As you most likely have noticed, there is a huge storm cloud of controversy in the internet regarding two pieces of legislation up for debate in early February in both houses of the United States Congress. Wikipedia even took down their English language site for 24 hours in protest of these bills. Google has blacked out their logo on their homepage. Online surveys are circulating through Facebook and Twitter. It seems like there are more questions than answers swirling around. What are these bills, and what do they mean to people and business alike?
SOPA, an acronym for “Stop Online Piracy Act” is a bill proposed in the United States House of Representatives. PIPA, an acronym for “Protect Intellectual Property Act” is a bill proposed in the United State Senate.
At the heart of the matter of both bills are the protection of copyrighted information as well as intellectual property from online piracy, with the goal of stopping people and websites from sharing, distributing, hosting and disseminating copyrighted materials, mostly from foreign websites.
These all seem like legitimate and common sense concerns and subsequent actions for the U.S. Government to take to protect U.S. citizens and businesses, but the controversy isn’t about what they aim to protect, but moreover how they propose to protect it.
The backlash coming from Wikipedia and many other heavily used social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube is that both pieces of legislation use language that is very vague, and puts website owners at risk of being shut down down due to ‘infringements’ that they have little or no control over. Also, large corporations could potentially use these bills as a thinly veiled mask to squander their competition. Wikipedia noted this on their SOPA and PIPA learn more page:
“SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won’t be effective at their stated goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn’t being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won’t show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.”
Here is an example where I could see this having an adverse effect on individual small business owners who never had any motive to infringe copyrights, but none the less could get their website shutdown and blacklisted because the proposed policies of these acts.
Let’s say that my mother has an at home business where she sells cookies or arts and crafts to her friends and community. She also has a small website that she owns to take orders online. My mom would now have to have the expertise of a web developer to ensure that nothing on her site or in her sites meta data links anywhere online to anyone who possesses or distributes copyrighted material on their sites. This as many say would be almost impossible, if for example there was a video linked to her page from a site that was deemed to be in violation of SOPA and/or PIPA. That link now makes mom’s site in violation as well. Let’s take it a step further. What if Cindy down the street wants to sell crafts online now too, and sees my mom as a competitor. Cindy’s tech savvy teenager works in collusion with Cindy to launch a cyber-attack on my mom’s website. He hacks into the website and embeds a ton of violated sites into my mom’s cyber presence. Mom’s site is then shut down and blacklisted and Cindy wins – until someone does turns around and does it to Cindy’s site as well…
This example is a little far-fetched for sure, but these are the types of examples of questions that both individuals and large global companies and websites alike want answers to. As they are written now the language of these bills are not providing enough answers to these key questions, and thus the controversy.