SOPA, PIPA and the continued efforts of media companies to kill the Internet

SOPA, PIPA and the continued efforts of media companies to kill the Internet
Today, as you should know by now, is SOPA Blackout Day, which is a concerted effort by various companies, groups, and individuals to protest the proposed legislation which could endanger the Internet as we know it. There has been an incredible amount of coverage on two proposed bills - SOPA and PIPA - which delves into the potential dangers of the bills, and many articles even get to the core of the argument which is that we need to have a free and open Internet. The trouble with most of the coverage that we've seen is that it doesn't get deep enough into the absurdity of why these proposals exist in the first place. 

The Basics

For the basics, SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) are laws being put forth for review in the US House of Representatives and Senate respectively. Regardless of the senators and congressmen who actually put the bills forward, the bills were both created by lobbyists working for large corporations. The bills can target media piracy, intellectual property, and counterfeit goods and medications, though for our purposes, we'll focus on the media side because those are the biggest issues regarding not only what we do, but what we love about the Internet. 

There have been a variety of laws and proposals targeting piracy in the past, but this is the first to try to push beyond the US borders and fight copyright infringement on foreign websites. Originally, both bills had provisions which would allow the US Department of Justice (DoJ) to file for court orders which would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block the domain names of infringing sites. This idea was shot down as a security concern and has been removed from both bills. Surprisingly, while this provision was considered a security threat, no one seemed to care that although the domain name would be blocked, the underlying IP address would not be, and websites could easily just change domain names. 

The other provision provided in each bill to fight copyright infringement is far more serious, and would allow rights holders to seek a court order to cut off funds and kill links to an allegedly infringing site by stopping payment providers, advertisers, and search engines from doing business with the site in question. The accused site would have 5 days to appeal the court order. 

While the two bills are similar in the actions taken once the court order has been filed, the two are very different in the level of requirement necessary for the court order to be filed. PIPA is the more stringent of the two, because it will only allow for a court filing if the accused site has "no significant use other than" copyright infringement. SOPA has more lax rules, which make it the far more dangerous bill, because it defines an "infringing site" as any site that is "committing or facilitating" copyright infringement.

The Players

Before we get into the inherent problems and dangers in the proposed bills, we want to take a second to consider the entities involved in creating and supporting the bills. As we mentioned, part of the bill is designed to fight counterfeit goods, so when you check a list of companies which support SOPA and PIPA, many are apparel manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies. Perhaps if the fight against counterfeit goods were separate from claims of intellectual property, copyright infringement or piracy, that legislation could pass, because physical goods, especially medications, are inherently different from digital, but unfortunately the proposals are all together. As we also mentioned, the congressional representatives supporting the bill are also somewhat irrelevant because supporting or denouncing the bills is ultimately a matter of lobbyist pressure, and political opportunism as we've already seen with a number of representatives dropping support for the bill today. However, the main names to keep in mind are Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) who authored SOPA and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) who authored PIPA.

As always in US government, the lobbyist groups behind bills are far more important and powerful than the actual representatives in government. The media companies supporting the bills include: CBS, Comcast, Dolby Labs, Electronic Arts, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), National Association of Broadcasters, NBC Universal, Nintendo, News Corp, Sony Electronics, Sony Music, Sony Pictures, Disney, Universal Music Group, Viacom, and of course the RIAA. 

That's a powerhouse list of supporters with a lot of money behind each. Of course, they are all "old media" companies with a vested interest in limiting the potential of the Internet. These companies need to limit the Internet, because each has been built on a technological bottleneck that it has exploited for incredible profit. For a long time, newspapers ruled the world of news because the machines required to make the media were expensive, the same went for video and music production. There was a time when you had to subscribe to an expensive TV package or else you wouldn't be able to get your favorite content. There was a time that theaters were a far better experience for watching movies than at home. There was a time when you could only get music in record stores. All of these companies want to keep us in those times as long as possible, mostly because these companies want to hold onto the power positions they have in the old systems, and avoid the more diversified and distributed structures of the Internet.

The RIAA has fervently fought against so-called "piracy" without regard to the growing amount of evidence that "piracy" is really nothing more than effective marketing, which will ultimately increase sales by increasing the reach of music. The RIAA has completely ignored how incredibly lucrative the Internet can be for music with its speed of distribution, and powerful tools for discovery and serendipity. Instead, the RIAA wants to kill any ways to access music except for the predefined channels. Many of the other companies have fought the same way against so-called video "piracy", while ignoring similar trends which were major players in the resurrection of cult favorites like Futurama and Family Guy. Let's not forget that Viacom, a company supporting SOPA, at one point sued Google for infringing videos on YouTube, while simultaneously having employees set up multiple accounts to upload that same content to YouTube. Some companies, like News Corp even go so far as to assume that information itself can be owned and blocked off, and want to close down anyone that even links to their news stories because of proprietary rights, again ignoring the value in links and ease of access. If these companies had their way, services like Google News, Spotify, Pandora, Netflix, and Hulu wouldn't exist because they supposedly cannibalize sales for the news, music and cable companies. And, if SOPA and PIPA pass those companies would have the tools to go after more than just the big guys, but the small start-ups and blogs that make the Internet such a rich ecosystem.

The Dangers

The number one argument against the bills seems to be that neither does enough to prevent abuse of the law by preventing false accusations. There are no provisions in the bills to hold anyone accountable for a false report. Payment providers and ad companies would be given immunity for cutting off funding due to a false report. Companies filing a false report will incur attorney's fees and such, but even that may not really stop anything because the legislation actually goes beyond that to hold accused sites accountable for everything. There is a provision which essentially states that accused sites are allowed to appeal, but if it is shown to be an "infringing site" (which is highly likely under the loose requirements), that site will become responsible for all of the attorney's fees of whoever accused you. So, this means that someone can accuse you, and ultimately have you pay all of their attorney's fees if you try to fight back. Worse, if you don't fight back, the lawsuit stemming from the accusation could end up with the accuser gaining ownership of your domain. 

Beyond all of these issues, SOPA expands the bounds of what is considered copyright infringement to a troubling degree. If you have anything on your site which could be considered as copyright infringement (an unsourced image, video clip, or even just a silly video of you and a friend re-enacting a scene from Shaun of the Dead or singing a song,) and the value of that infringement is calculated to be more than $2500, you are at risk. This means if you sing a song which could be purchased for $1, 2500 hits will make you culpable. And if a copyright holder were to bring a lawsuit against you, it is highly likely they would add on the "willful infringement for commercial gain", which would ultimately lead to a felony arrest. 

Additionally, the supporters of SOPA and PIPA claim that the bills will not effect American websites including those which have joined the protest against the legislation like Google, reddit, Wired, Wikipedia, etc. The trouble here is two-fold. First, the language in the legislation does not limit actions to non-US websites, but is targeted at "An Internet site dedicated to the theft of U.S. property", which could reasonably include YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, the Android Market, Windows Phone Marketplace, iTunes App Store, as well as essentially any website with a comment section. Any website that has any unsourced material would be subject to being cut off from funding and search. Actually the law goes further than that, and would make any website culpable if it doesn't actively screen all content for possible infringement. YouTube has already proven this sort of screening can be physically impossible for sites generating large amounts of content, and even the measures in existence on YouTube are poorly implemented because of the same issue as SOPA with preventing abuse as we mentioned with the MegaUpload case. 

If you think that sounds bad, the second trouble is even worse. Let's assume for a minute that we can trust that these bills will not have an effect on American websites, these bills still have a global impact, which is the ultimate slippery slope. Right now, each country has specific laws concerning the Internet, but laws do not cross national borders. Once any country begins to enforce its own laws regarding the Internet on other countries, where does it stop? If a site in China is cut off because of SOPA or PIPA, what's to stop Chinese law from censoring any American websites referring to Tienanmen Square? What's to stop a country with very strict decency laws from shutting down popular sites like Maxim or Bleacher Report because of all of the images of scantily clad women? 


The point is, the Internet is what it is because it has been free to evolve. The content that you know and love exists because of this freedom, and the possibilities afforded by the Internet. The Internet is bigger than America, bigger than corporate lobbyists, bigger than media as we once knew it. The Internet is a new medium that has proven time and again that there is incredible value in sharing, openness, connections, and easy distribution. The Internet is a place where small voices can be heard because the barriers to entry have been lowered, and those small voices have been allowed to congregate and grow into the sources that you depend on every day. The Internet is the reason why smartphones are smart, and why TVs and so many other products are getting smarter and smarter. 

Copyright holders have a right to protect their property, but times are changing fast. Some call right now a time of a "remix culture" where any media can be repurposed, added to, changed, and smashed together for videos, memes, and just plain fun. All of those remixes and references eventually cycle back to the original content through links, and word-of-txt advertising, but many times copyright holders don't care about that or don't understand those effects. This is nowhere more evident than in the SOPA and PIPA legislation, which can only hurt the Internet culture, and strengthen the hegemony of US corporations. We need the Internet to be free, and we hope you want the Internet to be free. 

Right now, SOPA has stalled in the House, but has not been killed completely. PIPA is scheduled for a vote on January 24th in the Senate. We urge you to contact your representatives in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to voice your opinion on these bills. Also, here is a link to a Google petition against SOPA. And, of course, please share this article to spread the word about these bills. 

For more of an in-depth breakdown of the language found in SOPA, we recommend Mashable's article, which was a great resource for us.



1. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

Thanks Mike I haven't read the article yet but plan on it. I don't understand how it effects the internet and just heard general statements that its bad. Now I have a great article to read and will actually understand the laws and why they are bad. Maybe I will even sign the google pledge :).

6. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

Ok I get it now and whats wrong with it. I couldn't agree more great article mike. Going off to sign that petition!

10. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

explained to many guys and show them the megavideo song got 20 sings :D

14. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

To everyone else this article is well worth a read if you want to learn more about sopa and pipa. And to protozeloz I haven't heard that song :O

18. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

The song its not that much of a deal could be catchy. The problem is that the song got banned from YouTube by a record company because a singer appears in the song the people that appeared on the video knew they will appear and the song has so content related with the record company (is a Mega upload song) the company sent a letter to YouTube asking them to take it down and the drama started. Here is the banned video (available after they appealed to get it back) I'll let you judge if you think it breaks any copyright law to be banned, its the tip of of what companies can do with SOPA and PIPA

27. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

Well if the people knew they were going to be in the video the company has no right to challenge it. Thats insane. Catchy song btw

29. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

its what many said how big will be the price we have to pay so the big companies can feel secure... or a better question will they ever feel secure at all ?

30. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

I don't care if they feel secure or not this is bulls**t.

33. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

And like I said before it wont stop piracy at all He said something interesting I personally feel identified with many "pirates " are users with little access to the content they want to get so a torrent or a site are the only options for then to see a content they want to see. I can buy software in US and fake my IP to buy music from the US because I can't here sometimes. But as many know I'm a manga fan see my profile picture? Manga is ultra rare to find and sometimes comes censored (adapted for "young readers" ) I have to say I read manga every week I can't find the ones I read and like in here so I just read it online until I get my hands on the retail version. If the manga company told me I could buy and read it online in good quality for a price and no censorship I would be sold. Instead I have a company that can't sell it where I am and is counts me as a stealing customer Companies can come with better solutions than this law, solutions that help the content spread worldwide making more funds out of it but they decide to close it down in a selfish way

2. aliaselchore

Posts: 9; Member since: Jun 13, 2010

if you want to understand what is all about insimple words just read paragraph #11, it starts of like this "Beyond all of these issues....."

3. ZEUS.the.thunder.god unregistered

its very sad that how these big greedy corporations trying to lobby and kill freedom. this is totally crazy. i think we all need to oppose it and STOP IT. F*CK the people who are trying to kill the freedom of internet. btw thanx Mike for very informative read and creating the awareness. i think together we can make a difference.

4. LoneShaolin

Posts: 307; Member since: Jan 14, 2012


5. Orbitman

Posts: 110; Member since: Oct 09, 2011

thanks for a great article, Michael! a bunch of other sites have mentioned it, but now i finally understand what this is all about!

7. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

nice article. I think sopa is not the best written law, but its principles are just. No it should not attack pandora or any youtube uploader without discretion, but many things in the bill like preventing offshore piracy and drug counterfeiting is needed... and the bill does not allow whole websites to be shut down, rather the specific link that had the copyrighted material.. i do not think sopa should pass, but there needs to be some sort of regulation-- it happens everywhere else but the internet..

9. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

There does need to be regulation on counterfeit products and drugs, but regulating "intellectual property" has nebulous benefits at best. However, the value of sharing and linking ideas has been proven. Ideas need to live breathe and evolve.

11. ZEUS.the.thunder.god unregistered

very true. again thanx for the wonderful read. article is actually very informative. actually they are trying to do the same thing here in india but people are raising their voice against govt. and might be able to stop it hopefully.

17. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

yes, but protecting copyright is a very fundamental part of business... downloading copyrighted movies is not exactly beneficial to anyone except the person evading the law.. i know people like to do it but it is illegal and if they are going to keep it illegal they should enforce it.. in my opinion i dont think a good law about this stuff would shut down ideas.. it would in fact promote it by assuring u ur ideas would not be copyrighted.. but i do not agree with the vagueness of sopa.. it needs to have more definite terminology

21. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

The problem is that those people can still pirate they will find workarounds. People that do not break the law suffers. It reminds me of a game that could only be played after checking it was legal on a server. The game had issues so people who paid for the game couldn't play because it had connection issues. While pirated version way playable, some had to download the pirated game to complete the game they bought. I have a useless copy of office because the number of times I can install it on my freagin same computer is limited! I have to get a crack so I could use my CD how is that fair?

23. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

well its not exactly fair.. but neither is downloading everything without paying.. what if everybody just decided not to buy office because of that? if this bill were to pass u would have to find another product, but if not u will just download it as u said… buying it would enhance the market.. it just shows this bill is more to help the economy than to limit the internet.. the government regulates stealing from stores so why not from stealing online? yes people will still find a way online but they still find a way in stores.. yet there is not a widespread problem of theft.. capitalism will drive u away from microsft and towards something else… is it fair to microsoft that u became unhappy with a product u knew u were paying for and then decided to steal in order to get what you want?

26. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

I'm not saying that I'd rather not pay for the game or office. What I mean is that many attempts to stop pirates end up messing with the Average buyer because hackers and pirates can still find workarounds for the most meticulous ways to protect merchandise. Unlike merchandise stealing where people need to go though walls cameras and other stuff the walls that protect content and the security can be blown away in several ways like having regular police officers trying to hold Superman with bullets. Shots will be deflected and injure the bypassers. The heavy piracy is bad. But also a video with a YouTube song is how I've brought around 30% of my tunes and 50% of my artists. I will buy my next version of office when windows 8 is released. I think companies should put effort tying content to people instead of blocking content. Blocked content will make its way in the hands of the pirates anyways even if they have to use smoke signals.

28. rfrapp

Posts: 77; Member since: Jun 10, 2010

@Lucas777, do you not understand marketing? Downloading things for free does not have much of an effect at all on sales. Take music for example. The artist hardly makes any of the money that comes from a song or album. The real revenue comes from the concerts, and besides, most people who download a song or movie that they like will go and tell their friends about it, and they'll tell their friends, and so on. Eventually, there will be many people who actually will buy that item.

41. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

i actually work in the concert business.. and yes, i do understand marketing... but is it up to u to decide whether to market a product, or the person who actually created it? what if they dont wanna market it? if they wanted to give everyone free music they would on their own... and ya almost all money comes from concerts, but its still their decision..

8. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

Thanks! This days could not go without people knowing about this as much as possible. This is dangerous really dangerous! And I'll set an example that with SOPA approved company X or news Y could block phone arena for adding news/ content from their site or showing pictures of a new device as long as they set their mind to it it can be done. But its not only the site but the funds needed would be cut off too the fight against let's say sony could simply shut pa for good (worse case scenario) for doing what they do and what we like them to do. These companies need to stop thinking about how to block content and more about how to manage their content better these measures won't stop piracy but cause irreversible damage to the web that has become a source of income none of those companies is willing to give

12. ZEUS.the.thunder.god unregistered

couldn`t agree more

13. Carlitos

Posts: 693; Member since: Oct 23, 2011

To put all this words short. NO MORE GOOGLE, FB, YOUTUBE! ETC. Basically 25%+ of most peoples life.

15. InJuxHurYlem

Posts: 28; Member since: Oct 07, 2009

This is dangerously reckless article. Your statement that Broadcast companies hate sites like Hulu and Netflix is obviously incorrect. Newscorp has a deal with Hulu to broadcast many of their shows. Many of these broadcasting companies have production subsidiaries who have deals with all those sites you claim they want to shut down. Hmm. Also, this bill is aimed solely at foreign companies. Youtube, Hulu, Amazon, any company with any kind of US presence, is safe. If anything, this will bring more legitimate sites inside our borders. You known EXACTLY what sites this bill is aimed at....where you can stream movies still being shown in theaters or watch live sporting events live for free, etc. You can't seriously be defending these. Yes, we all love the Internet and, yes, we all hate The Man. But write a grown-up article and not something that sounds like a manifesto from a pissy teenager if you want to be taken seriously.

16. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

News Corp has a deal with Hulu because it became impossible to avoid. But, News Corp still forces a delay on Hulu so if you want to see things new, you still need cable. News Corp also pulled all of its links from Google News, ignoring the benefits of the link in favor of its own walled garden. We all know the aim of these bills, the problem is that 1) the language doesn't hold it to those aims and could be interpreted in unintende d and dangerous ways, and 2) there is danger in enforcing laws across national borders.

19. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

well maybe people will just have to get cable in order to watch it... whoever owns/regulates the content can do whatever they want with it.. i wish i cud watch free tv and movies legally too, but whoever owns the content has the right to do whatever they want with it... and if having it only on cable is that hurtful to their sales they will be forced to put it on the internet with ads or something or find another way to deliver content... capitalism will eventually shift the market to wherever it needs to go.. oh and btw i love the article so i dont agree with the guy on that part

40. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

The market isn't free if the content creators are regulating to handicap one delivery method in favor of another.

42. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

one (illegal) method over another... its already illegal--no question on that.. but its just not inforced.. and i think the creator should be able to decide how they want to deliver it

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