As I write this article, the US House Judiciary Committee prepares to meet to mark up a bill that threatens the internet as we know it. That bill is called SOPA, which is short for the "Stop Online Piracy Act," a misnomer if ever there was one.
You may not be a resident of the United States, but the effects of the bill will be felt throughout our borderless internet.
What is SOPA, exactly? SOPA is a ham-fisted plan to "get rid" of all piracy online. In reality, the law will shut down entire websites for a small infractions. It would also hold advertisers accountable for the content of these websites. A website based on user-generated content like YouTube and Reddit could not possibly exist in this climate. The bill would also prohibit search engines like Google from linking to many websites. The only websites unaffected by the law would belong to the larger industries—the proponents of the SOPA bill.
Due to the way SOPA is written, we are not simply looking at an internet with no silly videos of cats (heaven forfend it should pass). We're also looking at an internet in which everything is accountable to censorship. A similar law was passed in China in 1998 and put into effect in 2003, which resulted in the creation of the so-called "Great Firewall of China," or the Golden Shield Project. The law has since been used by the Chinese government to clamp down on political speech and arrest "difficult" citizens for infringing the broadly written law.
Arguably, the law would be fine if rightsholders didn't abuse it, but as we've seen, rightsholders are more than capable of abuse even with existing laws. Just yesterday, Viacom ordered YouTube to take down an official video belonging to game developer Naughty Dog simply because it was first shown at the Viacom-owned Video Game Awards. Likewise, Universal Music Group ordered YouTube to take down an original video produced by Megaupload simply because it featured popular artists who spoke in favor of going independent, away from the RIAA.
The bill, which uses language to target "piracy" is effectively an act of censorship, as it prevents websites from (legally) linking to "foreign" websites deemed with content deemed illegal by the US Government. Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe argues that the SOPA bill violates the First Amendment.
As a gamer, here's what you stand to lose if SOPA passes:
* "Let's Play" videos
* Video replays
* Video reviews and commentary
* Unofficial game guides
* The taking, hosting, and sharing of screenshots, artistic or otherwise
* Image forums (Reddit, 4chan)
Tech titans like Facebook and Google understand the ramifications of the bill, and have aggressively opposed it since its very inception. However, the sway they have over Congress is limited compared to that of the entertainment industry, who are leading the charge. In short, they need our help, and our voices to speak to Congress.
Petition your representative.
Related resource: Reddit r/SOPA.
Image credit: mysarahjane
The author can be reached through Twitter at @stillgray.