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TFM’s Crash Course Guide to SOPA

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The internet was invented for the purpose of freely sharing information. Although roughly seventeen minutes after it went live the focus of the internet quickly shifted to facilitating masturbation (check out the TFM Sweethearts!), allowing the free flow of information still remained one of its founding principles. Today however, what I decide to jack it to, along with other stuff, is being threatened. The free flow of information on the internet in general, in fact, is in jeopardy. Media companies, specifically those in Hollywood and the music industry, have long sought to stop the unlicensed distribution of their intellectual property. Copyright infringement has been one of the biggest issues surrounding the internet since its inception. What qualifies as copyright infringement? Who should be held responsible? What’s a suitable punishment for said infringement? All of these questions as old as

Recently, with the backing of the aforementioned media conglomerates, congress has sought to pass legislation to answer these questions. The bill, H.R. 3261, is known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA for short). SOPA was introduced by House Judiciary Committee chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) and a bipartisan group of 12 initial cosponsors.

SOPA essentially seeks to stop copyright infringement, such as the illegal streaming of movies and music, by starving the facilitating sites of revenue (both from advertising and online payment) and traffic (by limiting/eliminating searches). Since many of the sites providing copyrighted content illegally are not American, they themselves are relatively untouchable. So to make sure the content in question never reaches an American audience the government will attempt to make the sites’ existence unsustainable or at the very least make the sites unreachable.

This is where things get, to use an old term from my Constitutional Law class, fucking cray cray. The U.S. Government does not want these websites to operate and provide free copyrighted content to American viewers. SOPA authorizes the U.S. Attorney General, should a court order be brought against any of these websites by copyright holders, to prohibit ad networks and payment processors (such as PayPal) from doing ANY business with the sites. Essentially it allows the U.S. Government to tell companies who they can and cannot participate in commerce with, pending an inevitable complaint from a copyright holder.

Furthermore, SOPA authorizes the U.S. Government to order internet providers to prevent their customers from even going to the sites in question. The bill gives the government the right to tell you what websites you can and cannot visit, assuming those websites somehow pissed off Warner Brothers, Capitol Records, et al. SOPA also allows the Attorney General to bar search engines such as Google and…well who gives a shit about anything other than Google, from posting links to offending websites in searches. The government can’t shut down many of the websites directly (although they would if they could) so instead they want to make damn sure either A) You can’t find the sites, or B) The sites can’t sustain themselves.

On the surface there are things about this bill that don’t sound all that bad. Its heart is definitely in the right place, and the strategy of attack is at the very least clever and shrewd. Piracy is bad and people SHOULD make money off of the products they worked so hard to create. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. This bill was so clearly written with the help of (if not primarily by) media lobbyists it isn’t even funny. I assume this because there is no way in hell that Lamar Smith’s old balls understood what was going into this thing. Looking at Rep. Smith’s picture I’d guess his average computer experience ends with his grandchildren yelling at him for asking too many stupid questions. He seems like the type so confused by technology that a blue screen of death would be as equally terrifying and befuddling to him as if his PC were hacked by SkyNet and began strangling him with the mouse cord. That last sentence would have made his head explode.

It’s safe to assume that the media lobbyists knew that Rep. Smith, and the other congressional backers, were relatively unaware of the bill’s underlying douchery. Although there is one big piece of the legislation that might lead me to believe they actually just didn’t care. The piece of SOPA I speak of grants the copyright holders the right to directly notify advertisers and payment processors of copyright infringement on the part of their accused business partners. This notification is not simply a warning though, but rather an order from the copyright holder telling the advertisers and payment processors to cease business relations with any website deemed (by the copyright holder, not the Attorney General) to be in violation. The advertisers and payment processors must then notify the site, who can then decide whether or not to challenge the allegation. Should the website decide to challenge, or the advertisers simply decide to tell the copyright holder to fuck off, the copyright holder can seek an injunction from the courts against the website and/or the advertisers and payment processors. This component of the bill seems to be in place simply to streamline the entire SOPA process and cut out the middle man. That’s a swell concept, why let something as serious as the livelihood of one’s business get tied up in a fair trial when it can be handled by an outrageously biased accuser, amiright?

You will actually notice that at no point yet is there a trial of any sort. Copyright holders simply notify the Attorney General or the companies themselves and from there a decision (and a relatively quick one at that) is passed down. Done and done. In fact the only time any sort of trial is involved is if a copyright holder KNOWINGLY misrepresents a site for infringement, and that site decides to seek action. Then that copyright holder is liable for damages and a run of the mill, three year, just try and touch our corporate lawyer dream team, trial ensues. The bill also states that anyone doing business with sites that are under suspicion of copyright infringement will not be held liable if they voluntarily cut ties with the website.

Where things REALLY start to get fun is when you take a look at how the bill determines who is streaming content illegally and what constitutes illegal streaming. It basically is not defined. That is to say it can be anything. If users post illegally acquired copyrighted content to a site, that site can be held responsible.

Take for example the wonderful, alcoholic enabling website you are currently reading. TotalFratMove is obviously within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Attorney General. So were this law to pass, and one of you sick bastards decided to post all of your favorite hooker death scenes from “American Psycho” in the most random, tucked away parts of the site, the owners of TFM could be held responsible. The maximum punishment for this is five years in prison for ten copyright infringements within a six month period. Ten copyright infringements within a six month period? Someone could knock that out in six minutes. Do you really want to be responsible for poor Allen being gang raped in a Texas prison because you just HAD to post some videos of Kevin Bacon’s dong scene from “Wild Things” in the TSM comments? Side note: don’t do that.

Things like videos would not even necessarily need to be embedded. Websites who direct a viewer to illegal content are also liable under SOPA. Simply LINKING to a clip of Senor Chang yelling “gaaaaaaay” every time you hate one of my articles could make this site liable under SOPA. Now imagine that it isn’t TFM trying to combat that problem but YouTube or Tumblr. It’s literally impossible to stop. Entire domains could theoretically be shut down because of the actions of one independently operated blog within them, or one idiotic/vindictive user on one blog.

It isn’t even one site that could be held liable either. SOPA has set in place a chain reaction effect. H/T to reader Ashly Anderson for this quick and simple explanation:

Person A, a civilian, finds a photo of X on Y website. He posts it on his Tumblr, which links to his Twitter. Person B retweets it, which gets published on his newsfeed in Facebook.

Person A, Person B, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr ARE ALL NOW LIABLE FOR INFRINGEMENT UNDER THE BILL.

THAT, in my mind, is the most terrifying part of the bill. It’s the motherfucking Internet. It’s called a “web” for a reason. Everything links to everything. Under this bill, the government could essentially target any website ever. They just have to look hard enough.

There is so, so much more to this bill, but that is the gist of it. You can read the full details here. If there was ever a piece of legislation so blatantly written in the interest of corporations who deem staying in the black more important than basic free speech rights, this is it. Fortunately Silicon Valley decided to step up to the plate and help shut this thing down. Hollywood probably didn’t feel as big and tough after Google flopped its twenty foot dong onto the table and started making noise. No one disagrees that piracy is wrong and illegal, not even Google, they say it right there at the top of their damn petition. The problem is that the media empires who are seeking to curb piracy, instead of writing reasonable legislation, decided to see if they could get away with as much as they could.

On the surface SOPA isn’t meant to limit free speech. But SOPA is such a broad, vague, sweeping piece of legislation that it leaves the door open for A TON of bullshit, and that seems to have been the goal its writers had in mind. If you haven’t signed Google’s petition against it, do so now. Thankfully this bill probably doesn’t have much of a chance at passing. President Obama has already stated he would not support SOPA, and a large bipartisan group in congress seems to be against it as well. Even members of Congress who once supported it are backing off. It brings a smile to my face knowing that, in regards to this issue, the congressional aisle is not split between red and blue but rather between the sensible and the senseless, the majority being with the former. I kinda like it that way.

Follow me on Twitter @BaconTFM

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