It’s all over the internet. Major sites, such as Craigslist, Google, Wikipedia, and many others have put up personal appeals to stop the passage of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). Meanwhile, those supporting the bill are equally voracious, stating that it is not the internet apocalypse that its critics are making it out to be. In fact they propose it as the logical next step to halt abuse of internet commerce, much in the same way security cameras and other anti-shoplifting devices secure physical retailers.
As far as I can tell, the vast majority of complaints on both sides do not actually believe that SOPA itself is the real issue. Rather, they focus on what the passage, or failure to pass, SOPA represents. For critics, it is the first real attempt by the United States to formally monitor and control internet activity. Thus, even though they might believe that SOPA in and of itself poses little risk to legitimate websites they feel that it is an “open door” that will lead to further restrictions of a far less agreeable nature. Once a major bill of this type is made into law, they believe, it is relatively simple to institute further restrictions piece by piece until it is no longer possible to browse the internet with total freedom, but rather with whatever the current political climate deems “appropriate.” In this current age of heavily divided bipartisan shenanigans, such fears are understandable.
On the other side of the issue, individuals believe that this represents the greatest chance to protect intellectual property yet. Although they know of the various bypasses, sites that redirect to “blocked” materials, and other workarounds, they also believe that they will have the groundwork in place to launch a more aggressive attack on pirates and those who would bootleg their software rather than pay for it fairly. They believe that if this bill fails, it will be nearly impossible to meaningfully curtail the rampant piracy that infects nearly every software developer today. And this is also a valid point. Even though it is easy to joke about fat-cat companies losing out on a few extra dollars, the truth is piracy really hurts many online retailers, particularly smaller businesses and start-ups, and can lead to major financial issues. And to them, the idea that this is an attack on the freedom of the internet is somewhat laughable, as they are simply trying to protect their freedoms to sell without fear of theft.
The truth is both sides have valid points, and the possibility for abuse exists on both ends of the spectrum. On one, the internet becomes a government regulated shell of its former self. On the other, piracy kills software development, resulting in the death of innovative start-ups and curtailing profits to the point that freeware is the only viable option, heavily reducing the quality of available software. This is really a tricky one, with far reaching implications should either side fail.
Where do you stand on the SOPA issue? Can you provide some alternative viewpoints, or perhaps a compromise that will satisfy both sides of this important debate?