|Black Wednesday: The Day SOPA Met Its Match|
|Posted: 19.01.2012 14:49 by Marco Fiori||Comments: 5|
Black days have traditionally been Mondays. In 1987 the booming US economy collapsed as the mountain of greed the system was built upon crumbled. It was a dark day for the financial markets and it helped coin the term, Black Monday.
With 2012 history will paint a different picture. The darkest of shades will be associated not with a Monday, but with the middle of the week. Wednesday 18th January will be remembered as a day of internet activism when thousands of websites rose up against the corporate machine to protest against a legitimate threat to free speech.
By now you’ll have heard of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. It, like its cousin PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), threatens the fundamentals of mankind’s greatest invention. Both bills combine to give law enforcement agencies the ability to filter the web in the name of copyright protection.
Threatening jobs, creativity, and the very concept the Internet was founded on, SOPA is an unwieldy beast unlikely to halt piracy. Instead, it has the potential to cause huge harm to thousands of normal law-abiding citizens and shut down websites that are simply associated with copyright infringing counterparts.
Wikipedia, the all-knowing community encyclopaedia joined thousands of other high profile websites in blacking out as a method of protest. Visitors were greeted with replacement landing pages explaining why SOPA is a threat.
The video games industry joined in. News 4 Gamers ( ), the high profile content curation engine, turned itself off. PC focused site rightfully explained “Any site that has comments, a forum, video streaming, user content in any form, is in real danger of being destroyed by SOPA and PIPA.”
Interestingly the very form that SOPA looks to protect, personal intellectual property, spoke out against it. Journalism revolted against the obscured motives because in reality journalistic sites – many of which rely on advertisement revenue that come from SOPA-deemed threats – are in the firing line.
YouTube and its IP (Intellectual Property) heavy copyright warnings have already demonstrated the potential for havoc. Many gaming websites rely on publisher content for their gaming reviews, trailers and audio. Many already find themselves tackling daily automated fair-use disputes. Yes, the footage used is indeed owned by the publisher, but the public relations benefits combined with the strength of community content for marketing purposes is too strong to quibble.
That said, what about the developers? There’s no doubt piracy has had a huge impact on the gaming industry. Arguably more damaging than music and cinema, video game piracy is still rife and threatening the fabric of the industry. If it wasn’t, DRM and online-activations would be a thing of the past.
Whether or not advocates of piracy intended to purchase a product is beside the point. Their arguments are legitimate, but not necessary correct. Word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful sales driver, even if it’s pushed by those who haven’t paid for the game. This is beside the point though.
For developers who spend months creating a game, only to see their financial reward destroyed by predatory anti-consumers, it’s heartbreaking. Surely they’re in full support of SOPA? Torrent sites and other piracy discovery engines need to be nipped in the bud. Realistically SOPA, if it was passed, would do little to stem the tide of piracy.
The majority of pirates don’t Google “Free Spore Download”. Instead, they’re part of closed networks, behind advanced encryption methods away from prying governmental eyes. Therefore SOPA wouldn’t close them and instead it’d destroy legitimate websites that are unlucky enough to use supposed ‘dubious content’.
Google itself makes an interesting point – it is indeed fighting piracy and removing the ability for causal pirates to find material. It , “We are investing a lot of time and money in that fight. Last year alone we acted on Copyright takedown notices for more than 5 million webpages.”
But let’s track back. Game Developer A uploads 3 minutes of footage to its website. Games Website B takes A’s footage and repurposes it in a review. Mr Legal Publisher Department isn’t happy though and issues a notice, and through the power of SOPA, shuts Website B down. Developer isn’t happy, website closed and law-legitimacy ensures there’s little fight back, regardless of whether the video was helping generate interest.
As , PR Liaison / Games & Technology Journalist at states, “More and more things we currently take for granted will be mired in red tape and uncertainty; can I still post footage from a videogame as part of a review, or guide? Or would I be at risk from prosecution, censorship or, worse still, extradition.
While a little drastic, the above points raised are legitimate. Conversely it’s worth discussing the practicality of SOPA. In reality it’s ludicrous. Supporters of the act argue it’s not the little-guy who has to worry; rather it’s aimed at the heavy sailors of the piracy sea. It won’t be like The Great Firewall of China, they say.
However, just because someone won’t choose to do something, doesn’t mean its wise giving them the power to. We’ve all seen US-based corporations in the Wikileaks incident. Howard continues, “Something like SOPA is bound to be abused, perhaps even for things as petty as personal agendas… copyright accusations flying simply to interfere with a person or agency whose ideas don’t mesh with those of the copyright holder.”
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From a personal perspective and someone who’s a keen photographer, copyright is an important issue. If I were to take a photograph of an Image-Right-Protected building, would the building’s owners have the ability to unleash SOPA on me? The same goes for the kid making user reviews on YouTube or the man sharing screenshots on his blog.
Being silent is the worst thing you can be with SOPA. The Internet provides a fantastic platform for intellectual discussion and silence is all that’ll be left if the legislation gets passed; therefore choose to be vocal before you don’t have a choice. Or be silent as a form of protest, as demonstrated by gaming podcast who are publishing a one hour podcast of nothing but silence to raise awareness.
Finally we have the views of , Handheld Editor, and Freelance Journalist. As he rightfully puts, the gaming industry could potentially see its landscape change in the future, especially with E3. He shares, “the most interesting fallout [...] will be what happens after this is all over. The – supporters of the companies [pro-SOPA] – also happen to run E3, the largest expo for this medium, the place where some of the biggest news stories are broken year after year. Covering the show in any capacity is a badge of honour for games critics.”
Does this mean those blacking-out will relinquish their media cover of future E3s? Maybe, as Willington continues, “The response from many outlets has been a unified "f**k SOPA, blacking out sites for a whole day, losing all that revenue. It's incredibly admirable. I wonder though, will they attend E3? Or report on it in any way? When all is said, is getting that scoop on the next Call of Duty worth it to enter E3, associate themselves with the ESA and - in turn – SOPA?”
What about the developers themselves? Yesterday saw PC developer Studio Red 5 announce they were dropping out of E3 in protest to ESA and using the $50,000 booth money to set up . Will this prompt a mass exodus of support?
Before we ditch the convention and sentence it to death, Peter suggests not, grounding his thoughts in reality. Like the practicality of SOPA, the above scenario is unlikely as he explains, “E3 is a huge driver of traffic to sites (...) Not covering E3 would be a death sentence for larger sites in a market that is getting harder and harder to monetise with falling ad sales.”
So should we expect a web landscape that’s a barren wasteland where creativity is stifled to the benefit of big money? Hugely unlikely, but one thing is certain - the Internet’s fight back has moved towards succeeding in its mission. Time will surely tell with SOPA, but yesterday's incidents have proved the little man still has voice. It just needs to bound together to make itself heard. What allows that to happen in a way never seen before in humanity? The Internet.
If you'd like to discuss SOPA on Twitter, just . Thanks to everyone who helped provide their thoughts in the true spirit of the Internet.