On the surface, not much seems to be of relevance in the ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’ (SOPA, H.R. 3261) because nonprofits aren’t really in the business of selling digitized content, much less pirated content. Nevertheless, nonprofit organizations and consumer protection groups are decrying the bill and calling for an internet ‘blackout’ on 18 January as Congress discusses the bill. AnonymousIRC, Reddit, and even the many Cheezburger sites are all participating in the blackout while encouraging others to do the same.
The blackout is meant, in part, to call attention to the powers SOPA offers internet service providers (ISPs) and media corporations to shut down sites they believe are dealing with copyrighted material. The blackout is also meant to act as a counterweight to the quarter of a billion dollars these companies have pooled to lobby Congresspeople for their votes in favor of SOPA.
The stakes are high for media businesses and service providers, but nonprofits apparently outside the bailiwick of the act are also starting to get involved. Why?
According to Advomatic.com, SOPA should be stopped because ISPs and media groups could stop any site they deem as trafficking copyrighted information. (As an aside, Advomatic has a fabulous banner logo mixing a cool 1930s-modern font and a cute logo that feels straight from a turn-of-the-twentieth-century newspaper.) She focusses on the consumer uprising against GoDaddy.com, which seemed to support SOPA until it didn’t:on
Their ads are sexist and their president shoots elephants. (Seriously who does that? Montgomery Burns?) When activists at Reddit learned about GoDaddy’s support of SOPA they named December 29th Dump GoDaddy Day and started organizing. What happened next is a great case of consumer activism and online organizing making a difference. TheDomains.com reports that GoDaddy lost 37,000 domains between Dec 22 and 24 alone! GoDaddy changed their stance VERY publicly as a result of the public outcry.
Most organizations point to good folks at ComputerWorld have summarized the section nicely for us laypeople:, which deals with definitions of piracy and the steps companies can take to stop the sites they deem as piratical, as the problem. The
Basically, Sec. 103 will give the owner of any intellectual property the right to pursue private action against websites that they deem are infringing their rights. Under SOPA, IP rights holders will be able to ask payment providers such as MasterCard and PayPal to shut off services to allegedly infringing sites. They would also be able to ask Internet advertising networks to stop providing ads to the websites.
Don’t IP owners need some a court order before they ask ISPs and the others to do this? Not really. ISPs will get five days to use all “technical feasible and reasonable” measures to voluntarily comply with the request. Those that do will get full immunity from any liability. Those that don’t can be forced to do so under court order.
At the conceptual level, ISPs and media corporations get to act as law enforcement and as judges of their own law enforcement. Such private justice is what historians generally term ‘feudalism’ and what the Constitution strives to prevent. Ostensibly, nonprofits do not present anything that would seem to threaten these conglomerates, but, under SOPA’s current terms, nonprofits will not get a day in public court if they are deemed of trafficking in any such material. Even if they did, what nonprofit has a cabal of lawyers and lobbyists to counter the plaintiff’s accusations?
If you and your organization want to get involved, follow almost any link in this survey/summation, which will take you to various protest groups. Moreover, you can quickly and conveniently. As of posting, one voice has supported the bill – 2095 are against it. The 18th is the day of the hearing, which means SOPA could still be rewritten (for better or worse), so the debate has only begun.