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Is the SOPA Opera Over?

In case you missed it — and I actually did — hundreds of Websites were blacked out yesterday in protest of some proposed US legislation. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has a self-explanatory intent, but aspects of it have many people crying, “Censorship!”

I've had a hard time writing about yesterday's protest without getting entrenched in a debate over the First Amendment, so I'm just going to avoid that topic. But the uproar is so interesting because there could be a lot of business at stake.

The best SOPA synopsis I've seen so far is in the Wall Street Journal. The bill's biggest supporters are movie and music companies, and the loudest protestors are Web companies. But I'd rather look at the implications for the electronics industry.

Semico's Michell Prunty crystallized the issue in her blog The Agony of Digital Rights Management. SOPA is really about digital rights management, and DRM is crucial to the supply chain.

Prunty's observation that the semiconductor industry “likes to think it doesn't have to worry” about DRM, because people say “those things will work themselves out” struck a chord with me. In our world — the digital ecosystem — content is king. A lot of content relies on hardware from cradle to grave. The sounds and visuals of most movies and music don't happen without a whole lot of support from technology, from the cameras used to film movies to the LEDs and switches under the on/off button of your PC, smartphone, or tablet.

Do the artists still own the creative rights to this stuff? Of course they do. But much of this content is developed with the assistance of processors, DRAM, disk drives, displays, crystal clear digital sound, and lots and lots of battery life. Hardware companies have skin in the SOPA game.

But making sure copyrights are enforced remains a challenge, as the SOPA opera this week demonstrated. If content becomes increasingly restricted, either voluntarily or by law, licensing costs are going to skyrocket. Legal downloads, in turn, will also become more expensive. Consumers are going to look for more free content (probably pirated) or go back to CDs, DVDs, and cheaper means of entertainment. The digital ecosystem as we know it may suffer. What's the point of owning an iPad if you can't surf and download from the Web? How much are you willing to pay for a song, book, movie, or video? I know there's a price point I won't tolerate, but I haven't reached it yet.

Hardware companies have been battling copyright infringement longer than many Internet companies have existed. I'm not sure these efforts will be any help to SOPA, but it's disingenuous to think only Internet/content companies have a stake in the legislation. So I'd like to hear from you. Does the bill go too far? Or do we need strict measures to preserve the digital ecosystem? Bonus question: Does anyone else find the idea of Wikipedia censoring its own site ironic?

24 comments on “Is the SOPA Opera Over?

  1. Nemos
    January 19, 2012

    hmmm, If we want to predict the future about the SOPA law, we can see what is going on with the patent war. The music companies they don't try to understand that, in reality, they don't loose any money because the people that they can afford to pay for music, they will do it.

    With laws like SOPA, you just throw out some people and make it more expensive for the others.

  2. Daniel
    January 20, 2012

    Barbara, I would like to know whether this new SOPA affect the contents and articles published in EBN and similar online communities. In most of the board messages, articles and blogs, contributors are providing external links and it's also to be having copy rights as per the SOPA, am I right. Are you foreseen any change in our way of presenting the articles?

  3. SunitaT
    January 20, 2012

    Does anyone else find the idea of Wikipedia censoring its own site ironic?

    @Barbara, I dont think the idea of wikipedia censoring its own site ironic. Infact I would say wikipedia was successful in this campaign because half-a-dozen of the 40 original co-sponsors of what is known as the PIPA bill withdrew their support Wednesday amid a one-day protest blackout by Wikipedia and other Web giants.

  4. Jay_Bond
    January 20, 2012

    @Tirlapur, I agree with you, in fact the websites blacking out their content has caused the Senators to re-evaluate the purpose. The current bill that is proposed is basically dead, and it's back to the drawing board.

    I understand that the movie and music industry are fighting because they are losing money, but the way the law was written gives many loopholes that could cause censorship. The main purpose of these bills was to block overseas sites that are allowing pirated content.

  5. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 20, 2012

    Hi JAcob,

    I don't think SOPA would have an impact on publications such as  EBN. SOPA would make it easier for authorities to shut down  Websites that sell pirated goods. Among other things, it could suspend links; stop credit card payments and yank their domain name/address. Although EBN articles are copyrighted, we don't sell them to the public. If anyhing, plaigerism would be the issue for most online pubs. The other aspect is the advertising on Internet sites. We know our sponsors are authorized distributors and suppliers of electronics, but if an advertiser is selling bogus goods on an Internet site, SOPA could be applied.

  6. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 20, 2012

    @tira: True. I guess I was coming at that from a different direction. One of the main complaints about Wikipedia is the source of its information–just about anyone can post source material there. Therefore, there is the danger of inaccurate information being posted. Wikipedia doesn't sell its information, so SOPA would probably not apply. But I do believe there have been suits against Wikipedia for posting inaccurate information about people. While this is not piracy, the information could be consideed non-authentic by not coming from the original source. So I see Wikipedia's protest as censorship of stuff that might not be right to begin with.

    Maybe irony was the wrong word…and as you point out, the protest did change some minds.

  7. Clairvoyant
    January 20, 2012

    I hope all of this ends and none of the bills get approved. ACTA is even scarier than SOPA.

  8. Taimoor Zubar
    January 20, 2012

    I recently read the T.B. Lee, the creator of WWW, announced his support for SOPA. I think this is likely to change a lot of opinions about SOPA now.

  9. t.alex
    January 21, 2012

    I can't really do things without wikipedia. If this SOPA went through, it would be a horrible thing.

  10. _hm
    January 21, 2012

    At this point, it is very pertinent point to begin debate. We need to resolve this issue agreeable to all concerned party. There need to be compromise from all involved.

     

  11. Houngbo_Hospice
    January 22, 2012

     Senate and House leaders said they will put off further action on legislation to combat online priracy. House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith, said that consideration of a similar House bill would be postponed “until there is wider agreement on a solution.” This means that SOPA debate seems to be closed for now.

  12. Houngbo_Hospice
    January 22, 2012

    @_hm:

    “There need to be compromise from all involved.”

    You are right. This is not a one party decision to take. The high tech community has to be involved as they undertand the internet better than the Senate and House leaders.

  13. Ariella
    January 22, 2012

    @t.alex I'm sure that students around the world were saying the exact same thing.

  14. FLYINGSCOT
    January 23, 2012

    I thought the day of action was very effective at raising awareness of the issue.

  15. Houngbo_Hospice
    January 23, 2012

    My feeling is that we will have a similar debate in a few months. But it is good to know that the collective actions of the internet community have paid off.

  16. arenasolutions
    January 24, 2012

    To say SOPA is about “media companies vs internet providers” is sort of a nice way of making it sound like its all about money, and it doesn't really matter which side wins the debate. In reality, SOPA got shut down because regular Americans (like myself and my friends) understand that it's so important to keep government out of the internet.

    Look at how China has censored its people via the web. Look at how important the internet was for the people involved in the Arab Spring. How the internet is regulated and managed makes a difference in what people can use it to accomplish. While people have gotten rich off of the internet, the internet isn't about money. It's about global education, communication and connection. The internet is really one of the last truly free places, devoid of pro-business regulations, and I think (hope) the general public will fight to keep it that way. 

  17. alawson
    January 24, 2012

    Great post Barb. Just a thought here. As you can imagine, I have been following the SOPA conversation closely, sometimes with gritted teeth. Though I realize the vast need for copyright enforcement on the Web and elsewhere (reference the recent megaupload.com case), the lines are very thin out there on this issue.

    There is so much user-generated content, not only on Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc, but on company blogs, forum engines, and public photo sites, that crossing the line even slightly can have major consequences for some of our favorite Web activities. User-generated content is the Web as we know it today. It's what fueled the most recent growth and brought businesses and customers closer together. It even, at times spurred a new age of honesty in business.

    I have talked to many in the last few weeks and the Wikipedia example is used most often. However, I don't use it at all. I like Wikipedia, but I also take it at face value. More important to me are what a SOPA-like law would mean for engagement, sharing, etc.

  18. bolaji ojo
    January 24, 2012

    I wonder too who might be caught in this situation even if what they are doing now might not be considered “illegal,” until some powerful company or organization complains. It's obvious the web is changing rapidly and that interractions are moving away from static web sites to interractive social media sites with the likely increase in information and content sharing. If I share some legally acquired information with members of my social media site will I trigger a criminal action?

  19. bolaji ojo
    January 24, 2012

    Arenasolutions, I wonder if anybody remembers the position paper from the UN last year describing the Internet as a “human right?” Are we about to curb its evolution?

  20. stochastic excursion
    January 25, 2012

    Tim O'Reilly is known to software engineers as a huge publisher of texts on software technology.  His blog piece on the realities of piracy are as on point today as they were in 2002

  21. Cryptoman
    January 25, 2012

     

    We have seen it all before. In some countries, governments tried to prohibit access to websites and they even tried to shut down the internet altogether. It all failed and such strategies are doomed to fail in the future as well. This all demonstrates how little some policymakers understand the Internet. They think that if they lock it behind the bars or put it on probation, it will not cause any trouble. They are trying to fight a new and strong 'virtual' beast with the traditional tools they are familiar with, which will not work.

    The rule of thumb is “The more one attempts to restrict people's freedom, the more people will fight against such restrictions and will win in the end”. Freedom is a one way ticket; when people get a taste for it, nothing can stop them from holding onto it and fighting for it for their lives, if needed. People will think and work harder to find different ways around such restrictions. Operations will move underground where the governments have almost no control. Such restrictions will generate huge business opportunities for criminals and outlaws, which will make the problem worse than what it is today.

    Therefore, the key thing to realise before making any new 'Internet' laws based on restrictions, prohibitions penalties etc. is the fact that a new approach is where the solution lies. This new solution should be based on 'finding the middle ground' that people will gradually accept and act accordingly 'with their freedom of choice'. The change and the acceptance process will be gradual and will not happen overnight. In the meantime, the revenues will be lost and the piracy will continue. That is just how it will have to be. There is no point in trying to swim upstream. There is no magic wand that can turn this reality around in a second, unfortunately

    I think today any proposed solution that does not include the phrase 'freedom of choice for people' in it will fail no matter how hard the governments try.

     

  22. alawson
    January 25, 2012

    Hi Bolaji. Its a good point. And according to SOPA, that site could be shut down at the DNS level upon complaint with no notification to you or the site owner. Don't get me wrong, measures need to be put in place, but this one sounds like it was written by the wrong folks; those whose views on the balance of security and usability were a bit skewed. Perhaps the next go-round will hold a more appealing solution.

  23. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 25, 2012

    Lacking any clear answer, the best choice in this particular case would be to forge ahead very carefully. There have been so many reversals of opinion on this from leadership companies that it should go back to the drawing board.

  24. t.alex
    February 1, 2012

    Ariella, yes, even professionals like us do use it quite often.

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