SOPA, PIPA and the Question of Impact

A marketing document with the majority of words blacked out by censorship marks

A marketing document with the majority of words blacked out by censorship marks

January 18th was an eventful day for the Internet. Out of protest for SOPA/PIPA, heavily trafficked websites like Wikipedia, Google and Wired “blacked out” and/or provided resources to visitors regarding the legislation and what they could do to protest. The statistics are astounding: more than 162 million viewed Wikipedia’s blackout page and more than 13 million viewed Google’s anti-SOPA/PIPA pages. When assessed within the confines of the Internet, it is safe to assume their message was heard.

SOPA/PIPA (Stop Online Piracy Act/Protect Intellectual Property Act) were together drafted with the intention to curb widespread online piracy, something most agree must happen. However, many Web-based organizations feel that the ambiguity of the bill text could also give power to media companies to censor the Web at their discretion. By placing the burden on those accused of stealing intellectual property (as opposed to the burden on the accuser), these bills can be seen as an affront to due process—the democratic principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

At Otherwise, we do not think SOPA/PIPA were drafted out of ill intentions, but out of a lack of conversation and research. What is clear in the legislation is the power major intellectual property owners (i.e. film production studios, media empires, record labels) hold on the creation of public policy. The mass media’s declaration of war against the creation and sharing of Web content inspired this legislation, as evidenced by the offensive yet ambiguous nature of the text. What is also clear is that the legislators failed to engage major Internet players like Google, Yahoo! and Wikipedia when drafting this legislation. Each of these Web companies has documented — in detail — the enormous burden the passage of these bills could place on their organizations as well as on the content providers that keep their sites alive. It is that burden that could potentially cause the Internet to cease to function as it should.

As a creative marketing and design agency, the protection of intellectual property is an issue we take very seriously. The ease with which intellectual property can be stolen, repurposed and presented as one’s own through the Internet is an ever present danger. The proliferation of piracy across the web is detrimental to the entire creative industry, hurting both major production studios and boutique shops alike. And just as we take every measure to protect our own intellectual property, we respect the rights of others to do so as well; we always give credit when credit is due.

Meanwhile, as responsible social media marketers, we understand the importance of idea sharing and recognize its impact on our modern society. While we stand steadfast in our opposition to Internet piracy, we do not think SOPA/PIPA is the appropriate defense. Instead of such a sweeping and potentially widely detrimental approach, we recommend copyright enforcement should be handled on a case-by-case basis, implicating the culprits, not the bystanders. We feel that it is the freedom of the Web that keeps it alive and powerful. Once that freedom is jeopardized, so is the power.

Peter Lillis is Social Media Manager at Otherwise Incorporated.

Illustration credit: Josh Epstein, Designer at Otherwise Incorporated