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High Horse: Save Our Internet

High Horse is a rotating opinion column in which GamesRadar editors and guest writers are invited to express their personal thoughts on games, the people who play them and the industry at large.

By now, chances are you’ve heard some of the uproar surrounding the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. Introduced to the House of Representatives in October by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), it is designed as a countermeasure to Internet piracy.

So, let’s educate ourselves about it, shall we?

Above: SOPA was introduced in the House by Lamar Smith (R-Texas) on October 26, 2011

What is SOPA trying to do?
Piracy is a problem. It’s straight-up wrong. Stealing movies, games, music, whatever; it’s all wrong. Oh, you have a counter-argument? Sorry, nope. Piracy is bad. It hurts artists, plain and simple.

SOPA is the House’s proposed solution to the piracy problem. Its goal is to put power into the hands of owners of intellectual properties so that they can better police how their product is being distributed. In a lot of ways, its goal is a noble one. It’s looking to protect those who create a work and are essentially being stolen from.

However, SOPA is certainly far from the correct solution. Heck, in my eyes, it’s perhaps the most harmful thing to possibly happen to the Internet since its inception. 

What exactly would SOPA look like in practice?
Upon passing, SOPA would give owners of intellectual property (or the US Department of Justice) the ability to seek court orders against websites that they believe are infringing upon their copyrights. Whether those sites are actively enabling infringement or are simply allowing it to happen doesn’t matter. If your site is perceived as promoting any sort of copyright infringement, it can be shut down without notification. Pretty frightening.

To make matters worse, it also allows the property rights holders to legally demand all revenue to an offending site be stopped, regardless of where it’s coming from. That means no revenue from ads, donations, or even payments coming from online payment services like PayPal or Google Checkout. Essentially, SOPA gives IP holders the unchecked power to shut down a site for an undisclosed amount of time.

Finally, it would require search engines to remove the listings of websites that have been shut down. In effect, for as long as a website is banned, it no longer exists.

Who will this affect?
Everyone that owns a website. From the smallest blogs to YouTube to, let’s just say, GamesRadar, anyone that relies on copyrighted material to run their site could face scrutiny. Theoretically, SOPA could even affect sites that allow comments on their content. If someone were to link to illegal materials on a website, that site could be nailed for enabling piracy. The definition of how websites enable piracy is so broad that it would make websites unreasonably responsible for their user-generated content.

With the possibility of losing all ad revenue and traffic from search engines, the risk of launching a new startup is much higher. From a pure business perspective, SOPA could cripple one of the fastest-growing industries in the country, and one that is creating huge numbers of jobs.

Who supports it?
Well, a lot of groups. Most notable for the gaming community is the ESA, a collection of publishers that includes Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, EA, Ubisoft, Capcom, Sega, Epic and a slew of others.

Outside of the gaming industry, the biggest supporters tend to be those with high stakes in their copyrighted material, such as the RIAA or MPAA. Domain registrar GoDaddy originally supported the bill, but after boycotts led by Reddit – which resulted in huge losses for the company, including the removal of Wikipedia and its subsidiaries from GoDaddy’s servers – the company has withdrawn its support.

Who’s against it?
Pretty much anyone who relies on user-generated content, most notably Google, which owns Youtube. Also against the bill are the Wikimedia foundation, Facebook, Yahoo!, Twitter, Tumblr, Yahoo! and the EFF.

Some good news
See those names up there? They represent a huge amount of money in the growing industry called The Internet. If the bill passes – which it seems poised to do at the time of this writing – we can expect a huge amount of resistance to come from those names. At the very least, the bill will face a huge legal battle, if not outright dismissal through our country’s wonderful legal system. There’s a whole lot of money on each side of the issue, so it’s going to be interesting to watch.

What can we do?
Write to your congressperson. Call them. Sign the petition. Vote with your money by resisting the urge to give money to those who support SOPA. Attend the American Censorship Day protests. Above all, educate yourself about what’s going on in Congress right now. SOPA is a landmark bill that could completely change the way we use the Internet for the worse. Let’s fight it.

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68 comments

  • Imgema - January 9, 2012 11:46 a.m.

    This reminds me of what happened to my country (Greece) a few years ago. They wanted to eliminate the illegal gambling machines problem and to do so... they banned video games entirely! All arcade stores closed immediately (never to come back), most internet cafes (where games like counterstrike was played) faced police raids and busts. Even playing a game on your console or PC was illegal (but it was not illegal to BUY games, it was illegal to play them therefore videogame stores didn't close). I remember internet cafe owners and protestors demanding several public services and goverment buildings to be banned as well because they had PCs with windows and windows have those build in games inside them... Talk about the most stupid law ever existed. Thankfully it doesn't exist anymore (at least not in the shape it was). I really hate this way of thinking. If your finger hurts cut off your arm, right? Such a simple and easy way to solve your problem if you are a non thinking person (like most governors are).
  • mikeylawson - January 9, 2012 3:23 a.m.

    How will this effect people outside of the US? Would we suffer from it too?
  • talleyXIV - January 8, 2012 3:51 p.m.

    Meanwhile in central Africa... around 500 people have Internet.
  • talleyXIV - January 8, 2012 3:48 p.m.

    Anything that is not supported by Google, Facebook, and Yahoo! can not be passed. Google alone could get this thing vetoed easily.
  • iluvpkmnmonday - January 9, 2012 7:40 a.m.

    Google has a lot of sway (read:money) but there are some even bigger names on the supporting side. Time Warner is no slouch and there even several Disney owned companies.
  • Conservative_Gamer - January 8, 2012 2:48 p.m.

    I really hope that this bill is vetoed because this is direct censorship from the government. I don't see how this could be seen as constitutional because I would think that comments on a website or results on a search engine are a form of speech that should be protected by the first amendment. This doesn't seem to be a republican/democrat or conservative/liberal issue. Each group or party seems to have an equal number of proponents and opponents. I'm surprised that this issue hasn't been brought up in any of the GOP debates because this is a huge economic and social issue and I'm sure that whomever would speak against this bill would gain lots of support. It's up to us to pressure our leaders to veto this bill.
  • practicallyhitler - January 8, 2012 11:07 p.m.

    On the contrary, I think bringing this up in the GOP debates would be suicidal. American Conservatives have held pretty steadily for decades now that property rights take precedence over just about everything else (including Free Speech/Press). That position would definitely put most Repub voters in the pro-SOPA camp. The only candidate I would expect to say anything on the matter is Ron Paul, and if he did it would just be on principle, it certainly wouldn't win him any points. The only reason there's a debate at all here is that there are wealthy campaign contributors on both sides of the issue. I can at least appreciate the fact that the article doesn't try to sugar-coat that fact. It's basically "pressure an oligarch to pressure your congressman to do the right thing." With a rotten system like ours, that's the only way it's going to happen.
  • nethmes1 - January 8, 2012 11:08 a.m.

    I hope Google uses their magical own everything ability to stop this .-.
  • tiben36 - January 8, 2012 10:39 a.m.

    problem : SOPA the loophole : only on american soil solution : move servers to canada
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - January 8, 2012 8:45 a.m.

    Man I had no idea about any of this. I really can't see a bill like this being passed though, at least not like it is now.
  • fish94 - January 8, 2012 6 a.m.

    In case you haven't done so yet, read this: http://www.extremetech.com/computing/111543-google-amazon-facebook-and-twitter-considering-nuclear-option-to-protest-sopa tl;dr big companies considering a temporary mass shutdown in protest, it'd be more than enough to make the government change their minds.
  • AuthorityFigure - January 7, 2012 10:21 p.m.

    They always put more in the bill than they're ever going to get. This is a strategy so that they get something approaching a hard regulation through. It won't go through as is - so the panic is unwarranted I believe.
  • IceHawk79 - January 7, 2012 5:13 p.m.

    This law, is the worse thing ever. Everyone will suffer, and it needs to be shut down. People will find a way around being blocked. Noone should support this bill.
  • joel-omnomparty-godsey - January 7, 2012 3:37 p.m.

    This needs to be edited. Nintendo, SONY, and EA no longer support SOPA. They changed their position on it a while ago.
  • dphoenix192 - January 7, 2012 5:11 p.m.

    Did you read the article? Nintendo, SONY, and EA are part of the ESA who are actively supporting the bill. In that sense, they can still be considered in support of the bill unless they either leave the ESA or convince the ESA to change their stance on the bill. In my opinion, Nintendo, SONY, and EA not supporting the bill is a PR move to not have fan backlash, and are simply letting the ESA taking the blame for them supporting the bill.
  • ParagonT - January 7, 2012 9:54 p.m.

    This ^^.
  • SparkleDevon - January 7, 2012 2:46 p.m.

    Not to mention the fact that imposing these restrictions in the manner they are trying to do it could possibly permanently break the internet fr everyone, not just the US. Piracy is a problem, but guys, let's go about this in a different way.
  • EnragedTortoise1 - January 7, 2012 1:27 p.m.

    I'm not defending piracy. But it's kind of stupid to base your entire argument against it on "Sorry, nope, it's bad, go away". Just saiyan.
  • profile0000 - January 7, 2012 1:05 p.m.

    I fully support what SOPA is trying to do. They even put "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to impose a prior restraint on free speech or the press protected under the 1st Amendment to the Constitution." right into the legislation. The problem is, you have to qualify "free speech" and draw the line where free speech meets infringement, and that would take at minimum several hearings by the SCOTUS, who are mostly too old for the Internet anyway. We might not like their answers either. SOPA's intention is golden, but its current form is no doubt questionable. You know what they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
  • darron13 - January 7, 2012 12:38 p.m.

    I'm not even American and I want to write your goddamn government about this stupid bill...

Showing 1-20 of 68 comments

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