The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as H.R. 3261, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by House Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors. The bill expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Now before the House Judiciary Committee, it builds on the similar PRO-IP Act of 2008 and the corresponding Senate bill, the PROTECT IP Act.
While I was following the fellow journalists and podcasters in the US talking about SOPA/PIPA, I kept thinking why I should bother with SOPA/PIPA? It’s a act which is being passed in the US, and if enforced, it will allow the government (with/without due process) to kick websites off the internet. But the effect of this is restricted to the US and such a banned website should be still accessible for us Singapore. So what’s the big deal for us? I bet many of your have the similar thought.
Thanks to Justin Lee, I realized my lack of foresight. Let’s start with history…
Last few years many of the governments around the world have been discussing a really unusual trade agreement. Of course the intent of this agreement is honest and fair. The ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) had the aim of “ establishing international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement”. While the agreement was on a voluntary basis, there were murmurs around the internet that the US government being lobbied by the MPAA/RIAA was putting their weight on countries to sign the pact. And one of the clauses of this agreement was the famous, “3-strikes rule” which basically forced the governments to force the local ISPs to give users 3 chances of “suspected copyright infringement” before stopping their access to the internet.
And among the list of countries who have signed ACTA is our dear Singapore. Singapore has always tried to stay in the good books of the US, and especially with respect to copyright issues. The current emphasis on media has heightened that significantly as a strong copyright law makes media company more willing to setup operations in Singapore.
Thus, there is a significant possibility that Singapore might import SOPA and make it a law here. In fact there are indications of that already. While it’s not that serious for Singapore, where there is already a significant censorship of the internet based on what’s considered acceptable by MDA. But allowing random 3rd parties (copyright holders) pull the trigger on censorship is stretching it.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not in support of piracy. Being a part of Tech65, we take our IP right seriously. We’d hate to see our content being stolen/pirated/abused as much as any movie producer. And I totally agree that copyright of content should be protected with government mandate. But HOW that is done is the question to be asked. Allowing copyright holders who have a definite commercial interest to practically ban any website they suspect of infringing their copyright is definitely not the way.
Here’s a simple example why such such law can be abused. Revision3 was DDOSed and “crippled” for a suspected copyright infringement in 2008 (just because they served THEIR OWN content on BitTorrent). Rev3 suspects that the DDOS was done by a company acting on behalf of the MPAA. While DDOSing is currently not legal, you can imagine that with SOPA such things can be done simply and legally by banning the site at DNS level. Too much power in the hands of people with obvious commercial interest against many smaller players on the internet. Talk about being unfair..
So here’s what you can do..
Keep your eyes and ears open to how the Singapore government reacts to SOPA. If need be, we will have to contact our representatives and tell them our view on copyright issues to be raised to the appropriate level.
Think about alternative ways how copyright can be preserved and protected in other ways than straight up banning suspected copyright infringers from the internet.
If you have some ideas, do comment below. I would love a discussion.