A case for facts, statistics, and common sense. Let's be #OPEN about it.
Across the internet today, you'll see some of your favorite websites "blacked out" in protest of something called SOPA -- the Stop Online Piracy Act. However, don't be fooled by its seemingly straightforward title: SOPA is one of the greatest challenges to a free and open web that we've ever faced. Ultimately, it's a right step, but in the wrong direction. SOPA's original intention was to protect intellectual property created by American artists, yet the result is something much different: an unfair restriction on many American websites, like YouTube and Reddit, that we've come to love.
The media and entertainment industry are lobbying Congress hard to pass this bill, and this past Sunday on MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes, I had the great opportunity to have a discussion with one their biggest advocates, NBC Universal's General Counsel, Richard Cotton. Mr. Cotton and the corporate supporters of SOPA are using two major points to convince Congress to vote in favor of SOPA:
1. SOPA saves jobs.
2. SOPA will not affect American websites.
Mr. Cotton repeated these points again and again on the show, yet I rebutted with the facts:
1. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office, in a 32-page report, reveals that the claim that any number of jobs lost in industries such as entertainment/media due to online piracy "cannot be substantiated." In fact, those industries such as entertainment/media that rely on copyright are growing 1% above the rest of the economy. Meanwhile, the entertainment/media industry receives a heft of its profits from overseas, where piracy is much more rampant than in the U.S.
2. SOPA will not only affect American websites, but could result in many of them being shut down. Let's be real why - the most widely used sites around the world are American: Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc., and SOPA places all of the liability of pirated content on the owner of the website. So, American companies would be forced to use their own resources to actively police for linked pirated content on their foreign pages (e.g. Google.co.uk) - resources that smaller companies, like Reddit, don't have, possibly resulting in their closure. SOPA might be directed at foreign sites like The Pirate Bay, but will have devastating, yet unintended, consequences on our sites at home.
Instead of punishing American tech companies, which create jobs and are the source of much of our innovation, let's go directly after the pirated content overseas. A good alternative to SOPA is the Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN), introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa. OPEN places the enforcement responsibility on the International Trade Commission, (ITC) instead of our websites or Justice Department. The ITC, after an investigation, will follow the money trail that funds foreign piracy sites, and eliminate their payment options, effectively shutting them down.
Make no doubt, piracy is an issue that needs to be addressed, and the work of our artists need to be protected, but SOPA is not the answer. Instead of taking a sledgehammer to our internet, we should use a scalpel to specifically remove these rogue, foreign sources of piracy, while avoiding placing a burden on our American web companies.
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