If you’ve visited Wikipedia, Google, or various other websites yesterday, you probably noticed their blackout/anti-SOPA messages and warnings. Before I go any further, let me just say that this blog entry is an attempt to explain SOPA in the most colloquial way that I can. I realize that there may be some missing pieces in my explanation.
SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act, which, on the surface seems to be a worthy cause. In theory, this act attacks something that is actually a real problem, internet piracy. The word piracy has a negative connotation and thusly initial public response would be that it is harmful. Haven’t we always been taught that plagiarism is wrong? Sure, the surface goal of SOPA is to stop foreign sites from providing users with pirated material and that is something the general population should at least try to support. And why companies such as Time Warner ARE supporting the bill. But, the repercussions of the bill would be far worse than just having to wait an extra week for the episode of your favorite show to be up on Hulu.
SOPA would have the biggest effect on any sites that use user-generated content. This may be why Wikipedia is so enthralled in the anti-SOPA movement. Other sites include Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube. Of course, this bill will not criminalize posting YouTube videos, per say, but it will hold YouTube to a new level of accountability and make it far more difficult to share and watch videos online. SOPA gives the Attorney General the ability to act against infringing websites without a trial or a court hearing and with that comes the ability to take advantage of this power. This would potentially cause more harm than the good that comes from intellectual property protection. Of course, SOPA would not go to the depths of some internet censorship such as that in China, however in practicality, it will have similar repercussions.
There have been attempts to stop piracy in the past- for example there are bills that have already passed that do exactly what SOPA is claiming to do and so, some believe that SOPA is unnecessary.
Of course, I am not supporting plagiarism or internet piracy. I go to a University with very high ethics and I plan to always stand by the honor code. However, I believe SOPA would do more harm than good and I hope that everyone takes a minute or two to get educated about the bill.
If this at all resonates with you, then please, do some research and find out how you can make a difference. Google has a few things to say about the bill and check out this full page ad that ran in the NYTimes a few months ago.
Please keep in mind that these are my own personal views, and may or may not reflect the opinion of McCombs or the University.