Yesterday, President Obama dealt yet another blow to the faltering, studio-backed anti-piracy bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and Protect IP Act in the Senate. Already on the ropes after legislators moved to strike SOPA provisions that would block or reroute traffic to websites that offered or linked to unlicensed, copyrighted material, the bill continued stir controversy. According to the New York Times, President Obama felt that the bill could ultimately pit technology companies in Silicon Valley against media conglomerates located a few hundred miles down the California coast. While the intense lobbying from the two sides could have been useful for representatives looking to raise all the cash they can find in an election year, a drawn out debate would ultimately cause more harm than good. Markets prefer certainty and it certainly moves things in that direction.
Free speech advocates and internet entrepreneurs should also be happy to see SOPA on the ropes. The bill, as mentioned in earlier posts, was so vaguely worded that it could have potentially blocked access to all of YouTube or Facebook. It could have allowed censors to block or reroute access to entire sites if any infringing content was found there. These flaws were not unknown, but ways to work around them appear to be rather difficult to formulate. Punishing piracy is one thing, but giving some government agency the power to police the internet and control which ones people can access smacks of the Great Firewall that aids the totalitarian Chinese government’s control over all information within its boundaries. Fears that SOPA would give content owners incredible power to censor the internet now don’t seem that unwarranted. The President, according to the Times, asserted that any IP protection bill “must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet.” The costs of piracy, while in the millions or possibly billions, pale in comparison to the incredible benefits that free and unfettered access to global information provides to humanity, no matter where you are.