SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) debate: Why are Google and Facebook against it?

November 17, 2011

Both the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act have sparked backlash from Web-based businesses like Google, Yahoo and Facebook. As Beth Marlowe reported :

Big names from Silicon Valley went head-to-head with media giants at a House hearing Wednesday on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would punish companies for posting pirated content online.

Several lawmakers at the hearing said they supported the legislation, introduced last month by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), which was originally aimed at shutting down foreign sites that posted intellectual property created by U.S. firms.

But critics say it goes too far.

Internet giants including Yahoo, Google, Facebook and the Consumer Electronics Association have joined forces to oppose the legislation, which they say would give the government too much power to shut down Web sites accused of pirating or counterfeiting content.

“Inexplicably, and almost overnight, SOPA has morphed into a full-on assault against lawful U.S. Internet companies,” said Markham C. Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition, a group representing Web firms and public interest groups opposed to the law.

Supporting the bill is a powerful group of lobbies interested in protecting intellectual property, including the Motion Picture Association of America, pharmaceuticals makers, media firms and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Fundamentally, this is about jobs,” said Michael O’Leary, who represented the Motion Picture Association of America at a hearing Wednesday.

The Chamber estimates that Hollywood studios, record labels and publishing houses lose $135 billion in revenue each year from piracy and counterfeiting.

The internet piracy bill has pitted many recording and motion picture companies against tech giants like Google, but what would SOPA mean for the individual artist? As Maura Judkis explained:

The bill is a mixed bag for artists and musicians — especially for amateurs.

SOPA protects artists’ intellectual property, enabling them to pursue a profit — which, in the case of record labels and movie companies, cuts off consumers’ paths to free downloads, and pushes them toward purchasing the work.

But the types of content that would be prohibited under SOPA would also include amateur remix works, like YouTube covers of songs or mash-ups of movies. These works would be considered copyright violations, and not only could the creator of the work be legally vulnerable, but also could the host of the content.

However, these remixed works aren’t a commercial replacement for the originals. Hearing adorable Sophia Grace Brownlee sing Nicki Minaj’s ”Super Bass” isn’t necessarily going to keep a listener from purchasing the single on iTunes — in fact, it might introduce the song to an entirely new group of listeners. Viral videos often help an artist’s career more than than they hurt it. It’s a topic that Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig addresses at length in his book “Remix,” in which he argues that we must restore a copyright law that leaves “amateur creativity” free from regulation.

Lessig’s opponent might be Robert Levine, interviewed on Salon recently for his book “Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back.” In the interview, he says the best way to save artists’ jobs is to strengthen copyright laws. “One of the desirable things that copyright laws do is create some kind of market for intellectual property. We’ve had that for 300 years. That should change and it should evolve, but what we’re doing now is we’re dismantling that market.”

For those new to the SOPA debate, Hayley Tsukayama has the five things to know about the internet privacy bill , here is an excerpt:

Why all the buzz?: The bill is buzzy not only because it has the potential to affect a wide range of industries, but also because it’s got a lot of momentum behind it. Smith has said that he intends to markup the bill by the end of the year.

Despite the controversy, the bill has a great deal of bipartisan support, with 21 members joining Smith in co-sponsoring the legislation.

How does it compare to the Senate’s bill?: The Protect IP Act passed the Senate earlier this year. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) placed a hold on the bill, citing concerns about its potential to “muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth.”

SOPA, critics say, goes even further than the Protect IP Act, because it grants the government even broader powers to go after Web sites hosting copyrighted content. Internet openness group Public Knowledge said that “SOPA is significantly worse than its Senate cousin” because it lowers the barriers to who can be considered liable for IP theft, saying that sites that don’t do enough to prevent piracy — such as search engines — can also be held liable for infringement.

More from The Washington Post

Copyright bill stirs controversy

Web firms, Commerce fight over piracy bill

ComPost: Stop SOPA

SOPA: The chart that may have internet firms worried

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