SOPA is the big online copyright legal story of the year thus far. Which got me thinking about the good ‘ole Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — the current work-horse of Internet intellectual property law.
In this article we’ll briefly review each bill. So grab a cold one and settle in as we de-construct the various intellectual property laws currently in the news and try to make sense of it all in plain English.
Comparing DMCA and SOPA: What the Heck is DMCA, Anyway?
DMCA, for those of you who don’t obsessively follow the law, is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Thanks to anti-circumvention statues in the bill, the DMCA is the US copyright law that makes it illegal for you or I to manufacture devices or services meant to access or reproduce copyrighted material.
Comparing DMCA and SOPA: Enter SOPA, Y’all
On October 26, 2011, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was introduced as a US bill by Texas (R) Rep. Lamar S. Smith. The bill’s purported original intention was to round up and remove rogue websites from the Internet’s virtual “phone book.” If a site was targeted as “rogue,” the act, as it was written, would make it legal to quickly remove the site from the domain name system — and poof, gone! Now you see ‘er, now you don’t.
Lamar’s plan also included, if necessary, the issuance of court orders to keep payment facilities and advertisers from doing business with the likes of Google, Wikipedia, Facebook. Under SOPA, they would be forced to remove any links to offending websites that allowed any copyright infringing. If they continued to link to those websites that harbored the infringing material, they’d be in danger of being closed down and prosecuted, too.
Comparing DMCA and SOPA: One Bad Apple Don’t Spoil the Whole Bunch!
If one bad apple infringes upon copyrighted material and posts it on a website, the DMCA currently allows “safe harbor” protection to Internet sites from any liability based on the actions of that one bad apple. With that in mind, opponents to SOPA claim the proposed bill threatens innovation and free speech. The enforcement of the laws would block access to entire Internet domains because of one posting on a blog or webpage.
Even libraries have expressed concern that they could be exposed to prosecution. The specters of First Amendment violations and censorship suddenly arise.
You Say You Want a Revolution: Anti-SOPA Day
On January 18, 2012, Reddit, Wikipedia and 7,000 of their closest website friends either closed their doors or otherwise illustrated their protest of the SOPA. They did so with protest banners on their websites in an effort to raise public awareness.
On January 19, self-proclaimed members of Anonymous (a “hacktivist” group) imposed their wills and skills on several pro-SOPA websites like RIAA, CBS.com and more. They shut those bad boys down or slowed them up a bit with denial of service attacks in retaliation for the D.o.J. (Dept. o’ Justice) shutting down Megaupload on that same day.
SOPA: The Post Script
To clarify, rectify and mollify, an aide to Rep. Lamar Smith insisted that an individual posting a video on YouTube of their adorable child adorably singing a copyrighted song would not be considered a felon. Suspiciously, however, the aide did not address the issue of singing parrots, a burning question on the minds of many.
In December, 2011, both bills were tabled indefinitely. It would appear that intellectual property rustlers and renegade rogue websites will have their way with us for now. The DMCA, the prevailing law of the land, will have to stand on its own as the sole guardian to our intellectual property. If history has taught us one thing, however, it is that eternal vigilance is our duty. While it certainly is our God-given right to be naive, it only makes us look bad. Keep your eyes to the skies, the rogues are out there.