Laws should strengthen our freedoms, not undermine them
If there is anybody left on the internet, gamer or otherwise, who is unaware of or unconvinced by the passion within the online community to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or the Protect Intellectual Privacy Act (PIPA), consider this: starting tomorrow at 12 AM EST, Wikipedia will participate in a collaborated global protest of the bills with a worldwide, 24-hour blackout of their entire English-language site.
The blackout is happening even after House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) announced this week that a Senate hearing relating to SOPA would be indefinitely postponed, halting the legislation’s movement toward a vote in Congress.
While such announcements have not swayed opponents of the two bills, the lawmakers behind them do appear to be moved, at least somewhat, by the outrage expressed by the online community. Just last week the author of SOPA, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), announced that he would heed industry warnings to change the bill.
In a statement, Smith said, “After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision.”
DNS blocking would have given intellectual property holders such as film studios, record labels and game publishers the ability to demand that certain foreign websites suspected of piracy be blocked from US viewers. Most disturbing to SOPA’s critics is that IP holders could block such websites without ever needing the approval of a judge, or without even entering a courtroom.
While this seemed easily opposable for many, including some game companies such as Nintendo, Sony and Bungie, the Entertainment Software Association, of which most top game publishers are members, still supports the bill. Given the outpouring of blatant bashing of SOPA by a vast number of independent gamers, bloggers and developers, this could and likely will be interpreted as a relative disregard toward consumers.
ESA’s support of SOPA also puts members that disagree with the legislation in a tough spot, as they must carefully consider the consequences of contradicting the ESA before going public.
That means that even if Capcom, Konami, SEGA, Square Enix and countless other video game companies do oppose SOPA, they may never contribute to the collective dissonance, lest they create a conflict with the ESA.
The same can be said for media outlets that are owned by holding companies such as Newscorp, which is the world’s second largest media conglomerate and has openly expressed support for SOPA. This is particularly unfortunate since freedom of the press ranks right up there with freedom of speech as an American right that, in a perfect world, would always go unhindered.
Despite the absence of companies stepping forward to oppose SOPA, and despite the fact that the Senate is set to vote on PIPA on January 24, some headway is being made in terms of developing an alternative.
In the statement announcing the postponement of the SOPA senate hearing, a spokesperson for representative Issa said the lawmaker “intends to continue to push for Congress to heed the advice of internet experts on anti-piracy legislation and to push for the consideration and passage of the bipartisan OPEN Act.”
The OPEN act is already garnering far better reviews than either SOPA or PIPA, but they are far from glowing. Where Issa hit the nail on the head is where he called for Congress to “heed the advice of internet experts on anti-piracy legislation.”
Whether legislative ideas come from experts at giant corporations such as Google or Apple, or from independent gamers and bloggers who navigate the most remote reaches of the internet on a daily basis, these are the people that Congress must be collaborating with right now. The internet cannot be regulated in a vacuum of legislators, nor in a vacuum called the United States. A US bill that proposes how to fight global online thievery must be drafted with global consequences in mind.
As Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner indicates on the organization’s announcement of their upcoming blackout, the problem is much bigger than what goes on in Washington.
“SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem,” said Gardner, “All around the world, we’re seeing the development of legislation intended to fight online piracy, and regulate the internet in other ways, that hurt online freedoms.”
There’s no doubt that piracy is bad. It’s stealing. The trick in fighting online piracy is to find the ways that don’t hurt our freedoms, but strengthen them.