SOPA: The Bill That Wants to Break Your Internet

Your Modern Warfare 3 YouTube videos could soon be outlawed; your Skyrim Daedric weapons montage too. Here's why.

What if live-streaming video of your mad StarCraft 2 skills were outlawed? Or that funny YouTube video you made using Halo Forge could be shut down by Microsoft? Think this sounds preposterous? We're actually dangerously close to such an Orwellian scenario if legislators and their corporate supporters get their way.

This story was originally posted on November 23, 2011 and has since been updated on January 18, 2012 to reflect new information on the subject.

Maybe your only exposure to the Stop Online Piracy Act or the Protect IP Act is Jim Sterling's heartfelt "f*** you" to the bill's supporters on Twitter and in his Jimquisition video on The Escapist (Warning, the language in that video is NSFW so you might want to pop some headphones on before watching), or maybe you've been following the news on our sister site CNET. Many of us are not completely in the loop on these divisive pieces of legislation, though, so here's a quick primer on the bills that could "break the Internet."

What is SOPA? And is PIPA something different?

[SOPA] could punish any and all Web companies for hosting anything considered "unauthorized" copyrighted content, including video, images, music, and software.
It's the "Stop Online Piracy Act" and was introduced last October by House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) as a bill designed to…big shock here…stop online piracy. It was put forward as a companion to the Senate's "Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act," which is often referred to as the "Protect IP Act" (Senate Bill S.968.). The idea was to protect stuff like movies, games, and other content from being ripped off and distributed for free by foreign websites, which are dubbed as ominous-sounding "rogue sites." Though well-intentioned, the bills could punish any and all Web companies for hosting anything considered "unauthorized" copyrighted content, including video, images, music, and software.

You can read the SOPA bill in its entirety here. The PIPA document can be found here.

Why are people getting so worked up about this?

In short, it's because in their current form, the bills seem to be all about empowering corporations to censor the Internet. Those who oppose the bill claim it establishes a system of domain blacklisting pioneered by evil, tyrannical Internet-haters in China and Iran.

The intended scenario would go as follows: When an IP holder, like Electronic Arts, has reason to believe that a site is distributing pirated copies of its software, it has a process that it can expedite to eliminate the threat to its business. Sounds fair enough, right? In real terms, though, things can be executed in a far more draconian fashion because of the way the bill is written and structured. Theoretically, if Electronic Arts felt that a website was carrying an unauthorized "performance" (like streaming video content or even images) from one of its games or that there were posts on the site encouraging piracy of the company's games, a complaint could be filed with the Department of Justice, and the site's domain could be blocked. The registrar would be required to take down the site's domain so that the URL would no longer work (although, interestingly, the IP address would still work), service providers would be required to block subscriber access to the site, payment processors and advertising networks would be required to stop doing business with it, and search engines would be barred from linking to it. In short, the site would be well and truly screwed.

Here's the glib interpretation for us gamers: As they are written, in addition to providing a nuclear option to retaliate against pirates, the legislation can be interpreted as outlawing the creative use of gameplay video on sites like YouTube, Twitch.tv, Livestream, Ustream, and even GameSpot.

Does it really stand a chance of being passed?

For now, that means that if the bills do become law, ISPs won't have to perform DNS redirects of sites the attorney general concludes are enabling copyright theft.
Originally SOPA was considered to be on a "fast track," but not everyone in Washington, D.C. thinks SOPA is the right solution for the problems it's designed to address. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said that the bill is "extreme" and will die on the House floor. "I don't believe this bill has any chance on the House floor," Issa said. "I think it's way too extreme; it infringes on too many areas that our leadership will know is simply too dangerous to do in its current form."

On January 13, 2012 Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said that he is removing a major provision that would force changes to internet infrastructure to fight online copyright infringement. The announcement came a day after Senator Patrick Leahy, the main sponsor of similar legislation in the Senate, announced the same move. For now, that means that if the bills do become law, ISPs won't have to perform DNS redirects of sites the attorney general concludes are enabling copyright theft. "After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision," Smith said in a statement. "We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers."

President Obama's administration issued a public response to petitions protesting the Stop Online Piracy Act on January 14, 2012 which stated, "While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

Who is for it?

Hollywood movie studios have been looking for support in shutting down download sites for years, so it should come as no surprise that the Motion Picture Association of America is giving this one the thumbs up, but it's not the only one backing SOPA. A list of supporters for the bill can be found here and there are some names on that list that may be of interest to GameSpot readers. Of note is the Entertainment Software Association, the industry group that counts many major games publishers among its members, including Electronic Arts and Nintendo. Though many of the individual publishers listed have declined the opportunity to comment over the past few weeks, the ESA itself issued the following statement. "As an industry of innovators and creators, we understand the importance of both technological innovation and content protection, and do not believe the two are mutually exclusive. Rogue websites - those singularly devoted to profiting from their blatant illegal piracy - restrict demand for legitimate video game products and services, thereby costing jobs. Our industry needs effective remedies to address this specific problem, and we support the House and Senate proposals to achieve this objective. We are mindful of concerns raised about a negative impact on innovation. We look forward to working with the House and Senate, and all interested parties, to find the right balance and define useful remedies to combat willful wrongdoers that do not impede lawful product and business model innovation."

Microsoft and Apple are both members of the Business Software Alliance, which is an organization originally identified as being in support of the bill, but which has since withdrawn that support. BSA president and CEO Robert Holleyman stated that the bill "needs work" and that "valid and important questions have been raised about the bill." Since this occurred, Apple has not issued any further statement, but Microsoft has come out firmly against the bills, stating "We oppose the passage of the SOPA bill as currently drafted. We think the White House statement points in a constructive way to problems with the current legislation, the need to fix them, and the opportunity for people on all sides to talk together about a better path forward."

Who is against it?

Who are the champions of Internet truth, justice, and the American way? Unsurprisingly, pretty much anyone with a vested interested in having the Internet work the way it should, so that's anyone from big-name Internet companies to everyone that posts anything online or depends on the Internet for their livelihood.

Google, Facebook, Zynga, and Twitter placed an ad in the New York Times last November protesting SOPA, and open source browser champion Mozilla turned its homepage black in support of the protest. Tumblr set up a page where its users could sign up and receive a phone call from the company with talking points about SOPA. From there, the company connected users with their U.S. representatives to air their concerns about the bill. At the end of the campaign, a total of 87,834 calls were placed to representatives. The average call lasted 53 seconds, while the longest came in at 31 minutes, the company said. A total of 1,293 total hours were spent talking to representatives.

Further protests today (January 18, 2012,) including a Wikipedia blackout and home page alerts at Google.com and Amazon.com, along with "blackouts" at sites such as Reddit, BoingBoing and WordPress have prompted some senators contacted by our sister-site CNET to abandon their earlier enthusiasm for the Protect IP Act. A Senate floor vote is scheduled for January 24.

"I'm withdrawing my co-sponsorship for the Protect IP Act," said Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican. Sen. John Boozman, an Arkansas Republican, "will be withdrawing his name as a co-sponsor" of Protect IP, a spokesman told CNET today. Rep. John Carter, a Texas Republican who is listed as a SOPA sponsor, "reserves judgment on the final bill," a spokesman said. "He's certainly not saying pass the bill as-is -- there are legitimate concerns in this bill."

If I think it sounds nuts, what can I do about it?

There are a variety of places you can express your support to protest the bill. First of all, you can call your congressperson to voice your concerns. If you don't know how to do that, you can find the contact information here. You can also send a letter to your congressperson by visiting the American Censorship Day site. A simple path to express your objection to the bill is to fill out the petition that Google is promoting from its homepage.

The Entertainment Consumers Association is rallying people on its site.

The most effective path is to share information. Not everyone is aware of this bill, so help educate them by sharing this article and other resources linked here with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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Discussion

933 comments
sedamine
sedamine

So if we are boycotting SOPA. That means no using IGN, or Gamespot. But this is ironic considering Gamespot is one the worst violators regarding game videos and screenshots. Perhaps this is a plea from within to help create awareness and knowledge of such a dirty Bill. Megaupload has just gone through several arrests and has been a functional site for 7 years. But what do you know they OPPOSE THIS BILL. And of course the US abused its political reach by using several other countries to obtain this goal. Disgusting.

thenerd64
thenerd64

if it happens people will find a way to hack around it anyway

sedamine
sedamine

If these companies really want to stop piracy and intellectual theft, they need to collaborate amongst themselves and be more innovative on securing it. Or they could maybe re-evaluate how they do business in order to be more effective and profitable. Instead of expecting a national government to do so for them. Yes these companies pay taxes, but so does everyone else. I mean what happened to the extra profits. That cannot all be going back into these companies. Oh yeah that's right, it's in their pockets. Bottom line: WORST IDEA EVER THOUGHT OF! And not just of this year, but any thought that EVER came to close to fruition.

sedamine
sedamine

I live in Canada where the Freedom of Information Act exist still to this day. Which means if it is intangible, such is the information in a captured in a movie, photograph, is audible, or created in a game. It is not theft for everyone has a right to knowledge and information. That is what keeps our nations around the world evolving. In theory if I broke into someones house and took some documents, I would be charged for sure. For Break and Entering, not Theft. This Bill is the same road that the ban on the substance maijuana came about in 1937 i believe. Where petroleum based companies manipulated the US government for their own profits and cause. Not to mention the end silliness, that if I took a picture of myself say wearing a Nike, Dolce and Gabbana ensemble and posted it on say facebook, that my profile suddenly be banned. I mean whats the matter, don't these companies like the fact I actually bought their product. Maybe someone might like what they see and buy that too. Or maybe the photo should just be me in the nude. Guess I can't wear those products now just in case.

sedamine
sedamine

Haha... Corporate America trying to seclude itself from the rest of the world. Might as well take stock the NYSE has and give it to the rest of the world. There are so many ramifications outside the internet that this will create. Not to mention the message of saying democracy only counts if you CANNOT buy it. If the US is looking to damage their economy so bad, I say go ahead and see how much of an influence you do not become. And this idea of intellectual property being stolen. I'm sorry but if I paid for the rights of certain media, like games, I have a right to post a video I made using that game, considering I already paid for it. Plus those gaming videos really help me choose what I purchase when I am hesitant to buy a game. Meaning if I buy it, money for these greedy corporations. Which would be there loss more than mine. Not to mention the obvious: being afraid of some creative competition from rival companies. The US does NOT control the world, or the internet (though it did originate there through military technology). And this can't damage relations with so many countries that could be cut-off from the US, for not playing by their rules. If these companies are so worried about there ideas being stolen, just don't think. Someone else will come up with it.

antdub01
antdub01

As long as I can still get free porn...I don't care.

maryalex
maryalex

While I do not live in the US, I'm concerned as well. If SOPA and PIPA were to become effective, the whole Internet, not just the US's, would be in danger. I don't know if there's something we foreigners can do to sustain the anti-SOPA/PIPA campaign, but to wish the anti-SOPA/PIPA sustainers to stand firm and continue to oppose these bills as fiercely as they could.

MateuszNosek
MateuszNosek

This is a bad idea and it will cause many problems. It will be a big revolution of man kind against global companies that want to destroy our freedom! To swords game spot users!

Kruegmeister
Kruegmeister

Under SOPA, you could get 5 years for uploading a Michael Jackson song, one more year than the doctor who killed him...

Woakizz
Woakizz

I found out that when the hackers from "Anonymus" heard about the closing of megaupload by this f***ing stupid law they broke the FBI data base and stole all the informations destroying the server...i guess that's their answer about this stupidity...I am totally against this law...Even if they will approve this law the wouldn't be able to stop the piracy 'cause the pirates don't go to the presidents and ask "can we hack this game/video/image/program/website/etc."...DOWN WITH THE SOPA!!!

XHuLio13
XHuLio13

sorry to interrupt but just fyi controlling the internet is not a communistic ideal.Even more when it's ultimate goal is more money for the big corporations.That is called capitalism and when it's extended in a state that it would affect other countries as well it's called imperialism

ferna1234
ferna1234

SOPA will cause more money to be lost in terms of publicity than the money that is lost from piracy. It does not repair the leak, it puts a bucket on the floor for the leak to drip on.

Lykanthropie
Lykanthropie

even if this work, american people could go through some sites and use other ip, i am pretty sure the next day this sopa will be law, there are a huge number of progs that cover the american ip or whatever else is needed. It would be funny somehow ... but this also shows the people with the big money controls government a lot ... yeah you cant buy anything ...

JimB
JimB

In the case of Face Book and YouTube instead of shutting down the site go after the person who posted the questionable content.

Gater29
Gater29

I can't believe that the senate is still even considering passing this bill. I would think that once they realized that so many sites (and big name one's too, Wikipedia, Google) are against it, along with the majority of the people who use the internet (which is who they are supposed to be representing in the first place - the people), that they would have already shut down this bill. If this gets passed, I will lose every last ounce of respect that I have for the American government. And I live here.

nyran125
nyran125

to be honest...i couldnt care less about Piracy.. i really dont. It hasnt stopped games from making the MOST money they have EVER made in history. Yet they reckon Piracy is at an alltime high, but can still make \$450 million in 2 weeks? its a joke.. i couldnt care less if SKYRIM made no more money lol. Theyve made enough already. I couldnt car less if Tom Cruise cant buy a new jet, or NBA stars cant have 3 more million, or Metellica cant afford 9 new mansions. Theres YIN and YAN right.... Well i see it as major corporations are YIN and piracy is YAN...its all balance. Getting rid of piracy, doesnt do anything lol and it wont do anything. People will just borrow games off thier mates again.

Arkaskas
Arkaskas

USA the country of freedom and peace. Yeah right...

shymis
shymis

Said with other words - the american government wants to bring communism to the internet. If they do that the rich will become richer, the poor will become poorer, there won't be any innovations in the web and soon the internet will be abandoned. I don't know if there'll be someone with enough power in the government to see our comments here, but if there is (or will be) - please don't do anything stupid and listen to the people, that allowed you to get to that post of yours.

SnuffDaddyNZ
SnuffDaddyNZ

You have 5 days to remove the content, you don't get an automatic shutdown as soon as a complaint is registered. It's if you DON'T remove the offending content that you get shutdown.

TheFallingOne
TheFallingOne

Everything ██████ ███ ███████ ██ is █████ ████ ██ ██████ ███ fine. The █████ ███████ ████ Government ██████ ████ knows █████ █████ ███ best █████

Gv0zD
Gv0zD

No doubt that the discussed legislation is too dangerous to be approved. In its current state it will limit civil rights and will impact the internet in a very negative way. I personally think that it will change over time and if being pursued further will include countless corrections and editions. Anyway, I think it's a clumsy step towards improving the protection of IP and game developers and publishers in particular. The emergence of these bills is a result of the immense growth, the videogames industry demonstrated over the last 10-15 years. As making videogames became a separate industry with huge economic output, the need in thorough legislation becomes more and more evident. What disappoints me, is the fact that the people who propose these and any similar bills don't have a clear understanding of what the industry needs. As well as they are aware of the economical importance of the industry, they still don't consider it as a fully developed industry, thus such crude, unedited and ill-conditioned project arise.

Chainer323
Chainer323

it won't be called youtube anymore, it'll now be known as Govttube

jhonel83
jhonel83

@vernholio, I don't know why all you people think pirate and torrent sites come from China. The 2 largest are actually located in the UK and Sweeden (I'm speaking about btju**ie.com and thepirate***.com). And the fastest rips come from Russia actually (also the worst quality). Not to mention EVERY country has at least 50 torrent sites each - at least here in Europe. If they want to punish someone, I think they should go for those who actually crack the stuff, not those who distribute it. Imo I can live with things as they are today, I'm really not bothered about piracy at all, and couldn't care less if EA and Hollywood loose money. I'm amazed Microsoft is not supporting the bill, seeing as they incurred the biggest looses of them all, with Windows beeing pirated everywhere. @euphoric666, rofl, that made my day - no oil on the internet :)))

TallThrash
TallThrash

This violates the citizens freedom of speech.

jalen_222
jalen_222

Im stunned this hasn't come into effect long loooooong before now. Musicicans, Entertainers, Film companiies have lost literally millions and millions of dollars from people taking thier artwork for nothnig. Like it or not, downloading music and movies etc. for nothing is STEALING. Why are people even attempting to deny that ??!! Because they've been getting away with it ??? Hopefully this doesn't legitimate enterprises. That's the ONLY concern.

bluehawk-55
bluehawk-55

MEGAUPLOAD is down today---the beginning of the end?

mdchapel9
mdchapel9

This bill will never pass. lol You guys are a bunch of sissies.

Moegitto
Moegitto

Oh lawd, if this bill passes it'll be like we went back in time to when AOL and Netscape were battling for the king of the net crown. They'll be like 13 websites left, lol

vernholio
vernholio

@i-like-me I'm actually gonna contradict my previous post a little here... There actually is some specificity defined. Quoting from the article (and from my older post): "When an IP holder, like Electronic Arts, has reason to believe that a site is distributing pirated copies of its software, it has a process that it can expedite to eliminate the threat to its business" Just asking -- no bash/bitterness/negativity intended, whatsoever -- Where in your scenario do "pirated copies" of software come in to play? Maybe a little hypocritical on my part, (and I'm just adding vagueness/assumptions of my own), but shouldn't we hope that the "process" that the above quoted statement mentions would block EA from enacting your scenario, because it doesn't actually involve "pirated software"?

vernholio
vernholio

@i-like-me Excellent point, and exactly what I was getting at, saying how "vague" the whole thing is. If that IS how it's gonna work, you're 100% right... it's wrong, plain and simple. However, you're assuming that that's the way it'll be. None of us have any idea, specifically (and finally) how it will all come together. And, like I said, it probably DOES need to be tweaked -- specifically for scenarios like the one you bring up. I guess I'm a little too focused on the bottom-line of the whole thing... Jobs and (intellectual) property... Let's say you bust your ass painting a picture that people love and want to own, but rather than paying for your hard work, some jacka$$ steals it, makes millions of color copies and gives it to everybody. You're out both your property AND your cash flow... If I can't read a review or post a video on Youtube so that you get keep your painting, I'm sorry, I'm in...

Johny_47
Johny_47

The internet is a kind of Virtual Freedom, if this SOPA thing takes over the freedom will be gone, in the US won't this go against any of the Amendments? And from the amount I've read this looks like fascism / dictatorship =/ YouTube for one will probably lose 3/4 of its videos if not more, most of my videos I've made and uploaded to YouTube have other people's music in 'em so they'd be gone and I'm sure so many others have aswell. I don't really care about facebook but friends like and use that and said that would probably have to be much more limited(no sharing videos and posting messages of certain kinds to it etc). The web won't be a web anymore, more like a load of boring narrow tunnels with security checkpoints =P Very crap, I hope most people are against this thing.

juliano001
juliano001

@KIDFOX wrote: Who cares about Wikipedia anyways? you cant even use it as a trusted resource, its not an asset. Man this is the most utterly lie i have heard in a while. Shame on you.

rad2071
rad2071

My guess is that this bill wont pass as is and with go under revision and probably get tossed around for a couple years like they tend to do. By the time it comes up again im hoping it will be a lot less extreme. Id rather it get put down for good. Long live the Internet!

KIDFOX
KIDFOX

Who cares about Wikipedia anyways? you cant even use it as a trusted resource, its not an asset.

gokimanga
gokimanga

OMG, I'm gonna have to start paying for movies, music, video games, e-books and porn from now on? I can barely afford life as it is... -___-

drummerdickens
drummerdickens

I can't believe I might actually have to pay for movies...

i-like-me
i-like-me

@vernholio ok so lets say that SOPA passes and when gamespot comes to review syndicate shall we say when it comes out next month and it turns out to be a horrible game and they give it a 4/10. There would be nothing to stop EA shutting gamespot down because of that. So there we go a website shut down for giving an opinion on something how can that be right even if it never happens any law that could allow a company to do that is wrong.

anotherone10
anotherone10

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

euphoric666
euphoric666

someone please let the americans know that there is no OIL on internet.

BB_Thrilla
BB_Thrilla

we should really try to get these bastards out of our government, seriously nobody realizes what is going to happen if this bill gets passed. First they censor the internet, next thing they do is censor our lives...

Antonionn9
Antonionn9

you do have a thick skull, huh? this means any and all content that is trademark or copyright and isn't "authorized" would be banned and could result in a penalty, meaning you couldn't even talk or even mention a game or company by public means, without their permission, as it would mean using it's trademark or a copyrighted term, allowing for abuse like bethesda sueing notch for making a game with the word scroll on it's name!, for example...

niblackninja
niblackninja

The American Government want ALL your liberties, even the liberties of those not in the USA. AMERICA NEEDS TO BACK DOWN, KEEP ITS NOSE OUT OF ALL INTERNATIONAL ISSUES AND F*** OFF. ONE DAY YOU WILL GET TAKEN BY THE AMERICAN POLICE(LIKE 2PAC SAID 'THE BIGGEST GANG ON EARTH') AND NEVER SEEN AGAIN. YOU WONT EVEN GET TO CALL YOUR MUM. SO MANY PASSIVE YANKS ARE THE ISSUE. OBAMA, YOUR GUILTY TOO. ALEX JONES FOR PREZZA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

vernholio
vernholio

Gotta admit, I'm still on the fence a little with all of this, but, c'mon folks... The descriptions of the "bads" this will do are so vague -- There a lot of "maybes" and "mights" in regards to what can and/or will happen to sites like Wikipedia, Youtube, et. al. if this passes: "When an IP holder, like Electronic Arts, has reason to believe that a site is distributing pirated copies of its software, it has a process that it can expedite to eliminate the threat to its business" The operative words here are "reason to believe", and "it CAN expedite". It doesn't flat-out say that Wikipedia and Youtube will be automatically blocked. Look, if it does actually come to a point that viable, Non-"dude-in-his-basement-in-China-bit-torrenting-content-pirate-type" sites are being systematically censored/blocked, then yeah... there IS a genuine concern. And, maybe the legislation does need to be tightened up a little to prevent all-out censorship, if that truly IS the case... BUT, if it IS protecting software development jobs (and just jobs in general), I'm in... I mean are we REALLY that concerned about losing the ability to post a game play video on Youtube? Priorities, folks...