What is Wrong with SOPA?

Some of the big websites are going black today to protest SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, that has been winding its way through Congress. We’re going to handle things in our own way — by illuminating the matter with a little intelligent media.

Backed by the Motion Picture Association of America, SOPA is designed to debilitate and effectively shut down foreign-based websites that sell pirated movies, music and other goods. That all sounds fine on the face of things. But the legislation, if enacted, would carry with it a series of unexpected consequences that could change the internet as we know it. Among other things, the law could be used to shut down American sites that unwittingly host or link to illegal content — and without giving the sites due process, a real day in court. Big sites like YouTube and Twitter could fall under pressure, and so could countless small sites. Needless to say, that could have a serious chilling effect on the openness of the web and free speech.

To give a quick example: It could conceivably be the case that Stanford might object to my featuring their video above, file a claim, and shut the site down without giving me notice and an opportunity to remove the material (as exists under current law). It’s not likely. But it is possible, and the risk increases with every post we write. If this law passes, the amount of material we could truly safely cover would become ludicrously small, so much so that it wouldn’t be worth running the site and using the web as an educational medium.

The Obama administration has come out against SOPA and PIPA, sidelining the legislation for now. But you can almost guarantee that revisions will be made, and the bills will return soon. So, while other sites go black, we’re going to do what we do best. We’re featuring video of an event held in December by the Stanford Center for Internet and Society (SCIS). What’s Wrong with SOPA brings together a series of informed opponents to SOPA, including Stanford law professors and business leaders within Silicon Valley. (Find their bios below the jump.) Some of the most incisive comments are made by Fred von Lohmann, a Google lawyer, starting at the 19:10 mark.

Note: If you’re looking to understand the debate from the perspective of copyright holders, then we’d recommend you spend time watching, Follow the Money: Who Profits from Piracy?, a video that tracks the theft of one movie, making it a microcosm of a larger problem.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.