SOPA and the Comic Book Industry

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.

CensorshipThe 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.

You can take action right now and voice your opinion on the legislation.  Tell your elected officials this legislation “shall not pass.”

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


  • Good summary of SOPA. The eventual boycott will be up to every comic book fan in the end. However, I don’t hold much hope for that.

    • I’d say there’s actually a good chance. GoDaddy rescinded their support (sort of) and with Marvel being number 2, they might be that much more open to change. Don’t forget they have some big movies next year that will have a wider audience and they are ones to rally as well.

  • Brilliant assessment of SOPA. However I wish you mentioned the affect on other nationalities. The only major problem I know of is the power of the US to possibly imprison non US citizens for breach of ‘SOPA’.

    • So the international implications is the interesting part and where the “pro” argument falls apart. The legislation and it’s proponents claim the legislation is meant to target “foreign” infringing websites, though the language is loose enough that I doubt that claim. But there’s more reasons to doubt the claim.

      1) By initiating action in US courts, copyright holders and this legislation circumvents copyright laws of other nations. What hasn’t been accomplished through international treaty like ACTA, is being attempted to be passed through US law. Countries like Switzerland are much more lax when it comes to piracy. This legislation ignores their sovereignty and turn international copyright law into what is dictated by the United States.

      2) The legislation also has fines and jail time for violations. Since I don’t see foreign countries imprisoning individuals for being found guilt of this in US courts, one can only assume that this part of the legislation is aimed at those located within the United States, which then throws out the whole “foreign’ argument.

      Really, this should be fought by copyright holders in each individual country under their law as per a nation’s sovereign right.

  • I just did a post on the DeSOPA pluhin the other day. This legislation is getting out of hand. Its a mad assault at an entire entity in the wild hopes it will quell the issue, which it wont…piracy always grows with security. Instead it shuts down my legitimate locations to distribute my own personal goods. Yep gotta love big brother.

  • sounds like another case of “the best government money can buy”: some big corporate interests are looking for a suitable sledge hammer to go after the piracy gnats, and this is it. another stupid over-reaction, one that should be thrown out without even going to a vote because it’s some absolutely preposterous.

    • Over $1.9 million has been spent by copyright holders including lots when it comes to campaign donations to supporters. Remember we’re coming up on a Presidential election year where we’ll see well over a billion spent on campaigns. Both parties are doing everything they can to get donations and this is a clear attempt in that.

  • Question – Etsy, which is an online marketplace for handmade items, has a section entitled “Geekery”, where you can find all sorts of items based off Comics, Movies and Books. How will this be effected? Or will it?

    • Potentially Etsy could be asked directly to shut those shops down. The likelier scenario would be Etsy’s host company would be served papers to shut Etsy down and the domain would be seized. Apply this scenario to Tumblr, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, etc. Just linking to a violating/infringing website is illegal under this law.

      There is not standard as to what a violation is and it’s up to the copyright holder. Justin Bieber for instance said he wants videos of fans singing his songs. Prince on the other hand is litigious and sues at simple violations. It’s in the eyes of the copyright holder as to what a violation is.

      Expect retaliatory lawsuits, mass seizures catching innocent websites, inconsistent enforcement, mass confusion as to what constitutes fair use is.

  • Fantastic work, this is one of the richest and most satisfying explanations of SOPA/PIPA that I have seen to date. It also galvanizes me against this legislation even further. As a proactive and longterm member of the internet community it especially frustrates me to see everything the whole of us have spent years constructing facing a potential doomsday scenario because of lobbying, congressional corruption and the fits that copyright holders are having because of creative expression. Whether you agree with (or participate in) piracy or not, this issue needs to be put on center stage and brutally defeated. Common sense and the defense of (and need for) art could be our best argument, but tell that to companies supposedly locked in a failing economy with failing sales because of the Pirate Bay and like-minded websites. It is a complete and disgraceful mockery of freedom of speech and expression if any part of this legislation is approved.

  • The whole of Tumblr is pretty much freaking out about SOPA and PIPA. I think I’ve signed about eight anti-SOPA petitions myself.

    I looked up the full text of the bill the other day, though, and from what I read, it seemed like the bill was only aimed at foreign-based sites (e.g. Piratebay) rather than domestic sites with .com or .org endings. (The link, if anyone’s interested, is ) Does anyone happen to know if this is the latest version of the bill? Are the censorship provisions likely to be extended to .com and/or .org sites at some point (if they haven’t been already)? Or am I just misunderstanding the bill? (Biochem major over here, not pre-law or anything.)

  • It’sa law fueled by corporate greed and would only serve to stifle fan activity that makes the interwebs such an interesting and amusing place to visit.

    I’m dead against piracy, but its nonsense to think that people are being sued because they’re creations are being celebrated by someone posting a video online of enjoying themselves and enjoying the song. Surely no one in their right mind can consider that an act of piracy? (Although i think you might have set your argument back somewhat with the Justin Beiber thing. :) )

    Great article and congratulations on being freshly pressed.

    • Thanks for the kind words and I agree on the Beiber thing. Don’t care for his music, but it’s a perfect example of what would be illegal under this.

  • Interesting about the Etsy comment. Could this also potentially cover my Blog? (It’s about my Millennium Falcon collection.)

    • Not sure about your blog. The reason I think Etsy would have an issue is you have people using other people’s intellectual property. For instance senlling a pop-art version poster of comic book characters. That’s the gray area where it depends on how litigious the copyright holder is.

      For your blog, maybe links could get you? Maybe some of the images? For instance, I posted the Star Wars Christmas Special which someone posted on Youtube. That’d possibly get me in trouble under this law.

      • Technically, the fact that certain Etsy sellers are reproducing and profiting off of already copyright and trademarked characters and brands, they are already outside the law. Hoever, per Etsy’s policies, the copywright holders have to contact individual shop owners, and the site does not take responsibility.

        • That’s right, but protections under the DMCA for Etsy would be gone under this and now Etsy would be responsible, as would Youtube, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. The DMCA has a clause that protects websites from the actions of it’s users, like posting links, videos, etc. They just have to respond to take downs when requested. Under SOPA, the entire website is at risk and could get seized.

  • With the invention of the internet, it’s amazing the effort placed into things like this. Short of literally pulling the plug on the WWW, the populace cannot, I repeat, CANNOT, be effectively censored. This kind of bill only hurts the honest people who are not trying to hurt anyone.

    They should put taxpayers’ money into important things, like child pornography, or dare I say it, the economy? This is just a perfect example of government incompetence.

  • The Prince story reminded that many years ago, Paul Simon sued a UK punk band for recording ’50 ways to clean your oven’ . . . . . . Lucky the Beatles didn’t hear the album by fellow ‘Mersysiders’ Half-man half-biscuit called Back on the DHSS . . . .

  • Super great and informative post, thank you for this. I’m not a citizen of the USA but I really feel apprehensive about this and the outcome of these acts.

    I think the move against media piracy, like movies, music, etc., is fine since it really deprives companies from the money they’re supposed to earn, but I think this really affects us as appreciators of all different kinds of art since sometimes we would also want to output our admiration and regard for these online, which is probably the easiest way for everyone. It’s irrational to apprehend anyone because of mere show of appreciation and liking.

    What will then happen to the ‘information highway’ that the internet was made for? What about the easy-access to various sorts of media and art? What will happen to the innovation and inspiration drawn from these? And what will happen to countries like mine, the Philippines, who look to and highly regard America?

    Man, this is messed up.

  • wow this article is very nice. It’s a new inspiration for me. i like it. thank you my friend. merry christmas and happy new year.

  • So much for social networking. Why can’t law makers and politicians put as much effort as they’re putting into these horrible policies into solving the endless list of much more serious problems out there?smh.

  • Hello,

    I run a website and an organization which distributes public domain materials for free to people around the world. I have already fought against some publishers who wrongfully claimed that I violated their copyright by posting the works online. DMCA allowed me fight back these wrong claims. Does SOPA change any of the counter notification procedures of DMCA? Can you please explain? I also want to congratulate for your wonderful commentary of the act.

    • The big difference between SOPA and DMCA is the threat of seizure and blocking which I believe happens potentially earlier with SOPA. The most disturbing difference though is the DMCA has protections for websites in that they can’t be held liable for comments or users. So Facebook, YouTube, Twitter can’t get in trouble for what I post. This legislation strips that protection currently.

  • Oh my. This politics is so crazy. I miss the olden days of the comic industry….

  • Calling it the “Anti-Bieber” bill seems like a tricky way to get my support but I couldn’t be more against it.

    Creativity should be kept free and not perverted into some corporate ownership. The internet has offered up some of the best and worst entertainment and issued it out with a laser-beam of freedom. Artist should be able to make a living off their craft and if any of this was designed to protect authors and artists, I’d support it– but it’s not. It’s to keep rich people rich and give additional power to people who certainly don’t need anymore.

  • My 13-year-old daughter says, “Let them spend ALL their money fighting this legislation! They’re greedy anyways!”
    I have to agree.

  • While I believe that piracy should be stopped and that it’s a demotivating force in the creator’s life, blocking sites couldn’t be the solution. Actually, it’s almost impossible to objectively determine whether or not something is pirated/plagiarized, especially in the case of graphics and videos. Fan Art can be easily mistaken for pirated or plagiarized artwork, and such an assumption harms not just the fan whose site ends up being blocked, but also the creator, because irate fans are worse than no fans!

    It is a difficult situation, but it has to have some other solution – blocking sites would do less good and more evil.

    Thank you for the post:)
    – Shafali

  • I can’t agree more, there are so many times that I think about how things run in Japan in regards to copyrights, and how things run in North America, and the sheer hypocrisy of things baffles me.

  • You’re article is very accurate and I’m glad others are opposed to SOPA and PIPA. It’s scary that both these pieces of bad legislation have made it so close to becomming law. I believe GoDaddy has dropped their support for SOPA but still support PIPA. As you mentioned, The Department of Homeland Security already has broad powers and can easily shut down websites with little or no evidence of copyright violations. These two acts will give them even more broad powers. In addition, there needs to be reform on what constitutes copyrights and patents since it is easy to obtain a copyright or patent for almost anything. It’s easy to claim copyright infringement and get someone’s website taken down already and the only way to get you website back is to file a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and prove that you are innocent which is the total opposite of the notion of innocent until proven guilty. In the meantime while a site is down, they lose revenues. The Entertainment Industry is too powerful of a lobby and allowing SOPA or PIPA to become law will destroy the Internet as we know it just to protect Hollywood from copyright infringement. As you mentioned, we would have censorship similiar to China just because the Entertainment Industry wants to protect copyrights with whatever legislation it takes.

  • Such an interesting post! :D Many congratulations on being Freshly Presdsed.

  • I did not know much about SOPA till I read this blog. I live in Singapore and not sure how #SOPA will really affect me but if sharing good content, for example reblogging on tumblr or retweet on twitter is gone. I believe this is seriously bad news.

    This reminds me of an article written by Thomas L. Friedman (where birds don’t fly) –
    {Because a place where birds don’t fly is a place where people don’t mix, ideas don’t get sparked, friendships don’t get forged, stereotypes don’t get broken, collaboration doesn’t happen, trust doesn’t get built, and freedom doesn’t ring.}

  • Great review.
    If there are such clear aspects to SOPA like: “It would also allow mass seizures without due process by court order.” this means that the congress is not interested in the fairness of the bill (or possibly reading it), nor the lack of protecting citizen rights. It seems time and time again that they are interested in the personal check paper-clipped to their version of the draft.

    I believe Mr US Congressman of today feels:
    “Look, what would it hurt to vote in favor of this and let the US Judicial Branch deal with it? Why should I deny myself getting paid by these corporations to just pass it? I could really use that money for my ‘campaign’ bank account, or the money I put aside for my campaign … in 2014… is important to me.”
    As quoted in this article, states “MapLight shows that the 32 sponsors of the [SOPA] bill have received four times more campaign contributions from the entertainment industry than from tech companies that oppose it”
    Since congress has been allowed to recently destroy all the ‘checks and balances’ of campaign money collection and the audits of how it is spent, and congress additionally allows lobbyists into DC who deliver this money, I see NO incentive for them to do ANYTHING for their voting public and everything for the contributors; companies who buy votes.

    This is the basis of the problem within the US congress today – congressmen are no longer being audited for their actions to protect the citizens, they have huge amounts of money coming in from campaign finance and are not punished, and they can add any unrelated rider to a bill, and wreck the entire bill.
    On the voter side, the educational system is deteriorating, and those required classes that were so much a part of the 1950’s-2000 are now almost gone, including government.
    “We the people” have an upward battle to regain control of our current government, and go back to a population of better informed and better educated voters.
    I am so happy to live in a country where we have so many freedoms and opportunities. But I worry we (including myself) get caught up in shiny things, like game apps on iPads and personal text messaging and ignore quality education, ‘family time’, and physical exercise that was once a core of the US not so long ago.

  • What many of these entities don’t seem to understand is that piracy can’t be stopped. This piece of legislation may stem the flow for a time, but sooner or later, new ways to circumvent the blocks will be found and distributed widely.

    I noticed that a few musician groups are supporting the passing of the bill and, as you mentioned, many of those musicians who, doubtless, are members started out breaking the rules which they are now trying to impose on others.

    Yes, piracy takes away from the revenue of these entities, but it also spreads the art. People who download these movies, songs, or other creations are bound to tell their friends and relatives about it. Rather than having one person buy the article, you now have several people who are informed and have become potential buyers of the product. I’m not saying that every situation works out this way, but I’m sure enough do to reduce the losses to an inconsequential amount.

    As for the increasingly strict regulations affecting fan art, these companies are hurting themselves. Fan art is simply a way for lovers of products and their producers to share that passion and spread the word. To put it simply, it’s free advertising.

    If this legislation does pass, these groups will soon realize their mistake, but it may be too late to bypass the red tape that’s bound to entangle all involved as soon as it comes into effect. So let’s prevent unneeded hurt and stop this Act before it does any harm.

  • I have Liked this, but clearly I do not like these developments! How does Prince suing a parent because their child danced to his music on youtube help him as an artist? And where is the harm? How on earth did any sane judge allow that? Similar sentiments on all the other points you made, very thorough post!

  • I don’t think this is going to work. Who ever the dumbass that thought of this crap, is just trying to get an agenda filled, as well as a pocket filled with some green!
    This has got to be the dumbest thing in a while to head to congress. It will not only strip us of any form of creativity, but also no freedom to even say something about a picture without having the law hit us with free room and board at taxpayers expense! I will be one to help fight this, and since I am a web developer, how can you be original in just about anything without being under copyright fire????
    So that basically means that anything after the Beatles or The Rolling Stones and the like are just infringing on copyrights!
    We have such geniuses in congress, and yet we keep re-electing them!
    I will fight and back those who oppose it! Count me in!

  • This type of legislation really annoys me. Not only is it poorly written, but censorship in general goes against the very core of the American Identity. Follow that with the fact the current online intellectual property laws already threaten the very concept of personal ownership, and you wind up with a situation that will quickly become downright frightening.

  • When you’re dealing with competition from superpowers like China and Russia, I guess the best way to keep up is imitation! It’s terrible where things are heading. Thanks for spreading the word. Keep the resistance towards tyranny strong.

  • thanks for this information.

  • Congrats on getting freshly pressed, and for getting information about SOPA out there. I’d do a write-up on it myself, but I’m not as nearly knowledgeable about it as I would like. If entertainment companies are worried about losing so much money, they should just make better quality stuff, in my opinion, that people find worth paying for. I personally buy movies that I thoroughly enjoyed and can see myself watching over and over again, partially for that reason and also to support my favorite actors and actresses. I’m sure there are other people out there that would do the same.

  • Don’t worry about it, they won’t pass the bill.

  • Nice read

  • There’s a whole mess of things to say about the issue of the entertainment industry not only threatening its consumers but also making waves with dangerously irresponsible side-effects. Our specific comments are informed by a recent experience. We just created a video from an MP3 of Laurie Anderson’s “Sharkey’s Night” for Youtube. This is our first foray into Youtubing other people’s content so we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Of course, the sophisticated Youtube software and the Warner Media Group’s heavy hand blocked it immediately. Yes, we get it. Using copyrighted materials without permission is a legitimate concern. But I have to wonder if the entertainment industry’s attempts at curtailing illegal (read: non-monetary) access to its products is having the opposite effect for which those attempts are intended. How much greater is the positive exposure today for artists given easy accessibility to free content via the Internet vs. what it was when the only unpaid exposure was radio (or your friend’s bootlegged tape)? We bought a Billy Talent album online recently after discovering the band on Youtube. Same with Lily Allen. So, the free exposure from someone “illegally” ripping two of these artists’ songs, led to a commercial transaction for the industry magnates that try to stifle uncontrolled dissemination of their products. No matter how much policing or censoring happens, the entertainment industry is going to lose something, so it seems it could learn something from the programmers that develop shareware/freeware software. Inevitably, a more comprehensive pay-for product is made available without much attempt to police usage. The vast majority of people don’t bother buying the full version (and if studies are accurate, probably wouldn’t anyway even if the only way they could get it was to pay for it), so the creator actually ends up leveraging the non-commercial interest in their product to generate commercial activity. My point? Rather than restricting (and creating an underground of illegal activity plus the more importantly horrifying possibility of creating a watershed of censorship), the entertainment industry should grow up and figure out ways to embrace openness and foster exposure. The more you know, the more you grow. The less you know, the more you are North Korea. By the way, we posted thoughts on our blog about the demise of the CCA if you care to read them: