All across the internet today, websites have gone dark to protest two bills in congress that aim at cracking down on online piracy. However, these bills – SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate – are widely believed to go too far, netting many law-abiding citizens and websites in their attempt to quash piracy.
Serious free speech concerns have been raised by some members of congress as well as by tech writers, bloggers, and various tech leaders such as Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales. An alternative bill, the OPEN Act, has been proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). The architects of SOPA and PIPA – Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D – VT) – say that OPEN is too weak. Many members of the tech community say even the OPEN Act goes too far, attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
Earlier this month Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) hopped on the game forums at Riot’s League of Legends to talk about why he opposes SOPA, saying, “As a member of the League of Legends community (partial to Anivia and Maokai), and as someone who made his living as an Internet entrepreneur before being elected to Congress, I’m greatly concerned about the future of the Internet and gaming if Congress doesn’t wake up. You may have heard that Congress is currently considering a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. While SOPA has a ton of problems, there are some significant issues that I thought fellow gamers might want to know about.”
Games like League of Legends, he said, as well as any sites that depend on user content are threatened.
I had the chance to ask Rep. Polis a few questions about his opposition to SOPA and the alternatives to that legislation.
Why do you oppose SOPA?
I oppose piracy and want to see intellectual property protected because that is what fosters and rewards innovation. But SOPA won’t accomplish a meaningful reduction in piracy and causes massive collateral damage to the Internet ecosystem. It offers a set of barriers that the tech-savvy can work around rather easily while not effectively stopping overseas piracy. If it were to become law it would be ripe for abuse as companies could use a private right of action to block a competitor out of existence. That will snuff out the spark of innovation and job creation our economy needs right now.
Supporters of SOPA says it targets only foreign “rogue” websites. If this is the case, what’s so bad about the bill?
No one disagrees on the target; we just want a bill that hits what it’s aiming at. It’s not clear that this bill will only apply to foreign sites because of the bill’s vague definitions and immunity clauses in section 105. There’s also a high probability that it will lead to censorship. We should shut down rogue sites but SOPA’s approach just won’t work. Instead we need a follow-the-money approach like the OPEN Act offers. Many rogue sites exist to make a profit and others are enormously expensive to maintain. If they don’t have the resources to continue stealing intellectual property they’ll wither away.
You were an internet entrepreneur and you are a gamer. Is there a problem that needs to be addressed with piracy? Games especially seem to get hit by piracy, and organizations like the ESA have stated they support SOPA. Why should gamers not support the bill?
The gaming industry is justifiably concerned about piracy but, again, do you want a bill that’s going to be effective or a bill that won’t? More and more game and content companies are now seeing that SOPA won’t work and could actually hurt the industry, which is why the Business Software Alliance now opposes it, as does Riot Games, and the Writers Guild of America, West has even raised serious concerns. We need balance when attempting to solve this problem; it’s clear—when even content companies are opposing it—that SOPA is not a balanced approach.
You have stated that you are working on alternatives to SOPA. What are these? Can we balance free speech and the need to crack down on piracy?
That alternative is the OPEN Act, which you can read more about at http://www.keepthewebopen.com/
. Instead of exposing the Internet to cybersecurity risks as SOPA does, OPEN would use a targeted follow-the-money approach to take down rogue websites. We know this method works. When the money dries up, the sites die off. That’s the way to go after piracy.