The Stop Online Piracy Act is a piece of legislation in the US whose aims are:
The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.
Proponents of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites. They cite examples such as Google's $500 million settlement with the Department of Justice for its role in a scheme to target U.S. consumers with ads to illegally import prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies.
Opponents say that it violates the First Amendment, is Internet censorship, will cripple the Internet, and will threaten whistle-blowing and other free speech actions. Opponents have initiated a number of protest actions, including petition drives, boycotts of companies that support the legislation, and planned service blackouts by English Wikipedia and major Internet companies scheduled to coincide with the next Congressional hearing on the matter.
The protest movement against this bill is international in scope but, of course, centred on the US. Many websites have decided to go black today, January 18, in protest. These include sites such as BoingBoing and even Wikipedia, so you may not be able to verify what I've quoted both above and in the following paragraphs.
I'm firmly on the side of the opponents. This bill sends the wrong message about the future of the Internet -- that it should be closed and restrictive rather than open and free. And not free in the sense that nothing should cost anything or that Internet content companies should not be able to survive. Free as in a platform for sharing and creativity of all stripes.
Pretending that the last twenty years of fruitlessly fighting piracy in the courts was in any way effective is not useful for anyone. In fact it is counterproductive. Content organizations should instead be looking for ways to innovate and survive in the challenging new environment. That, of course, is easier said than done. It's not fair that these industries have been so thoroughly disrupted.
But, as Cory Doctorow said: The Information Revolution is not bloodless.
The disruption changes things in ways we love but it also changes things in ways we may hate.
I like what Barry Graubart says, Innovate don't legislate.
It's an oft-repeated tale. An industry gets disrupted by upstarts with new technologies and business models. The incumbents act quickly - turning to their legal team for advice. Litigate and legislate and the typical responses that come back.
The approach to SOPA and PIPA is hardly new. We've seen this play out many times in many industries, most notably in the music recording industry. But in each case, the approach ultimately fails. Sure, it may slow the erosion of your business, but in the end a broken business model is still broken. And all of those efforts to solve the problem through legislative and legal efforts simply distract companies from focusing on what they really need to do, and often alienate your customers.
Now, let's look at what media companies have failed to do, while they've been fighting the legislation & litigation battles:
- They've failed to identify ways to leverage the changes in technology and media consumption to create new products for their core customers.
- They've failed (for the most part) to introduce compelling new mobile or tablet-based applications.
- They've largely failed to experiment with new business models, instead focusing on keeping the status quo.
- They've largely failed to embrace the technologies, tools and approaches (cloud, agile development) which the upstarts have used to displace them.
All in all, they've failed to create significant value-add that will give their customers no reason to ever consider the lesser, free alternatives and to reinforce the overall value of their brand.
Perhaps Graubart goes a bit too far and indulges in a bit of guru over statement, but overall he's on the right track.
It's not the job of the government to protect the profit margins of media companies as their businesses change and evolve. Businesses and business models have always changed and evolved. It's the job of the media companies to figure out how to make money in the new environment.
Now, why do I care? I'm a Canadian after all and this proposed legislation doesn't directly affect me.
Here's what Michael Geist has to say: Why Canadians Should Participate in the SOPA/PIPA Protest.
First, the SOPA provisions are designed to have an extra-territorial effect that manifests itself particularly strongly in Canada...
Second, Canadian businesses and websites could easily find themselves targeted by SOPA...
Third, millions of Canadians rely on the legitimate sites that are affected by the legislation...
Fourth, the U.S. intellectual property strategy has long been premised on exporting its rules to other countries, including Canada....
SOPA virtually guarantees that this will continue. Not only is it likely that the U.S. will begin to incorporate SOPA-like provisions into its IP demands, but SOPA makes it a matter of U.S. law to ensure that intellectual property protection is a significant component of U.S. foreign policy and grants more resources to U.S. embassies around the world to increase their involvement in foreign legal reform.