The fight against SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, may be one of the most important fights ever waged on the internet. It threatens to change the course of the web's development, and not for the better.

Given the impact this dark and misguided legislation would have on the internet economy, it's no surprise that many are coming together to do what they can to ensure it doesn't become law.

The media is starting to pay attention, and SOPA supporters like GoDaddy are seeing that such support comes at a cost. These things provide some hope that SOPA will be defeated.

Unfortunately, however, the discussion about SOPA is incomplete.

Lost in the furor over what legislation like SOPA would do to the internet is an inconvenient fact: many of the individuals and companies fighting against SOPA are indirectly responsible for its creation.

Let me explain.

Big Content (record labels, movie studios, etc.) has always had a difficult relationship with technology. Tension existed well before the internet and it will likely always exist. The internet, of course, significantly increased that tension because it created challenges never seen before.

The ability to digitize a piece of content and distribute it around the world in an instant at almost no cost obviously had profound implications for Big Content. Wholesale, consumer-driven piracy never before possible, for instance, became a reality.

In an effort to protect rights holders without making it impossible for online service providers to operate, we got the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998, which lays out a takedown notice process rights holders and service providers are required to adhere to. The problem, of course, is that when the definition of 'service provider' was established, nobody in Congress could conceive of all the online user-generated content services that might fall under its definition of 'service provider.'

Flash forward to today: Big Content says the DMCA isn't strong enough; there's just too much infringing content being uploaded all the time and it's impossible for the takedown notices to work. In effect, the process becomes a pointless game of whack-a-mole.

The law is the law though, and services like YouTube have been successful in defending themselves using the DMCA. The problem, however, is that in following the letter of the law, these companies didn't seem to realize the inevitable next step: if the law wasn't working for Big Content, Big Content would simply make sure the laws were changed

Let's be honest: lots of upstart user-generated content companies have simply turned a blind eye to copyright infringement. The DMCA was on their side, and they weren't going out of their way to do anything they technically didn't have to do.

Perhaps in some respects that made sense, but the general antipathy around copyright by the startup community has been short-sighted.

This antipathy could prove to be a fatal mistake. SOPA may or may not pass, but you can be sure that even if it doesn't, it won't be the final word on this matter. The internet is going to be more restricted over the next decade.

Big Content, supported by its big money, wants a more tightly-controlled internet. And it's in luck because the bureaucrats who write laws want a more tightly-controlled internet too, albeit for different reasons. That's bad news for everyone else.

Patricio Robles

Published 23 December, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (7)

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This is a really honest peice about sopa, I agree since copyright has been ignored now they will use an iron fist. It's actually happening in every country.

over 6 years ago


Yogesh Malik

Title says it all. You can push it more, may be for another couple of years but you can't ignore it. The amount of freedom technology provides us is so immense, and making such acts inevitable.

over 6 years ago



Content is now only marketing. That's the future. Trying to build walls and cages, no matter how big, will not work as they run counter to both the social nature of humans and the inherent sharing DNA of the WWW (itself an app run on the Internet). All that will happen is SOPA (or whatever ends up passed) will criminalise millions and kill many of the major web applications we use today. The spotify licence model works. Let's do the same for magazines, books, movies, tv etc and move on from this entire pointless debate already.

over 6 years ago


Jaffer Ali

I have been reading your articles for over a year and I just wanted to say that of all the industry pundits or commenters, you have such a clear head on just about every issue you write about. You seem devoid of hype and have a clear head. Bravo!

over 6 years ago

Paul Postance

Paul Postance, Profit Optimisation Consultant at t? ??????

"Don't Cry, Disney owns the rights to that emotion"

Unless the challenge to this steps up a gear, the vast majority of people will have no idea this is happening, let alone form an opinion about it.

The US is hardly breaking new ground by dictating what people can see online, but other countries do this supression (China, Iran etc) out of fear of what the population would do with information. The US is doing this for capitalist reasons only.

A great take on SOPA in Bunker
Scene style;

over 6 years ago


Andrew Edwards

The passage of a SOPA-like bill is probably inevitable. Likely it will play out as follows:

-there will be no change in the upload of owned-content

-"service providers" will be forced to pay blanket licensing fees to a copyright entity that will act as a go-between for SPs and Content Owners

-this cost will be passed along to the consumer much in the way that the cost for cable TV content is passed along to the consumer; via higher fees for access

-internet access fees will ramp up over time and likely become fairly substantial as the market will dictate

over 6 years ago


Leslie Newcomer

freedom of speech - most basic there is, if this passes we might as well be in China. As far as I'm concerned any congressman or senator who votes for these should be voted out asap. and with the number of people using the internet, it will probably happen, tell your representatives that a vote for one of these bills pretty much guarantees that they will not be re-elected, and mean it. This is about basic rights.

over 6 years ago

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