Please Note: This is a shortened version of the original blog posted on Question Everything - A Blog by Megan Sullivan on January 18, 2012. Since the original posting, SOPA as it currently stands has been shelved, however, supporters of the original bill have said they will reintroduce something similar at another time.
SOPA and PIPA are the latest acronyms to flood the interwebs, many of the articles promising death and destruction should either of these bills pass in the Congress. I whole-heartedly agree they are not good for America, Americans or the world at large, however, I think the real issues surrounding them, while alarming, have kept us from focusing on some of the other byproducts such laws would create.
Censorship is a slippery slope and we won't gain traction back quickly. No matter how anyone spins it, SOPA is a form of censorship. The language written into the bill does not directly state it, but then again, it never would have gotten as far as it has with a blatant mention of the “c" word. SOPA is meant to censure any website that so much as thinks about copyright infringement or offers a mechanism that could allow for copyright infringement. That means comment sections, photo uploads, back-linking etc.
A free flow of ideas breeds innovation. Let me quote Sir Isaac Newton, you know, the guy who put a name to gravity: “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." I'm not saying that people don't come up with new ideas or inventions; they do. But, most of the things that are being created now are building upon someone else's creation or discovery. We wouldn't have thought to break the sound barrier if we hadn't known one existed. We wouldn't be trying to cure cancer, if someone hadn't discovered it in the first place. See where I'm going with this? Innovative thinking is an organic result of the thinking that came before. It is spawned from the “what if?" question that often follows the discovery of something and then leads to the next. By limiting what is available and how someone accesses that information, we are limiting those who would share their work and discoveries with the internet at large.
The Internet has done more good than harm. While it is not truly universal or available to everyone (there are still limits to access based on income, connectivity, etc.), it is still quickly becoming the most accessible media. Unlike newspaper, TV, radio or telephone, the internet needs very little to get carried from one city, one state, one country to the next. If we disregard connection issues for the moment, how else can we explain the ubiquity of the internet and its role in global movements, such as the uprising this past summer in Egypt or even opposition to SOPA? The beauty of the internet is that it shrinks our world, allowing us to garner information from others who have different views and experiences than us. It has also made things like medical information, education and news available to people who did not have access before.
Passage of SOPA won't stop online piracy. Newsflash: the people whom this bill is designed to stop, i.e. online pirates who take great pride in stealing Hollywood's latest blockbuster or the music industry's latest album, already KNOW THEY'RE DOING SOMETHING WRONG. They don't need legislation to tell them that. Passage of this bill will not cause them to sit up and say, “Oh no, that's illegal? I better stop then." It will simply encourage them to find new and more creative ways to make pirated content available.
SOPA is a machete. This is not the job for hacking with a giant, unsharpened knife. If anything, it's the job for a scalpel, and one that is wielded by an expert (or team of experts). Website owners and content creators/managers will need to be involved in writing and enacting legislation that will not only work, but is easier to follow and enforce.
Whether SOPA or PIPA actually pass or are even brought to a vote before Congress is not yet apparent. (Author's Note: SOPA was shelved by January 20, 2012.)
The best thing we can hope for is that this first proposed bill has shed enough light on the situation that people now understand how important and potentially damaging such a law could be. This should aid the cause in the future when the new language is proposed and help 1) to determine if the new proposed language is better than the current incarnation and 2) to mobilize the general population faster to ensure that we continue to let the government know we will not allow such a bill to pass without understanding its intricacies and how it will affect everyone. Read the full language of the Stop Online Piracy Act on the Library of Congress Website
About the Author: Megan Sullivan is a former Droste employee and currently works in strategic marketing for the Orlando Sentinel Media Group. She has previously written for daily newspapers, online review sites and maintains her own blog. With degrees in communications and professional writing, Megan has worked at a traditional advertising agency, an Internet marketing firm, a digital ad network and now, a multimedia company. Any digital issues (like SOPA) are near and dear to her heart, hence this post.