After a massive wave of opposition more than three years ago, the Stop Online Piracy Act died and dozens of technology-focused companies and websites breathed a sigh of relief. But despite its demise the memory of SOPA has lived on, particularly in the minds of those who opposed it.
On that front there can be few more notable than the EFF who played an important role in bringing SOPA to its knees. It should therefore come as no surprise that when the EFF spots efforts by corporations to achieve SOPA-like powers through other means, the group quickly tells the world.
This week in a piece titled ‘Movie Studios Seek SOPA Power Through Broad Site-Blocking Order‘, EFF lawyer Mitch Stoltz told the story of how the MPAA aims to wipe a group of websites from the Internet without trial.
[The] studios are asking for one court order to bind every domain name registrar, registry, hosting provider, payment processor, caching service, advertising network, social network, and bulletin board—in short, the entire Internet—to block and filter a site called Movietube,” Stoltz warned.
“If they succeed, the studios could set a dangerous precedent for quick website blocking with little or no court supervision, and with Internet service and infrastructure companies conscripted as enforcers.”
The piece appears to have touched a nerve with elements of the movie industry who have lined up over the past 24 hours to criticize both Stoltz and the EFF. First up, filmmaker and anti-piracy activist Ellen Seidler.
“Stoltz sounded the alarm by dusting off the well-worn SOPA canard and cries of ‘censorship’ and ‘abuse.’ His love of the word ‘abuse’ was so strong, in fact, variations of the term appear 9 times in his piece,” Seidler writes.
“Isn’t it time for those at the EFF and others who yell ‘SOPA’ each time the movie industry takes legal action against online pirates to shut the hell up? What is abusive is the way online piracy (for profit) is allowed to flourish, made sacrosanct by tech apologists.”
Next up to admonish the EFF is filmmaker David Newhoff. Likening the rights group to Monty Python’s ‘Knights Who Say Ni’ and suggesting that at best they maintain a “loose relationship” with reality, Newhoff accuses the EFF of trying to scare the public.
“For instance, in this recent missive, EFFer Mitch Stoltz uses the acronym SOPA seven times in the first four paragraphs, which might lead the reader to think that the subject of the article has something to do with SOPA. Of course, it has nothing to do with SOPA,” Newhoff writes.
“They say SOPA, and hope the peasants cringe,” the filmmaker adds. “Thus, the EFF invests tremendous energy in this strategy, breathlessly warning us about the inevitable doom that will surely follow if, heaven-forbid, the rule of law might apply to trade across our precious tubes.”
“I know that ‘stop censorship’ and ‘don’t break the internet’ were effective talking points more than three years ago. That’s the past and a reference to legislative history. I think we’re all a bit wiser now. Can we finally collectively agree that piracy is not free speech?” Vitale writes.
“If we can come to that understanding, I and many in Hollywood would applaud EFF’s efforts to eliminate real censorship all over the world – but EFF’s relentless attacks on efforts by creative industries to protect their work damages its credibility.”
While the EFF and its critics are naturally miles apart on the topic, what’s puzzling here is the apparent unwillingness to grasp what Internet users are driving at when they refer to ‘SOPA-like’ activity.
From the day of its public outing to the day of its demise and beyond, the SOPA acronym has become synonymous with any legislative effort to clamp down on Internet piracy by forcing hosting providers, domain companies, the DNS system, payment processors, advertisers and social networks to become entertainment industry enforcers. It’s an extremely unpopular proposal.
Underlying all of this is the nature of the entities pushing for these powers. One only has to look at the unfolding nightmare that is the MPAA’s assault on Google via Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood to see how far Hollywood is prepared to go to get its way.
“[This kind of power] will be abused, which is why it’s important to stop it from being created in the first place,” the EFF warns.
Call it SOPA-like or call it something else, it’s difficult to argue with that conclusion. But as long as it has a recognizable name, people will understand what’s at stake, and for the EFF and other activists that’s more than half the battle.
SOPA might be dead but its name will live on – and the EFF isn’t likely to shut the hell up anytime soon.