The Stop Online Piracy Act And You: A Primer

The Stop Online Piracy Act And You: A Primer

I’m a world-class nerd. But that doesn’t mean I understand the nuts and bolts of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), an internet censorship bill on which the House Judiciary Commitee held hearings today. (You can watch the hearings live here.)

Worryingly, I’m not alone: As the Washington Post reports, members of the Judiciary Committee that met to amend SOPA tended towards identifying themselves as ignorant of the inner workings of the internet. “If I had a dime for every time someone in the hearing used the phrase ‘I’m not a nerd’ or ‘I’m no tech expert, but they tell me . . .,'” writes the Post‘s Alexandra Petri, “I’d have a large number of dimes and still feel intensely worried about the future of the uncensored Internet.”

In an effort to educate myself, I’ve tracked down a bunch of articles, comics, and infographics about the bill. Considering that the ramifications of this bill sound dire at best, I thought it would be a good idea to assemble some of my findings here.

Ars Technica has an article that breaks the entire situation down. From the intro:

Imagine a world in which any intellectual property holder can, without ever appearing before a judge or setting foot in a courtroom, shut down any website’s online advertising programs and block access to credit card payments. The credit card processors and the advertising networks would be required to take quick action against the named website; only the filing of a “counter notification” by the website could get service restored.

It’s the world envisioned by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) in today’s introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US House of Representatives. This isn’t some off-the-wall piece of legislation with no chance of passing, either; it’s the House equivalent to the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act, which would officially bring Internet censorship to the US as a matter of law.

Calling its plan a “market-based system to protect US customers and prevent US funding of sites dedicated to theft of US property,” the new bill gives broad powers to private actors. Any holder of intellectual property rights could simply send a letter to ad network operators like Google and to payment processors like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal, demanding these companies cut off access to any site the IP holder names as an infringer.

The scheme is much like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) “takedown notices,” in which a copyright holder can demand some piece of content be removed from sites like YouTube with a letter. The content will be removed unless the person who posted the content objects; at that point, the copyright holder can decide if it wants to take the person to court over the issue.

Here, though, the stakes are higher. Rather than requesting the takedown of certain hosted material, intellectual property owners can go directly for the jugular: marketing and revenue for the entire site. So long as the intellectual property holders include some “specific facts” supporting their infringement claim, ad networks and payment processors will have five days to cut off contact with the website in question.

The scheme is largely targeted at foreign websites which do not recognise US law, and which therefore will often refuse to comply with takedown requests. But the potential for abuse-even inadvertent abuse-here is astonishing, given the terrifically outsized stick with which content owners can now beat on suspected infringers.

But how does this affect you as a gamer? The gaming news site Gameranx has posted an article with the following breakdown of game-centric things that can be affected by the bill:

As a gamer, here’s what you stand to lose if SOPA passes:

* Mods

* “Let’s Play” videos

* Video replays

* Video reviews and commentary

* Unofficial game guides

* The taking, hosting, and sharing of screenshots, artistic or otherwise

* Image forums (Reddit, 4chan)

That seems fairly extreme to me — from my read on things, if a company supports mods, then mods won’t be taken away. The power is in the hands of the content holder. But all the same, it sounds like a company or IP holder would theoretically be allowed to go after all of those things.

The website Get Your Censor On takes a more humorous but no less chilling approach to the topic, putting together a series of comics that depict a humorous but also freaky future. The full thing is worth checking out, but here’s a snippet:

The comic (and several other sites) link to the page, which gives a lot of easy ways to get in touch with congresspeople while also offering plenty more info, including this infographic, which presents a similarly anti-SOPA/Protect IP Act breakdown. (The full infographic is included at the bottom of this post.)

There are many more resources available, should you want to know more about SOPA and its ramifications. You can contact your congressperson through and there is also a petition going on Reddit. Our sister site Gizmodo has also shared an easy way to tell Congress you don’t support the bill.

Get informed and get involved. You can at least do better than Iowa Representitive Steve King, who, while seated at the Judiciary Committee hearing today, tweeted this wildly ironic statement:

Some members of Congress may not care about this bill, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.


    • pretty much. Plus it sets a presedent for the USA and their major companies to control all content no matter what current laws in any country says

      • It would actually only be persuading precedent, if it actually came up as an issue here again, we wouldn’t have to follow the same decision as North America. 😀

  • It’s amazing how they’ll let someone with no knowledge whatsoever about something, write laws about that something.

    Shame all of the other political systems are worse, because representative democracy is a pretty terrible system sometimes.

  • I’m confused about one thing regarding this bill, it’s already been said that blocked sites can be accessed by typing the IP address rather than the URL, so Blocking the URL will eventually amount to nothing as most people will begin to know the sites by their IP address. My concern is with Ad revenue.

    Since they cannot enforce US laws outside the US, does this mean they can only strong arm US based Ad services? If so wouldn’t most sites simply change to non US based Ad services for their revenue?

    • The problem is my dear bro is that the most lucrative of ad services (such as google services) will be unavailable to them hitting them in the rear pocket. while some will survive others won’t. That beng said an enterprising lad from outside the U.S could capitalise on this… If no other major economy does this then in the end the U.S will only be shooting itself in the foot.

      • in theory yes, they could move, but i don’t think they are really trying to limit themselves to the USA. i mean VIACOM issuing copyright infringement claims on that song recently produced in retaliation to mega-upload, despite them not having any legal grounds to do so. i think i’d rather become a terrorist,than to see mankind’s greatest means of global communication taken advantage of so that corporate america can make more money at the expense of the worlds freedom

  • Here in Australia we don’t have any control over this. It’s irritating that the entire internet can be threatened like this, and we have no control over it.

    I’m listening to the debate, and it looks like it won’t pass at the moment. And they keep discussing immunity and such, so I don’t think it’s going to be a huge problem even if it does pass.

  • This will drive innovation… in finding new ways to pirate things and get around whatever restrictions are put in place.

  • “Based on your corporate access policies, this web site ( ) has been blocked because it has been determined by Web Reputation Filters to be a security threat”

    Looks like my corporation is well ahead of this “SOPA” business!


  • Its being passed off as a anti-piracy bill, but in reality it is set to be much broader.
    Broad as in Great Firewall of China broad.

  • wouldn’t that effectively stop freedom of speech? and we all know Americans love their freedom of speech, unless your being critical of the USA of course…

    • The Constitution is what the US congress are trying to bury.
      The government wants the ability to kill propaganda sites, sites critical of them, etc. Its just being presented as an anti-piracy bill. Read deeper into it and you can see how far reaching it is to be.

      Will go hand in hand with the TSA checkpoints being rolled out on roads, shopping centres, schools, etc.

    • i find this comment particularly funny, seeing as how no one is more critical of the US as americans. no one makes fun of their own country more than americans

      • This is so far from the truth I find it funny. The whole protest against universal healthcare pretty much shows how little interest Americans have in critiquing and improving their country. They’ll actually fight it!

    • Moving to Europe won’t mean anything. This bill carries the ability for the MPAA to shut down websites worldwide without having to set foot in court anywhere in the world.

  • This and the NDAA guarantees protest about it will be met with more than just pepper spray and if you think we don’t have anything to worry about..

  • A major point I drew from this is that sites could be taken down because of users, this would mean sites would need to go through a rigorous screening process before allowing any user…that kills all accounts on everything for about 6 months until website catch up…There goes my emails

    and what about hacked accounts? These regualtions are too strict and really should be scaled back a little

  • I was surprised at how stupid this bill is.
    It’s just, unusual.
    If this was passed, sites that account for a majority of internet traffic, 4chan, Facebook, etc. will be crippled, thus killing the internet boom. It’s preposterous.

    • Special interest groups lobby the US govt to leave the second ammendment alone.
      Special interest gourps lobby the US govt to bring in SOPA.

      Mystery solved.

      • Nope. The US government is trying to abolish the second amendment (the right to bear arms).
        Imagine a country with a crippled economy, millions homeless, prices sky rocketing, cant afford to feed families. . . the public start to fight back and everyone has guns.

  • Wait.. if its simply done via DNS blocking couldn’t you just add the IP addresses of blocked sites to your host file?

    Or, cant you just have a browser plugin that manages an ip list and does the DNS redirecting for you?

    All seems pretty useless to me.. They can legislate to censor the internet all the like, the net will simply evolve..

    • That’s entirely do-able, but you’re assuming these sites stay up.

      While a large-scale site like Twitter or Tumblr, or even Kotaku or IGN might be able to pay the legal bills that would be needed to fight such a happening in court, most smaller sites – like modsites, fan-run sites, webcomics, etc. would not be able to afford it.
      So they would simply shut down.

      So even if you did have the IP, the site would be gone anyway.

      It looks like it’s the end of the Internet as we know it, unless we can mobilize and put an end to it. Show them just how big the Internet is and just how much we love it. It’s pretty hard to say that nobody objects when you’ve got 300 million angry Internet users right outside.
      Getting companies behind it would help too.
      So far, there’s support from Notch, the guys who made Super Meat Boy, Bioware, and Google. (No word yet on Valve’s perspective, but I’m willing to say they’ll be thoroughly against SOPA.)
      Activision supports SOPA. (CoD players, I think you know what to do here…boycott time!)

  • This will cause World War 3.

    Nerds VS. The World.

    Finally, Our chance to rid the world of stupidity is at hand.

    Grab your Nerf Guns, Tonight we dine in… McDonalds!

  • I’ve been keeping half an eye on the SOPA bill progress for a few weeks now and from what I’ve seen, there are an incredibly large number of prominent and involved people and companies against it (heck, even Google got called pro-pirates for not supporting it) and even the house of representatives is largely questioning the bill. They’ve noted that there seems to be an enormous focus placed on getting this bill rushed through to being passed and they’re trying to get everyone to slow down and look it over very carefully and consider the consequences. There are a lot of people involved in trying to pass this bill that don’t seem to even know what it means and it scares me that these people are in power.

    • I believe they’re trying to distract from The Protect IP Act which is essentially the same as SOPA, but doesn’t target youtube, facebook, etc.

  • So, America – you want to stop me pirating by blocking my access to free copyrighted material?

    Challenge Accepted.

  • Pure tyranny.. the bill has many “immunity” clauses which claim that people have no right to take legal action when the bill is used against them.

  • This could actually be really good. I’d love to see the day a site like YouTube, Facebook or Google gets taken down. Realistically it probably isn’t going to happen but if it did they’d get wiped off the face of the Earth.
    Facebook: Ok, you blocked us. We removed the offending content. As well as anything even remotely related to any and all of your products. I hear MySpace is still open. Have fun there.
    YouTube: Ok, we took down your videos like we would have done if you just asked nicely. We’ve also taken down your trailers, your promos, your ads, your everything. The six people dumb enough to watch TV/movies on YouTube instead of torrenting are annoyed, but the seven people who still watch TV will love your promos enough to make up for it.
    Google: We’ve removed all traces of your company from our databases. Your company essentially no longer exists. Have a nice day.

  • Considering the States have the Patriot Act, this doesn’t seem like such a big infringement on real liberties in comparison.

  • This will simply see the rise of the Chinese/Euro/Russian hosting community. America is already blacklisted on most private trackers, its not long before the rest of the internet decides to just exclude them for everything.

    They can have AOL2.0 the rest of the world can have videos of Hitler losing his XBL account. Google won’t support it, neither will any large company that relies on add revenue which is pretty much all of them with a decent web presence and absolutely all of them who are small to medium.

  • The worst part of this bill is the fact that there is no due process, simply a reason could be produced practically out of thin air, in order to shut down a website, “better shut that news site down, cause it covered someone else’s news, that’s the law America will say.”

  • Just a question, is there any appeals process for someone who feels that their site has been wrongfully targeting?

    Given the over-abuse of the DMCA I won’t be surprised if SOPA is also used to take down competing sites, unflattering parodies and to silence critics.

  • could this mean the end of free pr0n <:O

    i can't possibly see this bill actually going threw.. it will be interesting to see how we regular internet users respond to this. i do really hope it doesn't get accepted, i can just see some random dude being sued millions for putting a video up.

  • This bill is going to be for the companys that WANT the use it but most gaming companys will just allow any videos and such of their games for the free advertising

  • This sucks. The majority of websites on the internet are American ones, so the majority of the websites on the internet will be closed down if they just have one teeny tiny link that could pass as copyright infringement. Websites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook could virtually disappear, and one of the most annoying things I find about all this is that Australians like me can’t vote to get rid of SOPA. The only people who can vote on it are Americans, even though this affects the entire world (except maybe the places that already have something like SOPA in place).

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