This is pretty convoluted, as the title suggests. The short version is: there’s this really badly written bill that Hollywood is trying to push Congress to pass. Google says it’s the end of free speech for everyone. It’s not that simple, but if you can’t be bothered to read the rest of this article, just know that yeah, it’s a bad bill, and we need to stop it.
So for the past few months, they’ve been trying to get Congress to get Google to do it for them by not indexing them in the search engine. This is ludicrous on a few levels:
- Google does try to avoid linking to pirate sites, as they have repeatedly told Congress, but they too are hampered by the fact that these sites come and go so quickly, and they have a vested interest in indexing sites rapidly for their searchers. Practically speaking, there is no one who can do much about piracy, and Google is no exception.
- If Google could somehow magically instantly identify all pirates and not index them, Google is only 65% of the search market these days. And search engines are not the only way people find sites.
- There are a lot of gray areas to this. If your YouTube video (Google also owns YouTube) featuring your cat playing the piano has a radio playing in the background, do you owe royalty payments to the performer on the radio who can be heard faintly? No one’s sure. And the whole reason bootleggers aren’t prosecuted is that they mostly copy shows that aren’t available on DVD or VHS from cable onto DVDs and sell the DVDs supposedly at cost. No one can figure out if this is illegal, i.e., if the copyright holder refuses to issue more than one season of Cagney & Lacey in any format, is it really illegal for someone else to provide copies of their home videos of it at cost of their materials?
- I can just sniff concerns about Google Books in here, too, but I’m not sure where it fits in.
The problem with SOPA is that (a) Google can’t do what it wants, and it probably sets a really weird precedent to ask them to do what the government cannot and (b) it goes waaaaaay further than that, anyway. BoingBoing has a pretty good analysis of how broad this is:
…this law would give government and corporations the power to block sites like BoingBoing over infringing links on at least one webpage posted by their users.
…government and their corporations get unbelievable power to take down sites, threaten payment processors into stopping payment to sites on a blacklist, and throw people in jail for posting ordinary content…
My question on this point: the reason why the FBI and similar organizations can’t close down pedophile rings is that the criminals carefully hide their servers in countries that don’t comply with our requests. Short of sending Special Forces into countries where we have no right to be, and risking the start of war, we just can’t enforce US or international law without the cooperation of hostile nations. So, how does SOPA empower the US government or corporations to take down piracy sites in hostile nations? It doesn’t, of course. It just prevents US internet subscribers from accessing these sites, and that’s a clear attempt to back-end the FCC’s net neutrality laws (which, ironically, Google and Verizon didn’t like, either).
Never heard of net neutrality? Big companies want to serve up some sites faster than others, on some kind of pay scale. That would put sites like Hathor at the bottom of the heap, as no one wants to wait a long time for a page load and I can’t afford to buy you some speed. But hey, after the FCC decided to enforce net neutrality, Google found their own way to back-end it. All this year, they’ve been working on an algorithm change that privileges big brands over independent sites. :/
More from BoingBoing:
I’ve been trying to think about whether or not the world is going to end if this bill passes like it’s supposed to — and the answer is, “kind of yes”. When small sites, and it’s the small sites that get turned off in the night and no one for the most part notices, say my friend’s political blog or news site gets blocked by the US government and she has no way to get it back up even though everything she did was legal according to current law, and no one can help her except she can choose to file suit to defend herself, I feel like I die inside a little. Living in a country where you are being shut out and left powerless to really defend yourself is like living in another country, the ones you hear about. Life starts to feel shot when that happens, especially to our friends or our favorites sites.
Every site who has user-generated content, posts links or videos to anything copyrighted in it could face new legal threats.
Do I really think this law will be implemented in such a way that they would take down Hathor because we have Thursday Interruption or one of you guys links to a YouTube video in comments? I actually don’t. I think there would be a tremendous backlash if they did, and they may be thinking just clearly enough to recognize that. The problem is not in what will happen right now, but in what the bill allows for the future. What happens with this bill 5 years from now? 20 years from now? Even if Hollywood had the best of intentions not to abuse this law (LOL), what happens 25 years from now when a new generation is in charge – a generation that never knew a time before SOPA? They chip away just a little more of somebody’s rights to make a profit that Hollywood wishes they’d thought to make.
Or some politician with a racist agenda uses SOPA to control the media and consolidate power. We saw that happen a few times in the past century. And yeah, I carefully considered the comparison: I really do think SOPA could be abused this way.
One last thought. Consider this comment from “Teller” on the linked BoingBoing page:
Here’s the congressional money trail from SOPA supporters in entertainment and publishing.
How will they vote?
Top recipients for ALL supporting interest groups
Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV]
Sen. Charles Schumer [D, NY]
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D, NY]
Sen. Barbara Boxer [D, CA]
Sen. Michael Bennet [D, CO]
Sen. Patrick Leahy [D, VT]
Sen. Robert Portman [R, OH]
Sen. Mark Kirk [R, IL]
Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR]
Sen. Patty Murray [D, WA]
Rep. Howard Berman [D, CA-28]
Rep. Bruce Braley [D, IA-1]
Rep. Michael Capuano [D, MA-8]
Rep. Patrick Meehan [R, PA-7]
Rep. Allyson Schwartz [D, PA-13]
Rep. Eric Cantor [R, VA-7]
Rep. John Barrow [D, GA-12]
Rep. Gary Peters [D, MI-9]
Rep. Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8]
Rep. Carolyn Maloney [D, NY-14]
I hope BoingBoing and Teller don’t mind that I copied that. I’m not doing it to profit off their content, you see, but to spread the word. But under SOPA, I’m not sure that would be legal, as it’s a pretty big citation.