The internet and games journalism under SOPA and PIPA: A sneak preview

So, the draconian, very probably internet-breaking SOPA bill has been temporarily shelved following a vote of no confidence from the White House, rightly voicing concerns about any anti-piracy legislation that "reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet". All good news. But it hasn't gone away. We know there will probably be another attempt to get it through in February. And PIPA, SOPA's sister bill might well get a hearing next week.

That in mind, on the day Wikipedia and Reddit go dark in protest, I've prepared a little sneak preview of games journalism under the proposed legislation. I've started with one of our trademark comedic Photoshop compositions to highlight the key issues:

Actually, crap, sorry, I can't actually do that any more. You see the sheer vagueness of the proposed bills' wording in regards to what counts as IP infringement, and the sheer power given by IP holders to take action, means that I can only really be sure of being utterly safe by not messing about with any game-related art not specifically and officially given to me by a publisher.

Okay, let me try something else. Here's a chunk of game footage I recorded that I think highlights a nice metaphor for the current situation:

Shit, sorry, this is embarrassing. You see with the rules of Fair Use so open for debate on a case-by-case basis, and SOPA and PIPA so vague in their terminology, it's also really tricky for me to record and broadcast games while being utterly, 100% sure someone isn't going to interpret the rules in order to give the site a massive legal kicking.

Okay, another idea. Here's a straight video of me talking about the issues in the office:

Shit, I forgot. There's a bloody huge great film poster on the wall behind me in that one, and Cundy was playing a game in the background. And someone had the radio on. That's three potential counts of broadcasting protected material right there, and with the penalties so high if someone manages to argue the case, I'm afraid I can't run that video either. Still, I'm sure I can find something on YouTube to illustrate the point:

Crap, I forgot, YouTube doesn't exist any more, because SOPA is so prohibitive of free-speaking user-generated content that everyone's favourite video community has been pounded into a fine red mist.

Sod it, shall we just bin this whole article idea off and watch some e-sports instead?

Oh shit, I forgot again. They don't exist in any broadcastable form any more either.

Right, screw this, I'm off. I've had enough legal close-calls for one day. I'd better do a bit of corporate boot-licking just to be on the safe side. Maybe I'll do a really negative article on the evils of video game emulation to show the IP guardians that I'm really on-side. Oh crap, I can't. You see even talking about the process of emulation might be seen by someone as promoting it. Good old vague, overly-interpretable legislation.

Oh, and be careful what you say in the comments too. If you quote too much dialogue from any particular game's script, that might count as well, and we could get royally screwed for it. Better leave those Portal lyrics at the door, I'm afraid. In fact be careful what you say about anything. If you end up linking to a site that can be in some way interpreted as contravening the rules, we can get screwed for that as well. Even mention emulating and we might be seen as promoting game piracy. We'll probably have to close the forums down altogether.

Yes, I'm presenting a worst-case scenario here, but the fact is that all of this could happen. SOPA and PIPA are so open to interpretation, and the potential speed, severity and apocalyptic repercussions of punishments for contravening them so great, that they would gut creativity and community in the online gaming world. And that's to say nothing of how prohibitive they would be of the growth of new, innovative online businesses. Want more details? There are excellent articles here, here, here, here and here.

So seriously, don't back down over SOPA and PIPA. If you're in the US, get in touch with your congressman and challenge any and all companies (gaming or otherwise) which currently support the bills. If you're outside the US, spread the word and keep people motivated. This shit needs to stop. Now.

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.