If you’ve been here yesterday you’ve seen the modular popup telling you that this site might be censored. This was a script by American Censorship making people aware of the issue of the Censorship and filtering attempts of the US government as an answer to copyright infringement.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act of 2011 (PIPA) (Greek people can snigger now, you are welcome) are scary. Check out the following video or check the infographic to learn more:
Now, earlier I was asked to give a statement for a publication here in the UK and for the sake of full disclosure, here’s what I sent:
The concept of SOPA becoming a reality frightens me. The internet is an incredibly powerful communication tool that keeps people connected when they are not close and gives those a voice who can’t get out via official communication channels. It also allows people to be creative and be found by showing their talents in videos, music and animations.
Allowing the government to take down web sites on perceived copyright infringements is a scary thought that will not only censor the internet but also stem the flow of creativity that made it the success it is. We point at countries like China, Iran and Syria for censoring the free speech of their citizens and at the same time are ready to frighten ours into not speaking up on the grounds of lost income in the entertainment history.
If you have comments on your site, if you host user generated content, if you have a slightly vulnerable install of WordPress (for example) and spammers manage to inject links to copyrighted material you will be taken down and blocked. Seeing that anything related to government communication is not the speediest of issues this also means that wrong accusations can mean that you will be blocked and offline for quite a while, losing the trust of your users.
The most annoying part about this bill is not that it is about illegal, political or dangerous content, it is about showing a video or using a soundtrack that doesn’t belong to you. It is not about protecting citizens or upholding the peace or bring order to the internet, it is driven by greed and backed by a total failure to understand how the web works. If the entertainment industry embraced the web as a distribution platform rather than selling me DVDs I can not play in another country with 5 trailers I can’t skip and a 2 minute intro that I should not download illegal copies none of this would be necessary.
In essence, the proposed way of stopping piracy will not affect the piracy scene at all which can work with IPs instead of domain names, go back to old-school distribution channels like FTP and newsgroups and set up relay servers in other countries. The entertainment industry could learn from the pirates how to effectively distribute media on the web rather than making an attempt to block them and hurt the whole web as a platform in the process.