intellectual property?

Digital files are infinitely duplicable, and the relative anonymity on the Internet makes it easy for users to get free access to copyrighted intellectual property without invoking the guilt of stealing a physical product. Unlike pocketing a CD, downloading an .mp3 file does not force a manufacturer or retailer to absorb the cost of a missing disk, and it seems less like stealing if you “weren’t going to buy it anyway.”

In short:

  • Investments in production + existing capital = financial resources
  • Creativity + financial resources = new product

When the existing capital is reduced (lower revenue from previous sales as a result of the item being free through online piracy), the overall resources to manufacture, advertise, and generate additional revenue for future products are reduced. Creativity is restricted, because the revenue does not support the production process.

While there are arguments that reducing the cost of these digital files or removing the DRM restrictions will reduce overall piracy, the fact is that the Internet and other technological advances have created a post-scarcity society which is going to require a huge paradigm shift in the way our economic system works.

But that’s another post for another day.

Is that a gun in your pants, or do you really need to see a doctor?

Cutting and pasting is *way* easier than raping and pillaging.

Sure, creators and investors get more cash, but how could SOPA make the Internet better?

Copyright infringement goes beyond stealing movies and music. Many internet-based companies – Quality Logo Products included – succeed or fail based on search engine ranking. If customers can’t find you, you’re dead. Among other factors, one thing that can boost a site’s ranking on search results is having original written content matching or relevant to the searched phrase.

For example, Quality Logo Products ranks pretty high when you search “personalized stress balls” or “custom stress relievers,” because we provide valuable and relevant content to users searching these phrases. Quality Logo Products probably ranks pretty low when you search for “banana pancakes.” It’s just not our thing.

In our current SOPA-less internet, online companies who want higher ranking for stress ball keywords have simply copied our content and posted it on their own sites as their own. And it works.

Need a real world example? This summer, we found a website that used over 900 of our product descriptions – some of them still with our company name within the text – and we continue to find our blog posts copied in their entirety on other sites, uncredited, on a weekly basis.

As far as search engines are concerned, the content is still relatively rare, which boosts the low-ranking skeezy site’s ranking without that company having to spend resources (i.e., pay writers) to generate the content. Meanwhile, QLP’s ranking goes down because the search engine has found that same text elsewhere on the Internet; we no longer have the same high percentage of unique content.

SOPA would allow for a court order to “expeditiously” stop all U.S. access (which makes up most but not all of our sales) to the rip-off sites. Those who’ve stolen the material will not appear in U.S. search engine results and U.S. users who type in the direct address will be unable to access it. To U.S. users, the offending website will have been effectively erased, and keyword searches will direct users back to our site.

The real crime is that *anyone* paid for the last Radiohead album.

Thieves get punished, creators get rewarded, and customers are directed to trustworthy sites. Why is everyone complaining?

SOPA violates our judicial procedure.

Rebecca McKinnon at the New York Times reports that in order to avoid legal action, “The burden would be on the Web site operator to prove that the site was not being used for copyright infringement.” Remember the whole innocent-until-proven-guilty thing we like having here in the U.S.? The burden of proof is placed on the defendant here, which is not only in violation of our judicial procedures but also a straight up logical fallacy.

Corporate sabotage just got that much easier.

Also, the ability for copyright holders to effectively create a blacklist of sites and immediately block Americans’ access to them makes corporate sabotage easier than ever. Got a foreign competitor infringing on your business? Simply make a user account for that site, post some copyright infringing material, and report them.

Because action is taken within days of a website being notified that it’s been accused of violating SOPA, the results of corporate sabotage are often immediate. Most businesses short of a YouTube or a Facebook won’t have the legal resources to take action in the brief window between notification and shutdown. Even if the investigation reveals that there was a deliberate effort from an outside party to pull down the website through malicious means, there is nothing in the bill regarding the reinstatement of falsely accused sites, and the business lost between the court order date and reinstatement could be financially devastating.

Turbans. Headscarves. Peglegs.

Pegleg? What are you-- oh, wow, I didn't even notice that there. Gee, that sure looks bad, doesn't it, matey? Oh, wait, no, I didn't mean--

Website owners are responsible for users’ actions and therefore must spend resources on monitoring user activity, discouraging start-ups.

The New York Times goes on to report that SOPA allows: “private companies to sue service providers for even briefly and unknowingly hosting content that infringes on copyright — a sharp change from current law, which protects the service providers from civil liability if they remove the problematic content immediately upon notification.” This threatens the safe harbor protection clause laid out in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) from 1998, which allows service providers to avoid legal action as long as they follow specific guidelines including taking down the offending material and terminating the user that posted it.

If the previous examples were a little too tech-heavy, here’s an offline equivalent.

  • A person goes into a mall.
  • That person stands on a table in the food court and sings Born This Way.
  • The mall is closed down, and the music studio can sue the mall for copyright infringement.

In order to avoid legal action, the mall would have to have security at every entrance searching everyone for potential copyright-infringing materials. They would also need to have guards within the food court that would be able to anticipate a patron spontaneously bursting into song. All conversations within the mall would have to be monitored to make sure no one was singing privately to another shopper.

The sweat makes the Indiana Jones = nerd metaphor more vivid.

I'm sure you're a great swordsman. That's not the point.

Nerds have already rendered SOPA obsolete.

No matter how many nerds (and I use that term affectionately) are working for the government to block sites, there will be exponentially more civilian nerds working around the government nerds’ obstacles. Whether it’s out of a strongly-held belief in net neutrality or a stick-it-to-The-Man defiance, those most highly involved in online piracy – the ones SOPA is trying to stop – will be the best-equipped to access the sites accused of facilitating piracy.

Also, the technology already exists to bypass it by rerouting users to foreign DNS servers. The bill hasn’t even passed, and there’s already a simple browser plug-in that renders it useless.

Oh, man, that’s pretty ridiculous.

I know, right?

Are you making this up? Let me read the actual bills.

I haven’t intentionally made anything up, but feel free to correct any misinterpretations or incorrect information in the comments below (with citations, of course), and I will correct the original post as soon as I can. Here are links to the bills themselves:

Stop Online Piracy Act

Protect Intellectual Property Act

Do you think SOPA will be passed? If so, is it the end of the Internet as so many opponents claim, or is it the cure to online piracy? If not, what do you think the next anti-piracy legislation will look like? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!



Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.

Comments

  1. Tony Promo

    I see First Amendment issues here… it’s never going to pass.

    • Jana Quinn

      It certainly falls into the “Why are we even having this conversation?” camp, but a few years ago, I would have said that about torture…

      (Please don’t think I’m equating SOPA with human torture. Just commenting on the things that I thought were foregone conclusions/on the no-no list somehow making it into the “But what if…?” arena.)

  2. Ravyn

    No way will it stop piracy. What it’ll do it stop youtube, deviantart, and many of the other sites we know and love.
    Those who are pirating things won’t be stopped by SOPA, they’ll find a way around it. But the sites who already work to combat it and have primarily fresh content will be taken down because of a few bad eggs.
    It’s already illegal to pirate content, and sites that do can be reported and even shut down, as it is.

    • Jana Quinn

      I agree 100% Ravyn. Unfortunately, those in Congress behind the legislation have demonstrated shockingly little understanding of how the Internet even works. This is an attempt to get domain holders to reduce the amount of user generated content overall in hopes that it will cut down significantly on the pirated content.

      While DMCA does exist in order to help combat copyright infringement, SOPA is targeted companies that have the ability to allow/block American Internet users from accessing the site rather than cooperating with the site owner to resolve the issue/take it down. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

      Do you think SOPA would be able to take down an entire domain such as DeviantArt or YouTube?

      Thanks for stopping by to comment! :)

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    SOPA is so great in theory. Penalize jerks that steal our content? Heck yes!

    But it loses so much appeal when put into real life use.

    Considering how much we need competing corporations and startups right now, this is honestly the last bit of legislation that should be passed.

    • Jana Quinn

      I know! Obviously, stealing = bad. But this is just putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.

  4. Cybernetic SAM

    Well apparently Obama as of today is fighting SOPA, he is very opposed to it, so I do not think it will in fact pass. http://www.dailytech.com/Obama+Admin+Declares+War+on+SOPA+SOPA+Author+Caught+Stealing+Work/article23783.htm

    Good timing on this blog, because in the news today it is all over the place!

    • Jana Quinn

      This information and the announcement that Wikipedia is blacking out on Wednesday came out within minutes of the post being put up. Timing is indeed on my side today. :)

  5. Amy Swanson

    Amazing post, Jana! I’ve tried to stay up to date with this, but the articles I’ve found put it into either legal jargon (which had me asking “who’s the first party again?!” too many times) or tech jargon (a bit better, but not much). So thank you for all the easy to understand examples, much, much, much appreciated :)

    The idea of having bills in place to help combat against piracy and theft of IP is great. But I don’t think these bills aren’t going to do it. Especially for online dependent companies, like you mentioned. Let’s find something that actually solves the problem instead of trying to use a blanket approach.

    • Amy Swanson

      Came across this gem after I commented, it explains it easily too. Plus it tells you where to go to sign up against the bills http://vimeo.com/31100268 (it’s about 4 minutes long, just as a head’s up!)

  6. Rachel

    This is an excellent breakdown. I have read some headlines about SOPA/PIPA but hadn’t taken the time to actually read about it yet … so this was extremely helpful! Especially your real-world mall example–such a great analogy. Thank you for this, Jana!

    Also, fantastic use of that Indiana Jones screencap, haha. :D

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks, Rachel! I’m pretty sure SOPA would shut down our site for having that, but what can I say? I’m a rebel. ;-)

  7. Jeff Porretto

    Daaaaammmn you are just a fountain of information! Here’s what I think will really stop piracy…. nothing. Quite simply (and with a cliche thrown in for good measure) where there’s a will there’s a way. As long as the large majority of media consumption is through legal means, it’s almost an acceptable loss of doing business (that feels completely unacceptable of course), unfortunately. I personally think nearly every technology bill passed by congress is laughably inadequate and really only seems to be useful in a “look what we did!” type of way, but with little to no real world value. Just my $0.02

    • Jana Quinn

      I agree. I think there are ways to slow it or reduce it, but ultimately, we live in a post-scarcity society where if it doesn’t cost manufacturers anything to make additional product, it’s going to be hard to convince anyone to pay for it.

  8. Alex Brodsky

    I couldn’t have said it better myself… Seriously. I couldn’t. This whole situation seems to make no sense on the surface, yet even less sense the deeper you look into it. Due to that fact, I pretty much chose to ignore it and just hope for the best. Thank you for finally explaining it all in a way that made it clear.

    The whole idea of the bills still seems ridiculous, and complete overkill. But it just proves how little some politicians know about the “real world.” I guarantee if any of the politicians pushing for this bill simply talked to their interns (you know, the ones who do all the research, all the preparation, and all the work while getting paid jack squat), the interns would all say this bill would make THEIR job ten times tougher.

    All that being said, I’m not worried about the bill passing, cause quite simply, this congress can’t bring itself to pass anything.

    Great post!

    • Jana Quinn

      Aww, thanks, Alex. I agree; it would be one thing if I simply disagreed with the legislation, but the fact that it’s also completely ineffective at accomplishing its goal. The people who are supporting the bill have shown a generally laughable understanding of how the Internet works, and the fact that they’re even debating whether or not to bring in experts is just icing on this ridiculous cake.

  9. Joseph Giorgi

    Fantastic breakdown, Jana! I’m very interested in what’s happening with SOPA and PIPA, but like so many others, I’ve put off taking an in-depth look at what these bills are really all about. I’ll be using this article as a future resource, for sure. Thanks so much for putting in all the research for me. ;)

    As someone who consumes a LOT of media, I can easily understand why some individuals would choose to pirate their entertainment from time to time. After all, entertainment ain’t cheap these days. Of course, the high cost of media doesn’t excuse theft (digital or otherwise), which is a big part of why SOPA seems so necessary (until you read the fine print, that is).

    Ultimately, collateral damage (in the form of piracy) will remain inevitable for the foreseeable future — with or without SOPA. Like you mentioned, there will always be countermeasures in place to subvert such legislative efforts. Those crafty “civilian nerds” will pretty much always prevail.

    SOPA and PIPA may or may not pass, but even if they don’t, there will undoubtedly be similar bills circulating through Congress in a few years time. We can only hope that they won’t be as inherently counterproductive (and directly opposed to the open nature of the internet) as the bills we’re talking about here.

    Again — awesome post, Jana!

  10. Jen

    I agree with everyone, piracy will not ever go away. As sad as it seems, stealing content on the internet, in my opinion, could never be monitored close enough to stop it from happening. I’m sure 80% (if not more) of Youtube videos are infringing on some type of copyright laws. Great post Jana, like everyone else, thank you for putting this in terms I can understand. :)

    • Jana Quinn

      Jen, thanks for reading. I think a lot of the “piracy” on YouTube or imgur is simply kids who don’t know about copyright laws or make something out of love of a certain actor/actress/TV show/movie with zero intention of making money off the deal. It would be interesting if the different kinds of copyright infringement were treated differently rather than lumped together. Or perhaps they are…

      Post inspiration!

  11. Dave Kokandy

    Great post. My favorite “OMG, what?”-inducing SOPA-related nugget involves the sad tale of Comcast, a big supporter of SOPA. As a big creator of content (majority owner of NBC Universal), they obviously don’t want pirates taking their stuff. But as an infrastructure company (Comcast cable internet), they don’t want hackers to be able to hijack DNS requests & confuse their customers by redirecting requests for sites like Google or Lolcats to virus/malware traps or worse. Apparently no one at Comcast knows how to communicate with others in the company, so the network engineers recently completed implementing DNSSEC, which will not allow any sort of DNS blocking or redirecting, making it technically impossible for them to implement the requirements of the law they want to see passed. Source: http://venturebeat.com/2012/01/12/comcast-sopa/ and http://twit.tv/tnt

    • Jana Quinn

      This is the perfect example of something that makes me laugh and then makes me sad. While “Comcast” supports the bill, I’m guessing the engineers and business folks differ on that issue. I wonder if Comcast would be forced to remove the DNSSEC with the passage of the law or if it would be another court trial where the engineers just said, “Fine. YOU remove it.” And then the business people would be sad.

  12. mary

    Great post. Very timely. I wonder what the level of computer knowledge is in Congress? It’s probably a different world to them.

  13. The Top Quality Logo Products Blog Posts of 2012

    [...] How SOPA Can Make the Internet Better (And Why It Won’t) Remember SOPA and PIPA from earlier this year? This blog post explained how these bills were great in theory, but not so much in execution. Also pirates. [...]

  14. Michael King

    Protecting intellectual property is a must but SOPA, PIPA, SAPA, etc are not the answer. I think most people can see the writing on the wall that pasing SOPA isn’t on the best interests of people, let alone IP owners. The DMCA was introduced to fight online piracy so why introduce SOPA, which like the “war on drugs” will not actually stop online piracy like they seem to imply.

    • Jana Quinn

      I agree, and I’m glad the bill died an uneventful death.

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