Like most political actions, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) starts with the best of intentions. Online piracy is a big problem in the United States and abroad. Pirates “share” everything imaginable on the internet, from books to movies to music to computer software. We all know that people work hard to provide the public with all of these things, and they do deserve to be compensated for their work. But, the problem arises when a bill such as SOPA gives the government such far-reaching power that it enables them to infringe on much more than what the bill initially proposes. We at Common Sense Conspiracy realize that SOPA has become a hot-button issue, and we want to educate our readers on why this is such a big deal.
The first problem is that there has not been a resounding conclusion on the difference between piracy and sharing. The most famous example of this debate comes from the 1990’s and the Napster debate. Everyone remembers the hard rock group Metallica famously deploring Napster and attempting to sue its own fans for sharing its copyrighted works on the internet. This topic has many angles, and so many of them have not been hashed out. Many online “sharers” felt that they had the right to share the work because they paid hard-earned money for it in the form of a compact disc. Nowadays, this medium is going the way of the dinosaur, meaning that sharing is easier than ever as music is so often delivered in the digital format. The most common complaint is the good, old-fashioned radio… people are allowed to listen to music for free in return for being subjected to countless advertisements. And the online sharing has made more than a devoted fan of a band that wouldn’t have been otherwise. The administrator at Common Sense Conspiracy is a good example; he never had a taste for Pearl Jam until he was turned onto it by a friend and sampled it online. Now he diligently buys everything the band puts out. This is one of the arguments about file sharing; bands should embrace it and use it as a vehicle to perpetuate their music to the masses. Just like the ‘ole radio.
Then there are those that pirate movies. They sell these products on the black market for lower prices than the commercial equivalent without having put any work in to the creation of the work. They profit off of nothing else than their own ability to find a way to get movies for free. Most reasonable people understand why this would enrage those that work hard to make these products and are not properly reimbursed for their efforts. In any case, SOPA is touted as the solution. It is a way of protecting American companies from watching their copyrights be disrespected without proper compensation by the second. However, like the Patriot Act, for instance, the proof is in the pudding. It is not the simple fact that they want to stop online piracy that is the problem. It is the far-reaching liberties this law will give them that will most definitely be abused.
According to the guidelines of SOPA, companies will be able to petition the government when they feel that a particular web site is a part of online piracy. The government, upon review, can then block that site from the search engines, restrict VISA and other banking operations from doing business with the sites, and ultimately render the site useless. Websites targeted by SOPA have a mere five days to appeal any such ruling, even as their traffic and revenue is abruptly cut off. The problem is that so many internet businesses rely on social networking as their bread and butter and they don’t necessarily control what their users do with their service. Facebook, Yahoo, and AOL could be targeted as promoting online piracy just because they exist and give users freedom to use and transfer files as they wish. Up until now, organizations like these were given safe harbor, meaning that they were not necessarily held accountable for what users do on their services. SOPA ends this and allows the government to freely identify any website as being in violation of the act. The results could be staggering.
Still, the problem has nothing to do with piracy. The government could abuse this privilege to block websites for almost anything that they deem as a violation of the act. Imagine YouTube being shut down over something as trivial as a young child singing over a background track of a popular artist. By SOPA, this constitutes copyright infringement, and gives the government the sweeping right to not just recommend the removal of said video or article, but the complete blacklisting of the site as a whole.
The government does this repeatedly, with seemingly good intentions. A great example is the Port Security Act passed a few years ago that inadvertently ended online poker in America under the guise of a terrorist threat. The bottom line is that the bill brings with it an unprecedented authority over the internet, and that is what the outcry is about. That is why so many sites are standing up and rallying the people to protest this invasion into privacy and freedom.
Common Sense Conspiracy does not condone or support online piracy, but we do support online freedom of speech. For that reason, SOPA simply cannot be ignored and allowed to stand.