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.