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 Americancensorship.org, 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 Americancensorship.org 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.


Comments

    So if this is passed the internet as we know it is doomed.

      It seems that it is more powerful than piracy/copyright laws for other media.

      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. :D

    Welllpp there goes the internet, It was fun while it lasted aye.

    oh well, back to banging hookers i guess

    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.

    There's a tonne of No's.

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

    Sigh America.

    Oh wait, that's just an amendment. And they have at least 10 more.

    Great...

      Welcome to watching parliament, its the next best thing to watching grass grow

        Watching grass grow is like the Freiza Saga in DBZ compared to listening to those politicians "argue & debate".

    "Based on your corporate access policies, this web site ( http://keepthewebopen.com/sopa ) 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

      i find this comment particularly funny, seeing as how no one is more critical of the US as 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!

    If this passes, ALOT of people will move to Europe.

      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.

      They only drafted a bill this stupid so the legislators will pass a bill that is only marginally less stupid.

    ....So the politicians will jump all over this, but won't do anything about the gun laws? Really?

      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.

    Fuk Yeh! Sucks to be in the US

      Dont bury your head in the sand. Its coming here too.
      What happens in the US will happen here too.

      This law affects THE WORLD and not just America.

    Well, in Australia im still waiting on the Rudd-O-Net! :D

    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!)

    Fine. I'll start up my own internet with blackjack and hookers...
    In fact forget the internet and blackjack!

    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.

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