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If any of you plan to visit the English Wikipedia tomorrow, well I would suggest making other arrangements. Wikipedia announced earlier today that they will black out the English Versions of their site to protest the bill attempting to make its way through the US House Judiciary Committee. Wikipedia is the first big site to make a move like this and other big name sites like Google, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, and a few others, were already thinking of something similar but Wikipedia beat them to the mark.
Note: Unless noted otherwise, IP stands for Intellectual Property.
Note: Yes I am linking to Wikipedia, but it is only so you can start there, and expand as you go.
What is SOPA? Well SOPA is somewhat, and I really stress somewhat, a good idea but will end up being executed horribly. What it does is give IP holders the right to sue websites if they have material on that site that they don't want on there. PC world, where the original quote on Wikipedia come from, will you can read the link but Wikipedia says this, which is quite accurate actually. "Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators, such as PayPal, from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites". What this does is give the US Congress and Justice Departments the same level of Internet control as countries like Iran, China, and North Korea. This is not a joke, and nor am I kidding. This means that sites like YouTube could be blocked in the US because someone complains to the Government and sites like Google and Yahoo could be sued because they have a link in their search engines.
However it should be noted that many game companies are protesting this like EPIC Games, (makers of the Gears of War Franchise), Microsoft (Xbox 360), Sony (PS3), EA and its affiliates, and just about every other game company out there doesn’t support the bill. Microsoft, EA, and Sony originally supported the bill, but after they took a closer look at it, they withdrew their support, although they didn't make that second part as public as the first.
Just looking over the internet, it isn't that hard to find places that oppose this bill, and one of the biggest arguments against it is that it will damage the "open and free internet" that the US tries to achieve, to varying degrees. Opponents also say that is basically runs over the First Amendment’s right to free speech, will severally damage the internet because of all the blocked sites, and is nothing more or less than internet censorship. Don't believe me, look around and not just at Wikipedia, well you can't for 24 hours about 18 hours from the time this will be posted.
SOPA is a bill that cannot be allowed to pass the Committee and if it does, then it needs to die in the house. President Obama has express concerns about the bill and plans to look at it, but right now, I'm not holding my breath for that one.
That said, there is another bill trying to get through the US Senate, the PROTECT IP Act, or PIPA. This bill has already made its way through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is scheduled for a vote on January 24th. PIPA is a dumbed down version of SOPA that also has just as many opponents, including Google, Wikipedia, and other major sites. Instead of blocking access to the site, PIPA will force companies like Google to disable links on its site to certain sites, and can even go so far as to block people from accessing certain sites by court order, or anyone accessing the site for that matter.
Senator Mark Udall(D) from Colorado, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee had this to say on the subject. Here.
However, even then, companies can go to the US DoJ and get a court order blocking anyone in the US from accessing the site, which is nothing more or less than what SOPA does. This bill, while not as flawed as SOPA, is also something that cannot be allowed to pass because of what it does, and what it proposes.
Both bills propose internet censorship and effectively trample over the US Constitution's right to free speech. One situation that could arise from this is if some website posted a review about a movie, with pictures, or even quotes from the movie, and the company, or anyone who holds IP right to it, says to the DoJ that it is copyright infringement, that site would end up being blocked by the DoJ to US internet readers because of that.
What does this mean for us
Well opponents of both bills site sites like Wikia and Wikipedia, along with other User generated content sites like blogs, forums, or anything else, and say, with astonishing accuracy, that both bills will do nothing more or less than cripple them. We wouldn't be able to post, well do anything really without the permission of BioWare, EA, and Microsoft, who are the IP holders of the ME series. We also couldn't link to various sites, or even post one link without permission or we'd be shut down. There are a few enlightened members of Congress who see this, and the bills for what they really are, and their future impact on the internet and internet based communities. But those are currently small in number. IIRC that is.
So in a nutshell, what this would mean is basically the end of the site and the end of Wikia as we know it.
What can we do about it
Well, anyone who lives in the US, or even outside for that matter, can contact their Senators and Representatives and tell them what these bills will do and ask them to not vote for it. These bills cannot get out of Congress or they will just do nothing but give the US Government the right to ignore the First Amendment, and give them the same level of internet censorship as Iran, China, and North Korea. Do we really want that? I sincerely hope your answer is no.
Or you can consider one bill that has the support of sites like Google and Yahoo, the OPEN Act, or the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act. OPEN isn't perfect either, but it is a least better than the two alternatives. What OPEN will attempt to accomplish is block the transfer of money to websites whose sole objective is pirating and counterfeiting. This is comported to SOPA and PIPA who will just block access to those sites. You lock one door, and another will open people. What is so hard to get about that? However OPEN attacks the heart of what drives the theft of IP, the money. It's all about the money. Granted, OPEN isn't perfect, far from it, but it at least is fixable, unlike the monstrosities SOPA and PIPA.
OPEN in my opinion, sets its sites more on the people and sites that cause the problem in the first place. While SOPA/PIPA just punish everyone by blocking access for a few bad apples. We all know that there will be people who counterfeit and who pirate, but if you can target their wallets, then odds are, they won't be able to say in business long.
Well it's quite simple, SOPA and PIPA are supported by the Movie and Music industries, while OPEN is tentatively supported by online communities, Google and other big websites, elements of the Video Game Industry, and various elements of the Electronics industry. Or, as I like to put it, companies and industries that actually have brains. TV companies have really yet to take a side, although there are companies that support SOPA/PIPA, and some support OPEN.
What You Can Do
I ask that anyone who reads this do their own research and you will come to the same conclusion that I have. Call your Senators, call your Representative, and stop them from destroying the interent and give the US government the right to censor the internet for the US Population. I haven't sent them yet, but plan to do so after I finish classes today. I meant to post this earlier, but one of my senators is in support of the bill and that appalls me.
Some of you know that the ESA, or the Entertainment Software Association, as an organization, is supporting the bill, but several of its members don't. ESA members include, but are not limited to, Capcom, Crave Entertainment, Disney Interactive Studios, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Microsoft, MTV Games, Nintendo, Sega, Sony Computer Entertainment, Square Enix, Take-Two Interactive, and Ubisoft. Many of these select companies are speaking out against the bill, and some are getting more vocal in their opposition.
If you feel like it, contact the ESA, which represents the publishers of Video Games in the US, and voice your opinions about a bill that will directly destroy their fan base.
White House (Update)
It appears that the White House has made its position clear as it opposes SOPA and PIPA. The Official White House Statement is free to read on the White House blog and basically says that the Presidency supports legislation that will work to end online piracy, but not at the expense of internet freedom. There are some reports that SOPA and PIPA will stall in the face of this opposition, but something tells me it won't for now.
I will attempt to update this with more information and more links as I find them, and I will do my best to keep them unbiased, but I can’t promise that my opinion will be.
- Gamasutra Article About Obama denouncing SOPA
- Video Game Companies joining opposition, despite the fact that many are part of the Entertainment Software Association, which supports the bill.
- Bungie doesn't like it either
What Wikia is Doing
You are not alone. Wikia doesn't like this either and they established a wiki just for this purpose, and have a blog on Community Central for this purpose. So stand with the community at large, and oppose this bill.
Updates January, 23, 2012
Well it's been almost a week and SOPA and PIPA have hit so many barriers that they are almost dead, but they are not dead yet.
Congress Shelves Bills
In the US Congress, both bills have been shelved in their respective houses, but they are both still alive. Shelved does not equal death in the US Congress. What is even more puzzling is the original proposer of SOPA, Republic Representative And Leader of the House Judicatory Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, has pulled his support for his own bill.
- Congress Shelves Anti-Piracy Bills USA Today (Accessed via ABC News)
- SOPA Shelved For Now Gamasutra
- SOPA sponsor pulls support for bill GameSpot
- Congress shelves SOPA GameSpot
The ESA has backed off its support of both bills, probably because of all the bad press they got, and its members going against what the organization did. They still support anti-piracy bills, and I'm sure everyone does, just ones that don't trample all over the Constitution while they are at it.
Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, has postponed a vote on PIPA, originally to take place on tomorrow, not Wednesday as I said above. Reid said on twitter that "[i]n light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT IP Act". My interpretation, I won't get reelected if I push this bill any farther, so I'm going to back off of it.
- Senate Delays Vote on Anti-Piracy PIPA Bill ABC News
- After Protest, Congress Puts off Movie Piracy Bill Associated Press (Accessed via ABC News)
What Developers Need to Know
This feature on Gamasutra tells Game Developers what they need to know about the bill. However, I also see this as a great tool for everyone about the basics of SOPA, PIPA, OPEN, and their possible impacts on the internet for Americans, and the world at large. I encourage you all to read this.
My Own Personal Emails
As stated above, I planned to send emails to both of my Senators, Richard Durbin-D (cosponsor of PIPA *gag*), and Mark Kirk-R. I have since received a response from Kirk, who I have just leared is now in the hospital after suffering a stroke. As expected, it was probably one that is sent to everyone who sent in something about the bill. I can't tell if he wrote it or someone on his staff, but it is nice to at least get something back. After checking, I found that the email matches what he has been saying about the bills, and that lead me to conclude that he probably wrote it, but intended it for mass response as it is somewhat general in what it says. I know that members of Congress cannot possibly respond to everyone, because that is all they would be doing.
I have yet to receive a response from Durbin, and something tells me I won't anytime soon. Strange, his office is usually better about responses.
Write to Your Congressional Reps
Despite the fact both bills are shelved, they are again not dead. Please, any of you in the US, write to your reps in Congress, tell them what you think about these bills, and tell them what you think about these bills.
My Personal Stance
Personally, I support what the bills were trying to do, but not in the way they were proposed. I'm sure anyone can support ending internet piracy, if that is possible, if not then deliver it a severe blow and keep hammering them, but not at the expense of our Constitutional Rights. Internet piracy is a problem, but using the real world equivalent of the banhammer is not the way to go about it. People find ways around that, we've seen it here, and pirates will be much more crafty than people here.
- ↑ http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wikipedia-blackout-websites-wikipedia-reddit-dark-wednesday-protest/story?id=15373251
- ↑ http://judiciary.house.gov/issues/issues_RogueWebsites.html
- ↑ http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/244011/the_us_stop_online_piracy_act_a_primer.html
- ↑ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act
- ↑ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PROTECT_IP_Act
- ↑ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_Protection_and_Enforcement_of_Digital_Trade_Act
- ↑ http://www.pcgamer.com/2012/01/16/sopa-stalls-in-the-face-of-white-house-opposition/
- ↑ http://www.techspot.com/news/47054-white-house-airs-objections-to-sopa-pipa-anti-piracy-bills.html