SophSoft, Incorporated opposes SOPA legislation.
You may have noticed that today several sites have “gone black” to various degrees. You need look no further than the main page of Google (on January 18, 2012) to see a good example.
The reason for this is to draw attention to the dangers of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and its counterpart in the U.S. Senate, the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
We at SophSoft, Incorporated oppose these acts because, despite the ostensible goal, namely to stop computer piracy (a laudable aim, which we fully support), if SOPA and/or PIPA were to become law, they would fundamentally change the free nature of the internet, while doing little of substance to prevent actual piracy.
The rise of the internet has been the most important cultural shift in the past two decades, bar none, and it has been a catalyst for change throughout the world. These bills could reverse that progress by allowing sites to be blocked in the United States without due process, and it shifts the burden of policing users to legitimate sites, requiring defacto censorship. It also provides a blunt tool for unethical practices against online competitors or, in the best case scenario, merely (in essence) assigns much of the control of the internet (in the US) to large media corporations.
One of the most troubling aspects of these acts is that they show a profound lack of understanding of the actual issues, and without due process of law, there would be no opportunity for one to make a case, nor even to correct a misunderstanding. The “fair use doctrine” is not a bright line rule that is always clear, and these acts could force a company out of business simply because of a complaint about the fair use of an item, or due to an errant blog comment with a bad link (or a good link that was compromised later), nevermind the threat of simple malicious complaints.
Here is a very realistic scenario: Your sister-in-law gets a tattoo of Winnie the Pooh (Disney artwork) on her butt and thinks it would be fun to post a picture of the tattoo on Facebook; legalities of the tattoo notwithstanding, the litigious owners of Disney find a link to said picture, file a complaint, and Facebook itself could be shut down.
Another example, just for good measure: A small company like ours produces a game and includes background music contracted legitimately from an artist who is fully paid for his work; EMI decides that one measure sounds a little too similar to something from one of their artists, files a complaint, and our website is blocked.
Clearly, SOPA and PIPA are very dangerous approaches to resolving a significant problem for those of us in the software industry (though, in truth, the acts are still all about protecting large media conglomerates). If Congress really wants to help the problem, it could provide an expedited legal process for suing those who deliberately infringe copyrights, perhaps with a schedule of default judgment amounts, so small companies could afford to go after the real pirates. I have no problem with a court shuttering a proven pirate website, but the government already has that power.
For different takes on this issue, please see the Wikipedia and Google (“End Piracy, Not Liberty“) responses.
Finally, let me simply say that any U.S. bills that would use the same methods as those used by the governments of China, Iran, and Syria to suppress political dissent, and are rabidly supported by Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp saw nothing wrong with tapping phones and illegally listening in to private phone conversations (until they were caught), are definitely to be avoided.