I first heard about SOPA in an unusual place – a family dinner during my annual vacation at the USA. The person who was arguing emotionally was a teen-age boy. He was furious how can the US government be so stupid?
The debate was one sided. Everyone seems to be agreeing that SOPA is bad. It included an aspiring entrepreneur from San Francisco bay area. He told me that SOPA is lobbied by big companies who want to kill the aspirations of small startups.
Then he asked my opinion. As usual, I was non committal and said I need to study myself about SOPA.
To me, it appears that the intent of the SOPA seems to be reducing the copyright violations. It is trying to protect an existing law.
Here is the summary of the clauses in SOPA:
There are two major sections (called “titles”) in SOPA:
TITLE I—COMBATING ONLINEPIRACY
TITLE II—ADDITIONAL ENHANCEMENTS TO COMBAT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTYTHEFT
I have reproduced the section headings of the first title At the first glace, we can note that the goals are to protect the interests of the USA – no surprises.
SEC. 102. ACTION BY ATTORNEY GENERAL TO PROTECT U.S. CUSTOMERS AND PREVENT U.S. SUPPORT OF FOREIGN INFRINGING SITES
SEC. 103. MARKET-BASED SYSTEM TO PROTECT U.S. CUSTOMERS AND PREVENT U.S. FUNDING OF SITES DEDICATED TO THEFT OF U.S. PROPERTY.
SEC. 104. IMMUNITY FOR TAKING VOLUNTARY ACTION AGAINST SITES DEDICATED TO THEFT OF U.S.
SEC 105. IMMUNITY FOR TAKING VOLUNTARY ACTION AGAINST SITES THAT ENDANGER PUBLIC HEALTH
SEC107. DENYING U.S. CAPITAL TO NOTORIOUS FOREIGN INFRINGERS
The second title is more controversial as it starts dealing with the domestic copyright violations. The first section is:
SEC. 201. STREAMING OF COPYRIGHTED WORKS IN VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL LAW
SOPA acts allows to legal action against the individual or company who violated the copyright and also the web site that hosted to violated material.
This interpretation is the reason for the huge uproar. In simple terms, if somebody posts a violated material in a small company’s web site in case of a legal action this “small company” will be wiped out. In essence, this act can be used against the small startups.
So, it is “clear” that SOPA is bad, right? Hmmm, what about the person who posted the violated copy right material? Is it not a crime in the current law? In the current youtube , facebook era is not easy to infringe a copyright? Is it fair to shift the entire liability to the individual who posted the material?
Let us take an analogy. Let us assume the speed limit of a state is 40 km/hour. This speed limit is set 20 years back. Let us also assume there are no traffic enforcements (speeding fines) and the state trusts the citizens to abide by the speed limit.
The car companies have advanced. No they build the cars that easily cruise at 100 km/ hours. The state is building new cities with wider roads and freeways. However the speed limit is same.
What do you expect? The citizens are speeding. There could be occasional speeding fines if they meet with an accident.
Now the Government introduces an act to enforce speeding. They propose that they need powers to sue the highway authority and car companies too if a citizen is caught speeding. The rationale is clear – without the highways and super-charged cars it is impossible to speed.
This is the state of SOPA. The car companies and highway authorities are crying “unfair”. They are OK as long as you are fining the offending individuals.
Let us take a step back. Can you not see the real problem? The real problem is the OBSOLETE SPEED LIMIT. You have to abolish that. In our case it is the outdated Copyright act. In this information revolution, it is IMPOSSIBLE to stick to and enforce copyright. Let us focus our attention on abolishing/changing the age old copyright law instead of barking up SOPA.
Government of Australia – here is an opportunity to lead the world!