Bootleg Your Copy of SOPA, Today!
Imagine having been assigned an insanely obscure paper in a history course: Research the whereabouts of ex-President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and his relationship to sociologist Edwin Chadwick; trace their family lineages. How do they relate to the current economy in America? Afterwards, explain whether topographical changes may affect the psychological health of current citizens affected by their research.”
Determined to acquire the complex information required to fulfill such a task, you turn on your computer and open your browser. Sitting comfortably in your chair, you type in the addresses and press enter, with the expectation of gaining access to hundreds of gigabytes of information.
But hold on…they’re black.
The webpage yields nothing but a solid black background and the acronym SOPA.
Can you imagine a world without Wikipedia or Google, where people actually have to use books?
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was written with the intention of expanding the ability of the law enforcement within the country to fight online trafficking in terms of intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Recently, SOPA has become an important issue because, according to Representative Bob Goodlatte, “Intellectual property is one of America’s chief job creators and competitive advantages in the global marketplace, yet American inventors, authors, and entrepreneurs have been forced to stand by and watch as their works are stolen by foreign infringers beyond the reach of current US laws.”
Stealing and illegal sharing is not only taking away jobs in the United States but is slowing down the country’s ability to innovate and compete with foreign countries. If websites and users continue to illegally share videos, songs, and information without accrediting those who deserve it, it harms the country as a whole—especially the artists and scholars who produce the work.
The government intends to use SOPA to stop the illegal cyber distribution of intellectual property by eliminating popular infringing websites and resources that lead them to success. Court orders will be used to prevent advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with such websites, and prevent these websites from showing up on search engines. Also, internet service providers would block these sites from users who try to access them. Finally, criminal laws would become more serious by imposing a potential five years in prison punishment on those who authorize illegal streaming of copyrighted content.
SOPA was introduced by Representative Lamar Smith. It was opposed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others because they deemed it to have the potential to instigate countless additional innovation-killing lawsuits and litigation. Internationally, the European Union Parliament is against the effort to revoke IP addresses or domain names, as it would invoke freedom and integrity of the global internet.
The opposition holds a salient point. SOPA would have a harsh impact on online communities. By putting responsibility for content onto the websites themselves, user-fueled sites such as YouTube would be changed significantly. Websites like Etsy, Flickr, and Vimeo could even be shut down, since authority would have the power to dismantle an entire domain if something posted on a blog by a single user seemed in violation of the law.
Further, everyday internet functions would be affected. Search results on Google and Bing would be “censored” and monitored in order to prevent linking to offending sites. Users will have access to much less information than they do at the moment. Some have claimed that this takes away First Amendment rights to freedom and personal expression, and that if SOPA is passed, the government would increase its involvement in the private life of its citizens immensely. Additional legislation restricting freedom and promoting censorship would be more easily passed, with this initial block against SOPA taken down.
Statistics, however, show the toll that intellectual property infringement has increased tremendously in recent years. Music sales have decreased by more than half compared to what they were in 1999 following the emergence of Napster and other music sharing systems. Producers, artists, authors, and employees in related fields have been and are currently being stripped of their earned recognition and profits for work. Furthermore, consumers are being hurt by counterfeit and fraudulent products.
Most obviously yet mostly overlooked, stealing in all its dimensions is illegal. When Limewire was still functioning, thousands would utilize it and download hundreds of songs with a couple of clicks. Those users downloaded the songs with the knowledge that it was illegal and wrong, but they continued because of the convenience and the costs we would avoid. When a single individual does this, the only hurt inflicted is upon personal integrity, but when multiplied by millions of other individuals doing the same, tremendous impacts are inflicted upon America. SOPA would have actively combatted these issues, promoting a safe virtual environment where people would not be subject to intellectual property theft.
Mainstream websites such as Wikipedia and Google held “anti-SOPA awareness days” in which they deemed the act as one that would wrongfully censor the internet by violating First Amendment rights and limiting user freedom. It is clear that these websites orchestrated the service blackout to raise awareness against this act and place it in a negative light to their loyal users. But since when has shutting down illegal operations been deemed “censorship”?
Think for a minute—the government and writers of the act do not personally gain anything out of SOPA being passed, besides satisfaction that action has been taken against illegal operations. If anything, SOPA would censor our country from becoming free, fair, and fraud-less. Citizens are motivated by economic incentives to utilize piracy for personal gain, and kindly telling them to stop will do nothing. It is time action is taken to fix these flawed practices. This act should not be passed right away without further inspection or contemplation. But maybe we ought to be a little more open-minded and view the situation from an angle outside of a spinning chair in front of a computer with a mouse, ready to click away recognition for others and law-abiding actions.