Some of the most popular sites on the Internet could be in serious trouble if the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) passes this month. The House of Representatives will be conducting hearings and potentially voting on January 23. Or, if it's sister act, Protect IP Act (PIPA) goes through the Senate later.
Reddit -- This social bookmarking site allows users to share content and links to content. Unfortunately, if any of that content is linked by someone who doesn't own the rights, Reddit could be the one taken down.
Deviant Art -- This platform for amateur and professional artists to share, exhibit, and promote their work is visited by 45 million different people each month. If any of the pieces uploaded are copyrighted, or in the interest of parody, a derivative work of a copyrighted work could get Deviant Art in trouble. This could cause the entire site could come down, financially crippling tens of thousands of artists displaying their own work.
EBay -- EBay has strict policies about counterfeit goods, however, they occasionally are featured by eBay sellers in spite of the efforts. Even one auction featuring counterfeit goods could tear down the fabric of the world's largest auction site. For example, Nike currently has exclusive rights to produce NFL clothing. If an eBay seller offers counterfeit NFL baseball caps, even unbeknownst to them, Nike could potentially get a court order to shut down eBay in its entirety at the IP level without due process.
Amazon -- Amazon.com allows third-party people to sell used and new goods on Amazon. Furthermore, publishers now can sell their products on Kindle without the expense of going through traditional paper publishing. Unfortunately, it's possible that some of the sellers could publish material to which they don't own the copyright. Again, under SOPA, the entirety Amazon.com could be at risk. Certainly Amazon can't afford the risk of shutting down, so they will likely make a preemptive move to eliminate small publishers and individual sellers. This would be devastating for publishers and self published writers.
Etsy -- Etsy is a community of artists and crafters with their 800,000 active shops filled with handmade goods. They could be forced to suspend service if even one of those 800,000 jobs violates copyright laws or features renditions of art where the artist hasn't proven ownership. Because there is no due process, even parody art or derivative works, which are legal, could crash the site.
YouTube -- Google could lose their $1 billion investment in YouTube. YouTube owns almost none of its content. They have a distinct process for copyright holders to pursue infringements on their copyright. Frequently copyrighted works, such as clips from television shows, are featured on YouTube and later taken down. Even though YouTube has a good reputation for protecting copyright owners, stopping the flow 100% is nearly impossible. Under SOPA YouTube would barely stand a chance of survival because of the massive quantities of video.
Facebook -- The largest website on the planet, featuring 800 million users (for comparison, if Facebook was a country, they would rank third behind China and India). Users violate SOPA not only when they republish copyrighted works, but even linking to a copyrighted work on another site would be banned. Imagine Facebook without the ability to share links, upload videos or photos, or even share a poem. Essentially, it would be a giant page of status updates. A single violation could bring one of the world's largest companies to its knees.
Flickr -- What YouTube is to video, Flickr is to photography. Furthermore, it's one of the largest sources of public domain and Creative Commons licenses in the world. Tens of millions of legal images populate Flickr. However, if a single image is illegal, Flickr is at risk.
WordPress and Blogger -- The two largest platforms for independent bloggers, such as me, would be huge targets because of the potential for publishing copyrighted works. A teenager who publishes the lyrics to a song on their personal blog in their entirety could bring down the whole system. Under SOPA a record label could get an injunction and shut down WordPress because a 14-year-old publishes lyrics to a Justin Bieber song. If you doubt this would happen, ask yourself why every major record label has released support and made donations to Congress and the Senate for this act.
Tumblr -- This micro-blogging site is in even more danger, because so much of it content links to other websites. That teenager who published Justin Bieber lyrics could also take down Tumblr, just because one of their friends published a link to the lyrics on Blogger.
Vimeo -- This website going down could have massive repercussions for small business. Vimeo allows people to publish original videos and distribute them. Lots of businesses use their service to add video to their websites because for a small fee they can remove the logo. It's a great solution other than YouTube. However, if a copyright holder sees a snippet of their product in a video on Vimeo, one call to a friendly judge could cripple tens of thousands of Internet businesses. Even for one day, this could generate billions in losses.
Twitter -- The world's most active site, because of its simplicity and ease-of-use, is virtually impossible to police. All of Twitter could be taken down for a single link to a copyrighted work, or to a counterfeit product. Twitter is worldwide, so even products legal to sell in other countries, could be violations of the US law.
Wikipedia -- The largest encyclopedia in history of the world could cease to exist. There are millions upon millions of samples, most of which have sources and copyrights cited, in this encyclopedia. Rather than make a strong effort to find proper citation, a mis-cited work or a copyright violation could crumble one of the most useful user created sites on the planet. Legal fees alone would destroy the company, because Wikipedia has no advertising revenue and is completely funded by donations.
Google, Yahoo, Bing and every other search engine -- By nature, these are linking machines run by massive robots. Search engines would violate SOPA every time they display a link to any website that publishes unoriginal material. Even though all the search engines have safeguards in place, it's impossible to prevent linking to counterfeit goods or copyright violators occasionally.
PayPal -- PayPal is the world's largest shopping cart provider. They and any other companies that provide service for small business shopping carts could be in trouble if any of those businesses are dealing in counterfeit goods. This includes items that are legal to sell in other countries. Banks have a vested interest in eliminating competition for credit card providing services. Since the advent of inexpensive sources, the average fee paid by retailers to MasterCard and Visa companies dropped from 3.5% to 1.5%. Consolidating banking to a handful of Visa and MasterCard providers would generate tens of billions of revenue for banks.
Tons of other websites would be at risk as well. ITunes, Snap Fish, Kodak Gallery, any shopping cart provider, video gaming websites, Linked In, Digg, StumbleUpon, and hundreds of thousands of websites you've never heard of could potentially publish or link to counterfeit goods or copyrighted material.
You may be saying to yourself, how real is this?
Could a copyright holder really shut down YouTube?
Absolutely. Content publishers such as the music industry and major movie studios have been screaming for decades about piracy. They've spent hundreds of millions to prevent us from using technology and new formats. It's in their best interest to keep the field small.
The biggest threat to the record industry is not teenagers failing to purchase CDs. The biggest threat is teenagers buying CDs, or downloads, directly from the artists. Musicians are the enemies of the music industry.
The movie/television industry makes billions of dollars annually, which used to be spread among only four major studios. It's in their best interest to make sure that content doesn't go direct to the Internet. Films, television shows, and even animation published inexpensively is a danger. A number of actors, directors, and comedians have already started their own websites. The enemy of the movie industry is the talent.
At one time every book in America was published by 12 major publishing houses. Today you can self publish your own book, manuscript, poetry or even a manifesto directly to the Internet. You can sell it or give it away. This right could be snatched from us simply by toppling the ability of Amazon to work with small publishers, or Blogger to publish original material. The enemy of the book industry is freelance writing.
Millions of goods are manufactured annually. The NFL and their apparel partners are able to sell jerseys and other apparel at extremely high markups, well above the cost of production. They have a vested interest in reducing the number of outlets that you can purchase their products from. Licensed or counterfeit, everyone in this business makes more money if you're forced to go to the major retailers to purchase their products. Shutting down shopping cart systems and online auction houses would be collateral damage of their fight.
Bricks and mortar banks would love to eliminate PayPal and other inexpensive banking solutions.
I'm not against stopping piracy.
Counterfeit merchandise is a problem. Pirated entertainment is a problem. Copyright violations are problem. Counterfeit medicines and fake drugs are problems. These are real problems, however, we already have laws in place to deal with them on an individual basis.
There are legal and proper channels for protecting the rights and licenses of content producers and manufacturers.
Fighting them at an Internet level is roughly the equivalent extinguishing a match with a fire hose.
Additionally, some companies would have a vested interest in toppling other large companies that provide services at little or no cost.
The biggest problems with these pieces of legislation is there is no due process, appeals process, standards of conduct or scalability. As it reads now, a content provider could shut down an entire website, or the servers for an entire network with the signature of a single judge.
Individuals don't believe in SOPA. It is a creation of big business. The supporters include Disney (ABC television), The American Bankers Association, Capital Records, CBS, Comcast/NBC, Directors Guild of America, EMI music, McGraw-Hill books, MCA records, Maj. League Baseball, National Football League, Pfizer, Viacom, MasterCard, Visa, Warner Music, Sony Pictures, Sony Music, Screen Actors Guild, Scholastic publishing, News Corp. (Fox), HarperCollins, BMI, BMG, Penguin, Random House, Universal Studios, Marvel Entertainment. And many more...
These companies do not have the best interest of the Internet in mind. These companies use the Internet as a potential threat to their business.
Opponents include Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, Mozilla, Reddit, Wikipedia, Reporters without Borders, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch.
I say this with absolute conviction. SOPA and PIPA are the two most dangerous pieces of legislation to individuals in recent history of the United States. It will affect far more people than the Patriot Act, civil rights acts, or any immigration law. They were remove power from the individual by essentially crippling the free Internet, and therefore infringing on our own rights to freedom of speech, protest and assembly.
The bill has bipartisan support because major companies are funding campaigns on both sides of the aisle.
The only way that this bill will not be passed is if we convince members of Congress and the Senate that their jobs will be in jeopardy if they support these acts. We need to convince them that voters make the decisions, not financial supporters.
I urge you to contact members of the Senate and Congress. This is particularly important if your representatives are on this list of 31 cosponsors. Mine is, and I'm ashamed of Tom Marino.