Piracy is a problem. SOPA is not the solution. 40
By now you've likely encountered today's black bar on Google or the complete blacking out of sites like Wikipedia, Reddit, and WebOS Internals. It's all in response to something else you've likely heard of, being a denizen of the internet: SOPA. The Stop Online Piracy Act is like so many of the undertakings of the US federal government - a great idea, with horribly flawed execution. Currently still just a bill awaiting confirmation from the House Judiciary Committee, a companion bill in the Senate called the PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (or PIPA)) has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, though it has not been brought to a vote by the full Senate.
The idea behind both SOPA and PIPA is a simple and commendable one: target piracy enabled and facilitated by foreign (hosted outside of the United States) websites. There are plenty of tools for dealing with piracy committed by websites within the United States, including the generally well-thought-out and executed Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Foreign websites, however, fall outside of the jurisdiction of the US Department of Justice, leaving them few options.
The horribly flawed solution offered by SOPA and PIPA is to instead go after websites and ISPs within the US. Content producers from film producers to blogs to record labels would be able to secure a court order to force search engines to delist sites accused of facilitating copyright infringement, advertisers to cease serving ads to that site, for payment processors to cease business with the site, and for ISPs to block direct access to the site as well. The language of SOPA and PIPA is intentionally broad, giving great latitude to accusers and the courts in deciding what constitutes infringement.
It's worth clarifying that SOPA and PIPA are targeted only at international websites that facilitate the unlawful transmission of copyrighted content. Or rather, they're targeted at stateside services that could profit from traffic sent to those websites. Our problem with these bills is the way that they ignore the fundamental structure and operation of the internet. For a country that is supposed to be the beacon of freedom, SOPA and PIPA smell more look more like something that would come out of China or Iran.
Don't get us wrong here, piracy is a problem. Copyrighted material, from this blog post to the latest James Cameron film to the apps on your phone is made to provide a living to real breathing people. Sure, some people make ridiculously large piles of money off that content, but that doesn't make it any less wrong to steal it. In the end, that's what piracy is. It's stealing, it's just been made easier by the internet.
Piracy and the mission of webOS Nation are diametrically opposed. Ironically enough, we find ourselves diametrically opposed to SOPA and PIPA as well. Those that advocate for piracy as a means to "discover new talent" are ignoring the changed reality of modern word-of-mouth. Back in the day copyright infringement was difficult - you had to manually copy a cassette tape and physically deliver it to a friend to share that new AC/DC album. While some were willing to go through that effort, a lot of times it was just easier to recommend to your friend that they go and buy Back in Black. Today it's as easy as posting onto a forum a link to download the album free of charge.
We see this happen all the time with webOS developers. Some of the best and most popular apps for webOS smartphones and tablets have been pirated time and time again, made available online for anybody with an internet connection. This takes dollars out of the pockets of big publishing houses like Gameloft and smaller operations lie dots & lines and Inglorious Apps. It's not fair to the developers or the community at large.
SOPA and PIPA are a problem in that they address a 21st century problem with a 20th century attitude. If you haven't already, we urge you to contact your Representatives and Senators and urge them to vote against SOPA and PIPA. We want piracy to be stifled just as much as the next patriotic content producer, but it needs to be done right. That means taking the time to consult with more than just MPAA and RIAA lobbyists - those that serve the content, those that produce the content, those that provide access to the content, and those that consume the content all need to be involved. This is democracy after all.