On Friday, news broke that Marvel Entertainment and Disney both support the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), H.R. 3261. That legislation in the House of Representatives as well as it’s similar sister legislation in the Senate, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), S. 968 and S. 978, is the latest effort of copyright holders to crack down on the rampant piracy online. Both pieces of legislation are broken and would do little other than to stifle technical innovation and free speech, but that hasn’t stopped the entertainment industry from spending over $1.9 million to get the legislation passed.
The legislation’s main thrust is providing tools to stop foreign infringing websites from being accessed in the United States and penalizing those websites. Actions such as seizure, cutting off of funds and stopping of advertising are all methods that would be legal through this legislation. Some of these techniques are currently being used today in mass seizure of websites by I.C.E. The problem is, the legislation wouldn’t solve the problem.
The legislation is vague forcing websites, hosts, advertisers and payment systems to create a blacklist blocking offending websites from being accessed. An internet blacklist is a technique employed by such stellar countries as Iran and China. The problem is that this “tech fix” doesn’t solve the issue at all. The websites can still be accessed in foreign countries, by masking your location and already there is a Firefox plug-in to get around such censorship. There’s a reason that a group of 83 Internet inventors and engineers sent an open letter to members of the United States Congress voicing their opposition.
It would also allow mass seizures without due process by court order. Websites would be able to respond and fight the seizure, after the act has been done. So, in that year you spend in court fighting, your website is down. Expect this to be used in retaliatory fashion. I.C.E. has already shown they are utterly incompetent when it comes to this technique, usually catching innocent websites in the mix. Keep in mind too that websites and individuals could share IP addresses and the whole process gets murkier.
The legislation also allows internet service providers to block websites that are deemed to be health risks to the public and they are protected from action by their customers. There doesn’t have to be proof that there’s a risk, they can just do it. So much for Net Neutrality.
What bothers to me is that the legislation also kills creativity and threatens innocent fans celebrating the entertainment they love. We’ve posted videos of video game players doing walk throughs of games, the video of a wedding party entering to Chris Brown’s Forever, and our recently posted spoof videos of the Dark Knight Rises trailer, video of folks covering a song or singing karaoke, all would be illegal under SOPA. Justin Bieber became famous covering other artist’s songs on Youtube, he could now be jailed for that, which is why this is called the “anti-Bieber bill.” Prince has sued a mother for posting a video of her kid dancing to one of his songs. Copyright holders as is can’t be trusted with the laws we have, we want to give them more?
Even crazier, just linking to an infringing website could get you in trouble. There goes my Facebook status and Twitter posts and say bye-bye to Tumblr.
When it comes to the comic book industry, websites dedicated to art and fan art, like DeviantArt, could be caught in seizures. A search on the popular website found 48423 items returned for Spider-Man, 59857 for Iron Man, 31760 for Captain America and 90334 for X-men
I’m not even going into the hypocrisy of elected officials writing pushing this legislation. Piracy runs rampant in government offices (I’ve seen it first hand), but the RIAA has been caught torrenting as well as foreign elected officials and copyright holders. That’s the definition of hypocrisy.
And that brings us back to the comic book industry. Marvel and Disney have stated their support for the legislation. We’ve reached out to them, as well as other comic book publishers for their stance and to explain their stance on the legislation. Pressure has been brought upon other supporters of the legislation and resulted in a positive outcome (though there’s disagreement how sincere GoDaddy really is), but until I get clarification from Marvel I don’t want to call for a boycott quite yet.
I am calling for publishers to state their stance and make their opinion public, sign this petition and show as a consumer you want to know too so you can make a better informed decision as to whether you want to continue your support.
Congress and the House Judiciary Committee where SOPA remains in mark-up are currently on break, but when they return in January it will be one a hot topic and debated early in the Congressional session. We’ll bring further coverage of this important debate and legislation and expect further calls to action.
Update: Gizmodo has a list of all of the companies and organizations supporting SOPA according to the House Judiciary Committee, there’s also this crowd sourced Google Doc. Take a moment to call and email some of these companies to voice your displeasure. If you live in the United States, you can write your Representative and Senators through this action hosted by the Entertainment Consumers Association.
Full disclosure: I consult for the ECA which has been a lead organization fighting SOPA and PIPA