Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sopa & Pipa—what does it mean for writers?

Last Wednesday I went online to do a bit of research for the second in my series of children’s science adventure novels. As a rule, I do not use Wikipedia for scientific information, since the system of entering information on that site exposes it to errors. But Wikipedia can get you in the ball park and does point you to more sources for gaining more accurate information. So I turned to Wikipedia. Much to my consternation, Wikipedia was blacked out. I did a Google search. The letters on Google were blacked out.

“What’s happening?” I asked myself. The words on the Wikipedia page filled me in. They were protesting SOPA and PIPA. What in the world are SOPA and PIPA?

Before then I had no idea that SOPA and PIPA were new legislation to be voted on by congress. SOPA which stands for Stop Online Piracy Act was being considered by the house, while PIPA which stands for Protect IP Act was being considered by the US Senate. Both bills would in effect allow U.S. attorneys general and copyright holders to enforce punitive actions against websites selling counterfeit goods or violating intellectual property rights. They would block access to websites containing unauthorized copyright material and content owners would be given the power to request court orders to shut down sites associated with piracy. Advertisers, payment processors and Internet service providers would be forbidden from doing business with infringers based overseas.

It sounds great for authors who constantly fight against websites pirating copies of their novels and selling them without their consent or remuneration. Sometimes these websites even offer the pirated copies for free. However, there is another side to the story. Many opponents of the bills suggest that it goes too far and limits freedom of information sharing. It threatens to shut down or censor legitimate websites that might inadvertently link to or display such content.

Massive protests were staged both physically and online. Wikipedia and quite a few other information websites blacked out their sites to demonstrate what would happen without access to information. Google blacked out its name but still
continued to operate. The biggest response however came from a group of hackers called “Anonymous” which shut down many government and entertainment businesses websites including the FBI, Department of Justice and Universal Studios. Millions signed petitions to stop the bill. Congress was inundated with calls and emails. In the end the bills were shelved indefinitely.

So what does this mean for writers? We depend on the internet for information and access, yet we stand to lose revenue with the peddling of pirated copies of our books. Many writers have complained and even tried to get some of the websites guilty of selling pirated copies shut down. Though some writers have had limited success in shutting down those websites and/or removing their books, it has been like a game of whack-a-mole. For each piracy website stopped, three more pop up.

Does the defeat of the SOPA and PIPA bill mean piracy websites are now emboldened to sell illegal copies of copyrighted material? Does it mean that the bills would re-emerge in a better worded, improved form that would indeed reduce online piracy without censoring free exchange of ideas and access to information?

What do you think? What does the proposed SOPA and PIPA and their subsequent defeat mean for writers?


Liane Spicer said...

On the surface it seems like a good thing for writers who have been agonizing over piracy of their digital books. However, I gather that many writers and other IP owners do not support the bills because of the powers they will bestow on the government and the abuses that such powers would enable.

Legislation is needed, but seemingly not in the draconian form proposed by SOPA and PIPA.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Very true. I had no idea that such legislation was proposed before the online protests. From reviewing the news articles I gather that the wording of the bills (I haven't actually seen the bill)left much to be desired. According to one reporter, the bill gave quite a bit of power to the justice system including shutting down websites that may inadvertently link to the offending sites and forcing search engines to police the web, but does little to really stop online piracy.

KeVin K. said...

I'm hoping for something worded more clearly and focused more exclusively on piracy. Both these proposed laws have good intentions and are based on an honest effort to address a real problem. However both as written present 4th amendment problems.

Jewel Amethyst said...

KeVin, it goes even farther than just violating the unreasonable search and seizure amendment. It forces not just law enforcement, but businesses, advertizers, search engines, online payment processing centers to sanction sites SUSPECTED of piracy without due process. That can have a lot unintended consequences.

Charles Gramlich said...

I fear the bills as they were planned would have done much more to protect the big guys than the small guys. And since I've always been a small guy and probably always will be, I don't think it will affect me much.