Why SOPA Sucks: The People, The Problem, The Solution

What is SOPA?

The Wild West of the clouds, the group of rampant pirates known as the Internet, has thrown their gloves to the ground against bills proposed in the House and the Senate in an effort to preserve its very own existence. The land where people are free to share pictures of their cats and seed virtual farms is being overrun by dinosaurs. The dinosaur leading the charge is a stegosaur representing Texas that some know as Lamar Smith.

In late October, Smith proposed a bill named the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that would:

  • allow government and the entertainment industry to seek court orders against websites merely accused of "enabling" or "facilitating" copyright infringement"
  • bar advertising networks and payment facilitators (Paypal) from doing business with alledgely infringing sites
  • criminalize unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content with max penalty of five years in the cell
  • gives immunity to those who support these actions and make liable for damages the infringer
  • require network providers to implement IP blocking and deep packet inspection

Proponents say it would:

  • protect intellectual property along with the corresponding industry's jobs and revenue
  • bolster enforcement of copyright laws against "rogue" foreign websites (such as those selling dangerous counterfeit drugs)

Opponents say it would:

  • violate the First Amendment
  • fall under Internet censorship
  • cripple the Internet
  • threaten whistleblowing and free speech

Piracy is an issue that needs attention, but there are three problems with SOPA:

  • the people behind it
  • the overstated problem of piracy it claims
  • the solution it proposes

The People Behind SOPA

The supporters behind SOPA are generally unaware (and have even jokingly admitted this) of the technological implications on DNS. A paper written by the Internet Systems Consortium stated that "these actions would threaten the Domain Name System's ability to provide universal naming, a primary source of the internet's value as a single, unified, global communications network".

When Smith, the creator of the bill, was urged to postpone House meeting sessions in order to bring in technical experts on the Internet, Smith thought it was not necessary despite a signed letter by many of the Internet's core engineers stating that the bill was technically flawed.

It seems very unreasonable, but it makes sense when we factor in the fact that Smith has been consistently receiving $50,000 from the TV, film, and music industries for each of his re-election campaigns for the last decade, totalling about $500,000 lobbying overall. Though Smith hasn't been the only one getting his pockets filled:

  • Rep. Eric Cantor [R, VA-7] $668,192
  • Rep. Howard Berman [D, CA-28] $590,398
  • Rep. Steny Hoyer [D, MD-5] $557,107
  • Rep. James Clyburn [D, SC-6] $486,927
  • Rep. Michael Capuano [D, MA-8] $465,500
  • Rep. Bruce Braley [D, IA-1] $438,839
  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8] $416,100
  • Rep. Allyson Schwartz [D, PA-13] $409,019
  • Rep. John Boehner [R, OH-8] $403,800
  • Rep. Gary Peters [D, MI-9] $395,798
  • Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] $3,502,624
  • Sen. Charles Schumer [D, NY] $2,648,770
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D, NY] $2,080,651
  • Sen. Barbara Boxer [D, CA] $1,431,843
  • Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA] $1,364,872
  • Sen. Robert Portman [R, OH] $1,363,009
  • Sen. Patrick Toomey [R, PA] $1,291,744
  • Sen. Michael Bennet [D, CO] $1,019,172
  • Sen. Mark Kirk [R, IL] $911,296
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy [D, VT] $905,310

source

Supporters of SOPA do not have the best interests of the Internet in hand but rather a lot of green.

The Overstated Problem of Piracy

A study from HADOPI indicates that that greatest infringers of online content also tend to be the greatest consumers. It is somewhat unintuitive, but pirates put in the most money towards content. They tend to prefer to pirate their content to judge their quality before purchasing and are found to purchase more DVDs and visit the movie theater more. Thus, the entertainment industry are potentially hurting themselves through SOPA.

Though, the movie industry is fully aware of this report. However, the client that funded for the report was somewhat unhappy with its "unpleasant" results and buried it.

Another research report showed that anime piracy and streaming in Japan actually increased DVD sales. Even Ubisoft, a game company known for implementing draconian DRM systems for some of their titles, stated that 95% of our consumers are pirates.

It is a bit strange and unintuitive, but piracy may have actually helped increase sales overall.

The Wrong Solution

SOPA may address some legitimate issues with foreign rogue websites, but the solutions it proposes are anything but adequate. The provisions involving DNS threaten the integrity of a free and open Internet, and the concept of 'guilty until proven innocent' speaks for itself.

Why is it that online digital distribution services such as iTunes or Steam seem to be thriving despite their content being easily able to pirate? It is because of convenience and pricing. Rather than charge $20 for a physical DVD, the entertainment industry might find more success charging, say, $4 for a digital access to a movie. It would certainly increase their market and dangle convenience like a carrot.

Another solution the movie and music industry could look to is to start innovating their products rather than manufacture everything for the masses. Roger Ebert, a famed and respectable movie critic, stated that piracy is not the woes of the industry, but pointed towards high ticket and refreshment prices, bad theater experience, lack of other forms of distribution, and lack of choice in movie theaters.

An alternative act, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, proposed by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden [D] and Rep. Darrell Issa takes a less censorial approach and discourages web blocking. It:

  • seeks only to stop transfers of money to foreign websites whose primary purpose is piracy or counterfeiting (rather than also forcing ISPs to redirect)
  • puts enforcement responsibility on the US International Trade Commission (ITC) rather than the US Justice Department
  • give the ITC power to collect fees from complaintains and to hire personnel for investigations

The draft of OPEN is backed by web companies such as Google and Facebook whereas SOPA is backed by the movie and music industries. It is much less harsh and doesn't seek to mess with network providers and DNS.

The point is, SOPA sucks. More about SOPA can be read at Keep the Web Open.