SOPA on the rope-a: How it could affect content

Posted on 29. Dec, 2011 by in Thoughts

Online piracy

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Speculation surrounding the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, has dominated conversations about the future of web content since its introduction to the US House of Representatives in late October.

The proposed bill seems, at first, to be just one more ploy by a major world government to stave off third parties profiting from copyright-controlled creative material. In fact, proponents of SOPA proclaim it to be just that. In order to strike offenders where it hurts, the proposal would allow for revenue to be cut between advertisers and the offending websites, effectively shutting them down.

SOPA could clean the internet too rigorously

What’s not as clear is how the bill could affect ordinary bloggers, not to mention other content hubs such as YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and more. These sites, according to advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, would be skewered under the proposed legislation given the bill’s pliable language.

As the EFF points out, Flickr could be taken to task for its lack of active surveillance of user generated content. As the site works now, it investigates complaints on a case-by-case basis, which could be construed as “taking … deliberate actions to avoid confirming a high probability of the use of the … site to carry out acts that constitute a violation” – just one tenet of the bill. It’s not hard to see other content hubs being threatened by similar wordsmanship. It could even be off the back of a single complaint.

Bloggers take to the SOPA box

‘Big Content’ (is that an actual term?) wouldn’t be the only one affected, as political bloggers in the States say the proposed legislation would cause them to “cease to exist”,  pulling together both Republican and Democrat pundits into a begrudging, rare alliance.

Bloggers often rely on content hosted on sites such as Flickr, Vimeo and YouTube to frame their stories or provide multimedia content for their readers, supplementing any exclusive content offered by them by businesses.

Conservative blogger Neil Stevens explained the bill’s further implications at RedState: “Restrictions of results provided by internet search engines amount to just that: prior restraint of their free expression of future results. Google and others, under SOPA, are told what they can or can’t publish before they publish it.

His suggestion? “Kill. The. Bill.”

Google’s no dope-a when it comes to SOPA

Google has its own opinions regarding the bill, of course, explaining that sites could be held up under dubious circumstances given its language. “A corporation, a copyright ‘troll,’ or anyone with an axe to grind could send a notice … without first involving law enforcement or triggering any judicial process”, according to Google policy counsel Katherine Oyama.

Mountain View’s standpoint has given it some strange bedfellows, including Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and eBay, who all ran advertisements decrying the bill in newspapers across the US.

Why Britain’s creative industries should care

The bill’s distance from Blighty’s shores may cause many to shrug it off as a problem best left to the Yankees. However, the basic points of such policies have broader reaching implications, as it could shut down resources for UK-based bloggers or content sites, as well as despatch potential places for advertisement by UK businesses. Also, it would be just a matter of time till similar legislation popped up across the Atlantic.

Copyright infringement’s not really a laughing matter, (unless it’s those adverts ahead of movie trailers), but it’s important the internet community rally together whenever necessary to support the smart deployment of measures to assure creative control – not allow blind rage against sites that promote original, unique content if a few offenders escape their gaze.

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