Last week the House Judiciary Committee discussed the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA). After an abrupt end of the markup session on Friday, a new hearing date was set for this week. Meanwhile, opposition to the controversial bill is increasing and yesterday the General Manager of the largest online community Reddit said that the bill would “almost certainly mean the end” of the popular site.
This coming Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee will continue discussing SOPA to decide whether the bill should move forward to the full House. Until then, lobbying groups for and against the bill continue with their efforts to influence the votes of committee members.
Increasingly, many tech companies and websites are supporting the opposition’s camp. One of the websites that has backed anti-SOPA efforts from the start is the social news community Reddit, and yesterday the site’s General Manager Erik Martin said he fears Reddit may cease to exist if the bill passes.
“If SOPA passes in anything like its current form, it would almost certainly mean the end of Reddit. It may not happen overnight, but we have a very small staff (~11, mostly engineers), and even dealing with DMCA stuff is a big burden for us,” Martin writes in a comment under his username “hueypriest.”
“SOPA would make running Reddit near impossible. And we have access to great lawyers through our parent company. I can’t imagine how smaller sites without those kind of resources could even attempt a go at it if SOPA passes.”
One of the problems for Reddit is that the site deals with millions of users and thousands of sub-communities, many of which link to copyrighted material. This content can range from photographers’ copyrighted images, copyrighted clips on YouTube, through to copyrighted movies hosted on a third-party site.
Right now Reddit is protected by the DMCA’s safe harbor provision which only requires Reddit to take down content if copyright holders ask them to, but SOPA can change this liability when a site is deemed to “facilitate copyright infringement.”
Because the definitions and terminology in the bill are so vague, passing SOPA in its current form poses a threat to all user-generated sites online, and many other websites too.
One of the users on Reddit rightfully commented that SOPA would mainly target foreign rogue sites, which would mean that Reddit isn’t at risk. However, Reddit’s general manager disagrees with this view arguing that the bill’s implications are much broader.
“You are correct that this is the stated goal of the bill, which has been clarified under the manager’s amendment. However, the analysis from experts in press and various experts we have consulted independently is that there is way too much room for US sites like Reddit to be targeted,” Martin writes.
“It doesn’t matter what they say the bill is for, the language is far too vague and far too easy for various parties to use it beyond the stated goals. Given our experience with DMCA, it’s a safe assumption that various rights holders will use SOPA in such a way that US companies like reddit are impacted.”
Indeed, SOPA also has a direct effect on US sites as they can become liable for linking to so-called rogue websites. Unless the definitions are made more clear virtually every site on the Internet can become a target, for example by linking to The Pirate Bay in a news article.
Opponents of SOPA argue that these and other issues are not worth risking, especially when it’s still unclear what impact online piracy really has on the entertainment industries. A better way to tackle the piracy problem could be to focus on the availability of affordable on-demand services. Netflix and Spotify have shown that people are often willing to pay for entertainment if they get the chance.