SOPA: The effect of this upcoming Bill on the Internet.

Posted: December 21, 2011 in Uncategorized
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The Erosion of Freedom has been down due to lack of any real anti-gaming nonsense being spread around via Gamepolitics. But over the last few weeks a new threat has popped up, far exceeding any anti-gaming legislation that has been considered in the US Congress of recent note: SOPA.

This bill, allows copyright holders to A) Shut down any site that fits the below categories, B) Shut down support from Paypal to the site, and C) arrest anyone associated with the site if the site…. COULD be used to infringe on copyright. It’s cleverly worded because most of the time It tries to mask copyright infringement as “Theft of US Property”.  A blog talking about the language of the bill (here) basically goes into detail into why this bill is so bad. First it tries to start with language that suggests that the bill will only target “foreign infringing sites” (any site outside the US that infringes on copyright). That’s bad enough but if you only read that part you’d assume that US sites are unaffected. Not so.

The next part is where it gets REALLY controversial. Any site or “Part” of a site (even if US Based), if used by users for “primarily” for copyright infringement (worded as “theft of us property” or even “counterfeit goods”) or “enables” copyright infringement, according to the attorney general, the copyright holders can have the site shut down, it’s funding revoked via PayPal, etc, And Internet Service Providers, MUST do everything in their power to get the site shut down, funding removed via PayPal, etc. Then the DNS service that gives your browser the IP address of any site you type in the address bar must remove the site from it’s records, therefore blocking all access to the site to any ISP.   Even worse, if any site is found to be not conforming to a high standard of non-copyright infringement, it too can get the same treatment! Even if this is not found to be deliberate “non-conforming to the high standard”, it is still in violation of this bill. So any site that accidentally allows possible or recorded copyrighted material be posted on it is to be shut down. That is about 99% of the internet that fits into that category.

But that’s not the worst part…. No no no. The bill also states that no copyright holders will be held liable for purposely targeting sites that Don’t infringe on their copyrights, allowing them to target crap they hate (youtube, megaupload, rapidshare, blogs, facebook, amazon Mp3 downloads, game “modding” sites, etc). The Whole site would be shut down if part of it was even ACCUSED of copyright infringement. Keep that in mind.

The real problems are two fold Problem 1 is that any site that hosts user content (social networking, blog hosts, youtube, reddit, cracked.com, etc) “enables” copyright infringement, because it’s very possible to post copyrighted things on these places. The entire site would be shut down once some copyright holder complains. Now the bill provides for no system to back up the complaint so that innocent parties accused of copyright infringement can fight the accusation when their site did not violate copyrights, so there is in all intents and purposes, no due process for this bill.  But even worse, the real issue is that this bill seems to be designed to allow copyright holders to shut down any site they think could be used for copyright infringement, even if the complaint about the site is false. Copyright holders over the years have shown time and time again, that they are willing to take down youtube video’s, and more, with fake DMCA requests, when the video doesn’t even violate their copyright in the first place. Yes, taking down sites/video’s is happening now, sites that do not infringe at all. UMG (universal Music Group) has been taking down video’s that post songs that they don’t even hold the copyright for! It’s been happening on youtube for at least a year.

I mentioned the list of types of sites I thought would be affected. Here’s why I think they would be. Youtube has dozens of user uploaded video’s posting illegal copyrighted music on it. It’s illegal to post this stuff, youtube doesn’t take it down. But there are MILLIONS of video’s on youtube, and most do not infringe copyright. Then you have a part of the bill that penalizes “streaming” of copyright material, such as posting video’s of someone playing video games as video walkthroughs, on youtube. The bill says that anyone found guilty of streaming such copyrighted material is fined and jailed for 5 years, at the most.  Any person posting video’s of any video game, reviews of any video game that even mention copyrighted material of the game (character’s names, etc),  any band’s live performance, legal or not, (even the band themselves, on youtube’s site for that band), their kids singing along to a song being played on the radio, or even performing the song, even without it’s music in the background, would be arrested and jailed for 5 years.

But the sites that could be shut down aren’t limited to youtube, facebook, and other social network sites. Blog hosts could be shut down. How many blogs out there have not posted one copyrighted thing on them? Very few. At least 1 per host, probably hundreds to thousands. And remember that if the host “enables” copyright infringement, it’s gone.  So any host that even allows such content to be posted (that’s all blogging hosts, wordpress, Blogger, all!), would be affected. You’d get shutdowns of many known services quickly if this bill was enacted into law.  Amazon would be targeted, for it’s wonderful Amazon MP3 Downloads. Under the bill’s vague description, Amazon would be found to be hosting copyrighted material, even though they legally distribute the digital forms of these songs to people who pay for the digital version of the albums.  Then Amazon would possibly be shut down, or at least amazon MP3 would be gone. Any site that allows up and coming to host or market their music, online such as soundcloud, reverbnation, lastfm, etc could get targeted. Copyright holders would not stop at things that are copyrighted by them. They don’t need to. UMG is already doing this on youtube. Why stop at youtube? They want the authority over anything like youtube! Any of the sites listed above could be gone.  Then next would come facebook. Poeple post pictures that could be copyrighted all the time on facebook. Screenshots of video games, pictures of comic books, photo’s, artwork, some picture of the front cover of any DVD (my friend gets these posted to facebook all the time when he buys them), would get facebook shutdown. Then Myspace, for similar reasons.

But even worse, IMHO, is the impact this would have on the Gaming Community, especially modding sites. Any mod that includes any piece of the game’s copyrighted material, that is hosted on any site that is dedicated to modding, would get the site shut down. This would affect 100% of the modding sites. Because every game has at least one mod that distributes original copyrighted material for that game in it. Every time we modders made a modified version of an enemy/character  in a game, we have to include the new skin, for  the model for that enemy. Most of the new skins are modified versions of original game ones. Since copyright applies to any thing based on the original assets, any mod being hosted on any modding site that this applies to would get the site shut down.  That would affect most Every modding site out there. There would not be a game that’s primary modding site would not get shut down for this. 99% of doom mods feature enemies that use modified original graphics. Many mods import other game’s characters into their mod, so that the copyright holders of other games would get involved too, especially EA, who supports SOPA.  Even worse, if you include something that looks inspired by something in another game, without copying the original asset, you would be held liable because idea’s are also copyrighted. Once someone makes an enemy for a mod for some video game that is a clone of another enemy from another video game, the site would be shut down. And this would also apply to websites of commercial games that do the same thing. Enemies that look totally unique are a rare thing now. Serious sam 3 had an enemy that looked like a bland rip off of another enemy from Doom 3. Don’t expect copyright holders to not attack such rip offs. Entire games could get banned, nevermind mods. But the modding community is far from the worst facet of the gaming community to be affected. Any time someone mentions content from a video game, or posts screenshots from anything done in that game (even mods for that game), copyright holders will get involved. You post a screenshot of your best score, and then the site you posted on could get shut down. It really is a scary thought how broad this bill is.

Then comes the takedown of lets plays. Every time you do a lets play you are posting copyrighted material. Most Developers, turn a blind eye to this. But some won’t after SOPA.  If the hundreds of copyrighted songs on youtube doesn’t get it shut down, this will.  Even if youtube doesn’t shut down, lets plays will probably be deleted to lessen liability like I mentioned above.  Millions of guys do lets plays on youtube. Its a great source of humor, and entertainment. And it actually gets some games noticed.  But the copyright holders will definitely target this, if SOPA is enacted into law.

Now you might be saying that big sites like facebook, myspace, youtube, would fight this. You’re right. But in the process they would remove any content to lessen the liability on them. That means any user content that could be copyrighted would be removed, By them. Think of the effect this would have… Sites that would not be shut down would remove the content anyway, so the content, would be gone, even if it isn’t infringing. This makes it obvious that this bill was designed to censor things anything the copyright holders don’t like. This bill is not about piracy. In fact most pirates would not be even affected by this bill. Real piracy is done on foreign “warez” sites that upload copyrighted illegal (and very often virus infested) copies of video games, software, etc, in 100’s of parts to sites such as megaupload, rapidshare, etc. To truly stop internet piracy, you have to target the source, the referrers’ of these links to such download sites, the warez sites themselves. This cannot be done by a US law, for most are foreign.  To find such sites, all someone has to do is type words associated with pirated material into a search engine, such as warez, or gamez. Very few real hardcore piracy happens on  most of the sites that could be affected by this bill. So no, this bill is not trying to fight piracy. In fact IMHO it was crafted over obvious paranoia over piracy.  How else do you explain a bill that makes it possible to shut down sites that could host pirated material… It’s either that or it was purposely designed to censor things that the copyright holders don’t like.

This is a great chance to mention that people CAN do something about this. Call your representative and tell them you think this bill is bad for the reasons I mentioned above. There is a site, americancensorship, that has a link to do this and a link to allow people to call their congressman. I suggest people do this now before 99% of the good part of the internet could be gone.

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