Imagining a Post-SOPA Internet

Last month we wrote a breakdown of the Stop Online Piracy Act better known as SOPA. It does a great job of covering the ins and outs of the bill and I’m assuming at this point you’ve heard something about SOPA or the Protect IP Act. If not, I recommend you read the article.

While it’s a great piece, there was one section I felt needed to be discussed in further detail that asked the question: “How screwed are we?

The answer is: potentially a lot.

Just to set the record straight, if you think SOPA is just about screwing your ability to torrent movies or music from the Pirate Bay, you’re missing the point.

Under the proposed legislation, a post-SOPA Internet could look radically different from the one you’re using right now.

To backtrack, one of SOPA’s primary goals is to stop the illegal trafficking of intellectual property online like the seeding and downloading of files that contain movies or music albums and so forth.

A lot of the big culprits of digital piracy have traditionally evaded U.S. prosecutors by simply moving their operations to nations overseas where U.S. lawmakers had no jurisdiction.

SOPA would essentially resolve this conundrum by blocking the ability of internet users in the U.S. to access “blacklisted” or “rogue” Web sites like the Pirate Bay.

Now here’s the interesting part — SOPA goes one step further by additionally blocking any Web sites that link to rogue Web sites, like the Pirate Bay, even if they are Web sites operated within the U.S.

Let me illustrate with a few examples. The first you may be familiar with: The Next Great Generation. The second is my personal blog.

See, both of these Web sites, while seemingly law-abiding content creators, have still managed to link to rogue Web sites at some point in their history.

In our previous SOPA article that I referenced earlier, we actually link to the Pirate Bay while simply making a reference to the Web site. I also recently discovered that a past blog post on my own Web site links to a page on the Pirate Bay as well. Oops.

Under SOPA, both of these Web sites could be blacklisted from U.S. cyberspace if an ISP or copyright holder decided to make a complaint.

The catch about SOPA is that while it serves the Hollywood and the recording industry, they get to manage it, too. Complaints by IP owners don’t undergo judicial review — they simply just take effect without due process. This is unless we should file a counter notification within as little as five days promising to fight the complaint in a U.S. court (that’s assuming they even know how to contact us correctly.)

It’s a system of guilty until proven innocent.

While linking to the Pirate Bay (and other, similar sites) seems like an easily avoidable crime for the future, SOPA’s vague definitions of IP infringement could make linking to content elsewhere on the web a dangerous activity.

According to one blogger at Forbes, the danger of linking online post-SOPA could devastate cooperation and conversation among those who create content online, such as bloggers (like us here at TNGG.)

And it gets worse.

SOPA also targets a broad range of user-based Web sites that allow their users to upload or post content. The definitions are vague enough to range under anything from Facebook to Dropbox.

Traditionally, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, user content Web sites such as YouTube or Facebook and others were simply required to self-police their users. By responding to requests to take down copyrighted videos or images uploaded by users, companies could please IP owners and avoid the blame (and keep from being sued.)

SOPA, however, erases many of the provisions within 1998’s DMCA and user-based Web sites would be the most significant casualties in a post-SOPA Internet.

Under the legislation, entire online communities can be penalized to the highest degrees for the behavior of their individual users. Should an IP owner or ISP file a complaint, an entire online community could be blacklisted.

Yet while there have been hype and rumors that networks like Facebook, Google, or YouTube could come crashing down in a post-SOPA internet, it’s ultimately not true. Social media giants like Facebook or YouTube could reluctantly afford to defend themselves in court from an onslaught of patent-trolls and overzealous copyright holders even if they couldn’t manage to lobby themselves special exception from the bill.

However, when Internet heavyweights including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and eBay among others bought a full-page in the New York Times to protest SOPA, they had a point that was about more than protecting their own profits. A post-SOPA internet would destroy the environment of innovation and freedom that allowed startup companies like YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter to grow in their heyday.

Should SOPA be passed, the entrepreneurs building the social networks and content platforms of tomorrow could be overwhelmed by the legal fees of fighting IP infringement claims. A lean startup could hardly account for massive legal fees caused by its users.

Indeed, a recent study meant to gauge the ramifications of a post-SOPA internet by Booz & Co., a global management consulting firm, found that more than 70% of angel investors surveyed would be deterred from investing in such companies if SOPA regulations were passed.

The economic ramifications of SOPA in the U.S. would be devastating.

In their open letter to Congress, Google, Facebook and others cite that in the U.S., “if Internet consumption and expenditure were [an economic] sector, its contributions to GDP would be greater than energy, agriculture, communication, mining, or utilities.” Basically, to enact SOPA would significantly cripple the jobs and the universal benefits created by online innovation and entrepreneurship.

It is the firm belief of this writer that SOPA is at best a massive job killer and at worst a frightening gateway drug towards censorship.

Here are several ways that readers can choose to get involved in the fight against SOPA:

To attend a town hall meeting, email or lobby your representatives in Congress, petition the State Department, or mock-censor your own website please visit:

To locate and email or call your representatives in Congress please visit:

To get email updates about SOPA please visit:

If you want to support the fight against SOPA you can donate to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

What are you opinions about SOPA? Please leave them in the comments below.

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Ashlynn Arias

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