Disclaimer: These views are my own and do not reflect those of TopTierTactics.com or any of its other writers or the owner of the site. These are opinions and surmises only, and meant only as an exploration of my own ideas.
I don’t want to go too far afield of my strategy stuff, but I just got done watching the latest Jimquisition, and I thought that for those of you who don’t already watch that show (start now, please) this info might be something to chew on. Plus, my opinions can’t be separated from the article, so you’ll just have to deal with my ramblings.
What is he talking about?
For those of you not yet aware, and as I live under a rock, I wasn’t, the Stop Online Piracy Act is currently on its way through Congress. Shorthanded to SOPA, the act allows, in a nutshell, any company with even a cursory copyright issue to file a claim and potentially take down any site they feel obliged to. For example, sites (like Livestream or Twitch.tv or IGN or, hey, TopTierTactics), that post articles using images, video, sound, scent and taste of copyrighted material can be subject to a claim and have that material removed from the internet. The law extends its reaches into every conceivable area you can think of. Think of sites like Amazon, YouTube, any and all firearms sale sites, prescription medication providers, pet medicine suppliers; you name it, the law probably covers it.
In essence, this bill makes it a federal offense, a felony, in short, to distribute in any fashion copyrighted material. The lawyers among you will probably correct me on this, but in the reading I gave it, it seemed to me that the Attorney General of the United States has the authority and the ability to pursue you with the full weight of federal copyright law. That is, should you use some electronic means of distributing said copyrighted material. More than this, the bill reaches beyond the borders of the US, essentially allowing US law to extend where before it was completely unable to. To the point, the bill says that someone representing the US and the law (should it become one) is to be placed in every habitable region on the globe.
What does it all mean?
Well, essentially, it comes down to this. Any site displaying material (apologies for the constant use of the word) they do not own the copyright to are subject to federal indictment under the current copyright laws. This extends to sites like Google too, and the bill forbids the distribution of copyrighted material through hyperlinks. Hyperlinks, people! I mean really!
So, should a company like, oh, I don’t know, EA not like the fact I used publicly available Battlefield 3 images in my articles (which I’ve done), they can file a claim against not just me but also WiNG, and have the full force of federal law behind them. As the bill’s written, pretty much every blog, review site, online distribution center, image board, whatever, is subject to this. So long as they can find you, they can prosecute you.
Should we be scared?
Here’s where I differ somewhat with the more outspoken voices on the internet, like Jim Sterling. Nothing at all against Mr. Sterling. His vehemence in this matter is completely justified, as his livelihood could very well rest on the pass or veto of the law. The same goes for all of the writers for big sites like Kotaku, IGN, GameSpot, 1UP, The Escapist, whatever. I think they should, and indeed probably need to combat this bill with everything they have, and I’m trying to do my part here by informing you guys about it, as I’m just as much at risk as they are, if only on the legal side of things.
However, I’m not as worried as I might be, for a few reasons. First, our president. Without delving into politics, I know he used the internet extensively in his campaign, and continues to do so for every important happening he has a part in. Check YouTube. You’ll find a channel for the White House. I don’t think that anyone whose assent to power required social media would want to endanger any further power plays by blocking a way to attain that power. And more “power” to him! YouTube played a large role in Obama’s road to the presidency, if only because he used the new social network to more an advantage than McCain. I should think, and I’ve been wrong before, someone in his position would balk at the idea of destroying a means to influence millions around him.
Second, there’s the workload to consider. I’ll ask our law-minded readers to correct me on this, but as I read the bill, the Attorney General’s office has to issue a copyright infringement order for each such breach. I don’t know whether or not he can extend this to entire sites or must handle each infringement individually. However, the internet is an infinitely expanding copyright infringement sink, and policing it is really too much for anyone to do, no matter how much manpower you have. In a place where anyone with a viable connection can say whatever they want from wherever they want, and in a place where this happens millions of times a minute, there is no way any group can contain everything. The fact that the US government is now trying to pass a bill making such a thing mandatory only shows how ignorant the proposers of the bill are in what they’re trying to call for. It’s just not reasonable in any sense of the imagination.
Third, and this bit is the most important for our purposes here, is the idea of enforcement. This concept goes back to the days where America was still mostly frontier and the whole Manifest Destiny thing reared its head. The Chief Justice of the time, John Marshall, ruled that moving the people native to this country were not to be moved by President Jackson by any means. His famous quote, one of my favorites, goes, “They’ve made their ruling, now let them enforce it.”*
One of the main concerns Jim Sterling had was how the games industry, or any industry mentioned, might be called to take down materials that only benefit them monetarily. For example, video game companies rely on social media to spread hype for their products, and many an indie hit became that hit because of sites like YouTube or any of the streaming sites. AAA titles are in essentially the same boat, on a much larger scale. The bill calls on those holding the copyright to file the claims, I’m fairly certain, before the government steps in. Even if the bill passes, how many companies will conceivably look at their games being shown on YouTube and say, “That’s a blatant infrignment of our copyright and it is giving us absolutely no positive benefits at all. We should do something about it and everything like it.” If I were someone like Bobby Kotick, whose fortune is partly made because of online videos, I don’t think I’d ever say that.** For this reason, most among the three, I don’t think this bill is quite as big an issue in practice as it is in theory.
But the theory is the scary part. If the bill passes, which I doubt, it sets a precedent for other bills like it to further put the squeeze on the growing online entertainment industry. The old guard in the film and music industries, and those in Washington unaware or unwilling to accept the rapidly changing times, will have full power to end thousands of jobs out of ignorance or short-sightedness. Big business, like EA and Activision and Nintendo and Sony, can begin to crack down even harder on the very customers they’re trying to reach. They probably won’t but if they wanted to, they can. In the end, as Jim says, this law is really just a giant shot in the foot. The fear he doesn’t enunciate that I hold is that said shot in said foot won’t be immediately or even quickly apparent. It will probably take some time to manifest, and by the time it does, it’ll have been to late. The spiral into chaos will be too fast to stop, and all the rest of us would do is watch.
Cheery, isn’t it?
Update: If you’ve found this article, you might be interested in the more recent one written after SOPA was shelved.
* Possible misquote
** I’m aware of the bans for showing footage early or when done illegally. I’m speaking on games in full retail release here.