Clay Shirky on why SOPA is a bad idea

January 19th, 2012 by Chris Hogg Leave a reply »

As someone who runs a user-generated website, I think SOPA is a very bad idea. But I think it’s bad not just because it would inhibit my business, but because it would stifle innovation across the Internet as a whole.

For those of you who may not be familiar with SOPA, I’m providing a definition here (courtesy of the user-generated site Wikipedia):

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a law (bill) of the United States proposed in 2011 to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Proposals include barring advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with allegedly infringing websites, barring search engines from linking to the sites, and requiring Internet service providers (ISP) to block access to the sites. The bill would criminalize the streaming of such content, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

User-content websites such as YouTube would be greatly affected, and concern has been expressed that they may be shut down if the bill becomes law. Opponents state the legislation would enable law enforcement to remove an entire domain due to something posted on a single blog, arguing that an entire online community could be punished for the actions of a tiny minority. In a 1998 law, copyright owners are required to request the site to remove the infringing material within a certain amount of time. SOPA would bypass this “safe harbor” provision by placing the responsibility for detecting and policing infringement onto the site itself.

Lobbyists for companies that rely heavily on revenue from intellectual property copyright state it protects the market and corresponding industry, jobs, and revenue. The US president and legislators suggest it may kill innovation. Representatives of the American Library Association state the changes could encourage criminal prosecution of libraries. Other opponents state that requiring search engines to delete a domain name begins a worldwide arms race of unprecedented censorship of the Web and violates the First Amendment.

On January 18, 2012, several high-profile sites including Wikipedia went “dark” in protest of SOPA, and prominent Canadians like Michael Geist illustrated how an American legal issue would also affect those living outside of Uncle Sam’s reach.

I am against SOPA for many of the same reasons that others have spoken about publicly. It’s ill-conceived, destructive and it would stifle the innovation, open discussion and progress we have come to love of the Internet.

One particular voice in this discussion caught my attention and I wanted to share that with you here today. Clay Shirky gave a TED talk on SOPA and it says everything I would and provides great context on a complicated yet important issue. If you have 15 minutes to spare, I strongly encourage you to take the time to watch this talk:

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