What is SOPA and Why it is a Ridiculous Piece of Crap

By on January 4, 2012

A bill that could completely change the Internet as we know it.

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First Impressions
My reaction is

Over the past few weeks, the Internet has exploded over something called SOPA, or Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill is currently awaiting vote in the United States of America and if passed, could bring everything associated with ‘entertainment’ on the Internet to a grinding halt.

What is the Stop Online Piracy Act?
The SOPA was introduced by Lamar Smith, and 12 other co-sponsors, to the United States House of Representatives. The main aim of the bill is to enable copyright holders to protect their intellectual property from being pirated online, or as the bill itself puts it, “to promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.” Of course, the Internet did not go bat-shit crazy against if it was actually so good.

Why is it a ridiculous piece of crap?
I must admit, the bill does sound reasonable. For anyone who has put hard work into creating a piece of entertainment – be it a movie, a video game, or even an online web series that is sellable, to see your work appearing on different, questionable channels, for free for anyone, can be quite disheartening and discouraging. The SOPA bill, then, enables you to protect yourself, and your work, from such sites that distributes your work for free, without actually compensating you in anyway.

However, the SOPA is so incredibly dubiously and vaguely written, it gives unconditional, unprecedented power to the copyright-holding company, to block any website, without actually going to a judge, if it finds, upon its own judgment, the site to be promoting its property “illegally”, i.e., ‘encouraging copyright infringement’.

For example , and this is an extreme case however completely plausible – if I were to launch a video game, and found out about a website that is streaming the entire game (there are actual websites that does this), I can claim copyright infringement and shut it down immediately. This could be applied to any website that showcases my games in their video review, or their feature shows. As said in sec. 201 titled ‘Streaming of Copyrighted Works in Violation of Criminal Law’: “by the distribution or public performance of a work being prepared for commercial dissemination, by making it available on a computer network accessible to members of the public, if such person knew or should have known that the work was intended for commercial dissemination.” So if Gamespot ran a gameplay piece of my video game in their video review, I can shut down the entire freakin’ Gamespot for doing so.

The law can be twisted and bent for every such website and content, including those that host them such as YouTube, Dailymotion, and even Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Photobucket, Digg, Reddit, etc. There is an excellent article here by Infocarnivore that lists the numerous ways SOPA can affect the Internet. SOPA can allow ISPs to monitor your network, infringing privacy. It will also increase hacks by groups like Anonymous as more and more restrictions are placed in. And it can also go as far as making emergency proxies illegal, such as the ad-hoc network setup during the Hurricane Katrina as it will bypass proxy set by the law.

Unfortunately, the SOPA is not restricted to US-based sites only, but to foreign websites as well (or as the bill likes to call it, the “foreign infringing site”).  According to Sec 102, ‘Action by Attorney General to Protect U.S Customers and Prevent U.S support of Foreign Infringing Sites’, the U.S-based ISPs will be required to block any foreign website that is held accountable of any infringement . Although that does not mean that they can block the foreign website itself, but prevent U.S-based users from visiting them.

The law however, fortunately, cannot block the IP address of the website, only the URL , which ultimately dissolves into an IP address anyway. So while, let’s say, GamingWebsite#48.com will be blocked, the website can be access from its IP address by entering something like 199.27.XXX.XXX.

Entertainment Software Association
Initially, many companies, including bigwigs like Apple, Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, et all, jumped on the SOPA bandwagon, but as the bill started receiving negative attention, they have decided to distance themselves from it. Sony and Nintendo removed themselves from the official list of organizations that supports SOPA, and so have Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, etc.

However, at least for the gaming industry, there is still one giant hole to unplug from, and that is the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The ESA was built in 1994 to organize the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), to support the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), and to help combat video game censorship by governments. And now you can see the irony of it all.

Most, if not all of the top video game publishers are members of the ESA, including Atari, Capcom Disney, Eidos, EA, Microsoft, Konami, Sqaure Enix, Take-Two, Namco Bandai, Sega, Nintendo, Sony, THQ, Ubisoft, and many more. Unfortunately, ESA is, and continues to support the SOPA bill, and that means, directly, or indirectly, so is the entire video game industry.

In a statement today, it said, “As an industry of innovators and creators, we understand the importance of both technological innovation and content protection, and do not believe the two are mutually exclusive.”

“Rogue websites – those singularly devoted to profiting from their blatant illegal piracy – restrict demand for legitimate video game products and services, thereby costing jobs. Our industry needs effective remedies to address this specific problem, and we support the House and Senate proposals to achieve this objective.”

“We are mindful of concerns raised about a negative impact on innovation. We look forward to working with the House and Senate, and all interested parties, to find the right balance and define useful remedies to combat willful wrongdoers that do not impede lawful product and business model innovation.”

We can only hope they are.

What can we do about it?
Boycott video games entirely? Ha. Not happening. From this part of the world, there is nothing much you can do about it, honestly. Of course, you can always take part in the various discussions in forums and social networks and keep the fire burning. Spread awareness and all that. List the supporters and boycott them, if that’s your thing.

However, the big steps have to be made from the companies itself. The bigwigs of the industry have to force themselves, and the ESA, too, to step back and cut ties. It will not end well if they don’t, and I genuinely believe that. GoDaddy, one of the most popular web hosting companies, lost more than 70,000 domains after it confirmed to support the bill. Anonymous, the hacker group that wreaked havoc last year, have now once again issued a lofty statement to attack Sony for supporting SOPA. And as silly as their “we are legion, we are anonymous” bullshit sounds, they can really, really do some damage.

You can read the entire SOPA bill here.


Mufaddal Fakhruddin is the Editor for IGN ME and thinks writing in third person about himself in an about me section is weird.

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  • http://www.nystedt.org Magnus Nystedt

    It’s a bit of a tricky issue posting an article with a graphic saying “stop censorship” on a UAE site ;-)

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