Protests against SOPA and PIPA have brought the complexity of piracy regulation to the public eye, but we are still far from the final solutions.
ANYONE HAVING A stake on the Internet should be familiar with two menacing acronyms SOPA and PIPA after last Wednesday when Wikipedia, Reddit and some other prominent websites went black for a day in protest. The whole issue became a trending topic in mainstream media, but it didn't necessarily translate into most people making sense of what these sister legislation proposals mean in the bigger picture.
For starters, what are SOPA and PIPA?
THERE ARE TWO congressional proposals currently being pushed through Congress. SOPA is the Stop Online Piracy Online bill that is being debated in the House of Representatives. PIPA stands for Protect IP Act and is making its way through the Senate. Essentially pieces of legislation that target intellectual property theft, their objective is to make life harder for websites based outside the United States that host and distribute copyrighted material.
What is the problem with SOPA and PIPA?
IF THEIR INTENTIONS are so great, why protest against these legitimate efforts to curb large-scale theft of intellectual property from American companies? Piracy is a real problem that costs the economy a massive amount of money and gives companies that game the current legal system an unfair advantage. So why fret about it? What does Wikipedia have to do with that?
THE REAL PROBLEM with SOPA and PIPA is unintended consequences they are very likely to bring about as a result of applying the wrong method to combat a legitimate issue. And these consequences threaten not just non-US crook websites, but the very core of the cyberspace as a free ecosystem and the future web development.
The bottom line
BECAUSE US AUTHORITIES have little or no control over many pirate websites based outside US borders, SOPA and PIPA focus on cutting off their American sources of funding. It gives intellectual property rights holders a legal instrument to request from companies such as Google, PayPal, Visa or any other provider of critical online business or website development services to pull the plug on the offender. Google could be requested to terminate contextual advertising services, PayPal could be requested to disable its accounts and so on. Another plausible consequence that angers anti-SOPA protesters is a vision of black lists of sleazy companies they would be legally obliged to fight with (for example: by removing links or search results).
THE WORST THING is that SOPA and PIPA, in the current form, place the heaviest burden of executing the new regulations on Internet companies. This will require companies that play by the rules to invest heavily in monitoring their countless customers in search of illegal outfits. Not every company is capable of delivering this sort of infrastructure and innovative, capital-hungry startups will be hit the most if the new laws get passed.
IT"S CLEAR TO see that US authorities are intent on cracking down on piracy. Shutting down MegaUpload a day after the peak of the anti-SOPA protests means the government is not going to let up this time. But it will probably have to find a way to fix the law in a way that the industry will support. It's not going to easy.