We interrupt your regularly scheduled hockey talk briefly today, because if the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) or the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) were to make their way through Congress and into law, it's quite possible that our daily hockey talk would be interrupted on a more permanent basis.
(We make it a rule not to get into politics around here, but this goes beyond political party and directly impacts what we do every day on this site. Thus, we make an important exception.)
You've probably heard all about this already today, especially if you use Wikipedia or Reddit or Google, which have all made very public stands against the legislation. Wikipedia has gone black for 24 hours in protest, and Reddit has done the same for 12 hours today. It's for good reason, too, as these sites rely on user contributions and community discussions as their lifeblood, and if either bill becomes law, complying with it will be virtually impossible.
We're in the same boat here at Vox Media, the parent company of SB Nation and Broad Street Hockey. Under SOPA and PIPA, the safe harbor protections we currently value under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, or DMCA, could very well disappear. Without these protections, we would be required to patrol literally every single link that's posted by users of this site (and the content on those linked pages!) to ensure compliance with the law, and the costs of such compliance could very well kill us.
It would certainly hinder our ability to talk about the Flyers all the time, that's for sure.
By opposing this legislation, we're not saying we're in favor of piracy. We're not. Piracy sucks. But we are against overreaching, radical pieces of legislation that could kill the Internet as we know it. It's akin to dropping a nuclear bomb on a problem when you should really be sending in a few dozen ground troops.
There are constitutional concerns, censorship concerns and worries about the basic freedom of the Internet at stake here. It's as big a deal as we're all making it. If you'd like to learn more about SOPA and PIPA, this infographic is extremely helpful, as is this explanation from The Verge. Hell, you might want to read this entire StoryStream from our friends at The Verge.
Today's huge protest across the Internet is making an impact. Co-sponsors of SOPA and PIPA in Congress are stepping back from the legislation as a direct result, and yes, before the protest even took place, SOPA was tabled in the House of Representatives. But that doesn't mean this issue is gone, despite crumbling support for the bills in their current form. Powerful lobbyists with a whole lot of money are still pushing the issue, calling legitimate issues with this legislation (like ours) "irresponsible" and an "abuse of power." Oh, the irony.
Below you can find the official Vox Media position of SOPA, which goes into much more detail than we've gotten into so far here.
Vox Media Position on SOPA
The internet has been abuzz recently with strong opinions on the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA as it is commonly called. Content owners feel that the legislation is absolutely necessary to enable them to stem the rampant piracy that is eroding their markets; they need a better way to enforce their rights. New media companies see the legislation as a Web killer that threatens their very existence, as the key to engaged communities is the freedom to contribute to the conversation, including the contribution of relevant content. As a new type of media company that invests heavily in both developing our own premium content and providing our communities of readers with powerful tools with which to express themselves, Vox Media is in a unique position to understand the conflict raised by the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA.
Vox Media -- the parent company of SB Nation -- is officially opposed to SOPA. The bill as drafted is overly broad, vaguely worded, and gives rise to a number of significant concerns:
- Decreased effectiveness and questionable availability of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbor for sites that host user-contributed content;
- Higher compliance costs for all sites that host user-contributed content;
- Potentially overzealous compliance efforts by search engines and payment providers in their attempts to maintain the immunity offered by SOPA section 104;
- Serious constitutional issues in regards to due process and seizure of property.
These are major issues that appear to be insurmountable in SOPA as it is written. Although the legislation purports to target only so-called foreign pirate sites and not US-based sites or those that end in .com, .net, or .org, there is a very real possibility that (over)reaction to the legislation would catch more than a few U.S.-based .com sites in its crosshairs.
Vox Media may find our domain names to be the subject of an in rem lawsuit as a result of users posting unlawful video clips. We may find that payment providers proactively turn off payment accounts for any sites that have been the subject of a recent copyright claim, however frivolous. We may find that a service provider decides to redirect our domain names away from our content as a knee-jerk reaction to a single unsubstantiated complaint.
Whether or not US-based sites are directly targeted by the language of SOPA, Vox Media will certainly end up having to defend our properties and the content we display, whether published by our own employees or by our dedicated readers. We will eventually be forced to show why our publications fall outside of the wording and thus the reach of SOPA, which may prove to be an easy task or a much more difficult one - the vague language of SOPA makes it impossible to predict. What we do know is that dealing with SOPA will cost us time, money, and energy that would be better spent serving our readers with quality journalism and empowering our communities with innovative technology. Whatever heightened protection SOPA might offer to content owners is not worth that price, and SOPA should be opposed.
If SOPA is not the right answer, what is? It seems clear that there are two legitimate sets of interests that need to be reflected, addressed, and balanced. As a media company that creates content and empowers communities, Vox Media walks the very line where the balance must be struck. Vox Media is a company founded on and steeped in community content across hundreds of editorial websites dedicated to passionate conversation, but we are also increasingly a premium original content owner and creator that employs top-tier journalists and produces premium multimedia programming across each of our content verticals. We believe this hybrid model is the future of journalism; it is certainly the future of our company. We need a copyright law that understands the rapid pace of innovation online and allows it to flourish.
Content owners, including Vox Media, need to be able to enforce their rights in a meaningful and practical way against those that would steal from them. And we need to preserve the power of communities, like the Vox Media communities, by explicitly expanding fair use to encompass a wide range of legitimate uses that do not erode the market for the original works: commentary, criticism, parody, remix. Vox Media's opposition to SOPA is not limited to defeating one bad law grounded in an outmoded view of content; it extends to a genuine desire for copyright law and policy to strike the right balance, which must start with comprehending and embracing the the powerful and inspiring new media world in which we now live.