The United States Congress is currently debating the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). This act was intended to prevent illegal and damaging intellectual property infringement online, and punish those who are illegally sharing (and often profiting from) copyrighted and trademarked content. Noble goals, and one intended to protect businesses, artists, authors & distributors alike. If only stopping IP infringement were so easy.
Beyond a basic loss of freedoms on the Internet, SOPA could hurt businesses by 1) making it more difficult to legally distribute content and 2) thereby increase the total cost to authors, distributors & consumers (if distribution was still possible). The increased costs will harm profits and drive down business valuations along with the value of the IP and content itself – if a song, or digital file becomes increasingly difficult to get into the hands of consumers, the author’s market reach becomes limited very quickly.
Joel Hruska outlines How SPOA Could Actually Break The Internet in a recent article on ExtremeTech. The current language in SOPA puts the burden of preventing infringment on the ISPs – the companies that provide internet access directly to consumers. If ISPs are tasked with blocking infringing content going to their customers, how will they determine what is and isn’t the original source? How will ISPs know if a given piece of content has an open or restrictive license? Would the creation of a “blacklist” for IP infringers be realistic? And what would such a blacklist do to existing traffic (legal or otherwise) online? SOPA calls for extreme solutions, with no easy way to implement them without major disruptions to all traffic online.