By now, if you have a computer, eyes, or ears, you’ve heard of the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” or SOPA. The debate regarding this bill is incredibly heated: with some people saying that if it passes it will destroy the internet, while others saying that if it doesn’t the internet will destroy society. Pretty serious stuff. Those of us that grew up with the internet cringe at the idea of any government agency directly regulating it, pointing out that it has been largely unregulated (at least in the West) since its inception and has been doing just fine.
But what would SOPA actually do if it were passed? Critics say it would do little-to-nothing to actually stop online piracy. What the bill would do is allow ISPs to block domains from outside the US if they host pirated material. Basically, since copyright holders can’t sue foreign websites for illegally distributing their material, SOPA allows them to attack the distribution network (the internet) instead. A good analogy would be if the US closed down sea-ports because sometimes illegal drugs are smuggled in on ships.
Go Daddy, one of the largest domain hosting companies in the US, came out in support of SOPA, and as a result, a boycott was planned for Dec. 29th. Organized and detailed instructions were created and disseminated around the web, informing people how to switch their domain from Go Daddy to one of their competitors. Less than 24 hours after the boycott was generally announced, Go Daddy dropped their support of SOPA, and CEO Warren Adelman had this to say: “It’s very important that all Internet stakeholders work together on this [stopping online piracy]. Getting it right is worth the wait. Go Daddy will support it when and if the Internet community supports it.” A wise move from a shrewd businessman. The internet foments into an angry mob rather quickly, and the anonymity it provides only emboldens that mob further. But while most critics were angrily protesting, others were quietly preparing. It turns out that if SOPA were passed, getting around it to access illegal content still wouldn’t be very difficult. A simple firefox add-on has already been created called DeSopa that would allow users to access banned sites, like the Pirate Bay with ease. The fact that this extension has already been created before the bill is even debated in the House shows just how easy it will be for dedicated pirates to continue doing what they’re doing. The only real victims of SOPA will be those with less computer knowledge who would be unable to access sites they would have before.
Ever since Napster first came out in the late 90’s, content producers have been tearing their hair out trying to figure out how to stop people from copying what are essentially just 1’s and 0’s. Digital media, by its very nature, is incredibly easy to reproduce and disseminate. While this allows the individual to access mountains information and entertainment at the click of a button, it flies in the face of the older business model of content producers. Acts like SOPA and PIPA (its sister act in the Senate) are the last gasps of a moneymaking dinosaur that is hopelessly outdated. There is no way to stop individuals from sharing electronic media, even with the strictest laws and most brutal punishments. However, whichever side of the debate you come down on, the “Stop Online Piracy Act” will not stop online piracy, and that is the bottom line.