Thursday, January 12, 2012

Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

The Kraken
By Doug Beaver

Many pirates tell the tale of a beast so grand that they only dare to whisper its name.  It’s a monster so powerful, ye scallywags, that it even makes the mighty Google herself hoist her anchor and head for bluer seas.

This new-aged Kraken that has come up from the depths of Hell – aka bowels of Congress – is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

But when the myth is separated from the monster, this animal is just another bloated government jellyfish, full of formless regulation, with nonspecific goals.  It’s an internet business owner’s nightmare, but a lawyer’s wet dream.

Even the mission statement on the first page of the Act trails off at the end:  “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.”

And for other purposes” is more vague and ambiguous than a Netflix business plan.

It’s not as though the idea of protecting intellectual property (like music, games, movies, and even pictures) is a new one.  We all know the drill, if you’re a pirate, you’re stealing.  In the long-term, pirates can ruin the market that creates the work you love.  Pirates take away the biggest driving factor behind all this popular art: profit.

While many artists claim that their work is for the masses, and that they stand out against greed, they are referring to pieces that would be distributed for free anyway.  These pieces aren’t in danger of being pirated.  That art will always be safe.

SOPA is trying to protect Lindsay Lohan’s breasts.

Lohan’s rack hit the internet right in the face (which doesn’t sound too bad) before the magazine went on sale at newstands, costing Playboy revenue, and forcing them to release the issue ahead of schedule to prevent major damage.

Playboy still does rather well for a gentleman’s magazine when there are fewer gentlemen in the world than ever before, but piracy could threaten to shut down The Mansion for good – and no one wants that before we get a chance to party there.

While it’s tough to be a business that has to constantly find new and innovative ways to protect its content from piracy, SOPA is also attacking entrepreneurs from the opposite angle by placing costly and time-consuming regulations that are difficult to enforce.

Internet companies will have to constantly monitor its own users’ actions to ensure no copyrighted material is even linked to, or access to the whole site could be immediately blocked.  That’s like shutting down a Target store if a customer were to show his friends a leaked trailer on his iPhone at the checkout line.

The government has placed internet businesses at a real disadvantage, because sites are responsible to follow traditional business rules and regulations (like Sarbanes-Oxley) as well as the PRO-IP Act, which is the forerunner to SOPA.

There will be a lot of winners if SOPA were to pass.  Lawyers and bean counters love these regulations, as it gives them purpose with a paycheck, and keeps them in business.  True pirates see PRO-IP and SOPA as a challenge, and internet geeks love nothing more than to be challenged and demonstrate holes in existing systems.  The government would get to collect on fines and fees. 

The only ones that don’t win in a SOPA controlled internet are the businesses, and that’s why sites like Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook are against it.  It made perfect sense that GoDaddy was boycotted for supporting SOPA, because the businesses that get their domains from GoDaddy are facing additional hurdles.

Instead of congress creating these acts that benefit everyone except the businesses they effect, a better solution would be to have the companies that need piracy protection laws – companies that support SOPA, like the MPAA, Viacom, and Nike – work with companies like Google to create a system to combat internet piracy without government interference. 

After both sides of the argument come to terms that can be agreed upon, the government can be consulted to ratify it.  Other than that, congress should stay out of the internet’s way, and keep the krakens they are trying to implement away from private enterprises.

“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” are still the nine most terrifying words in the English language… and the attempt to the internet by implementing SOPA is just another great example.

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