Enforcing copyright laws online has never been easy. It has been more than a minute since Napster caused a royalty stir, Metallica wanted to end the “illegal distribution” of their music, and Apple’s iTunes became the world’s primary online music superstore.
Record stores have certainly disappeared from malls and Main Streets, but record companies like Sony Music and Warner Music Group have not evaporated as completely as many industry observers may have believed they would once the Internet killed the CD star. Nevertheless, there is another big copyright fight brewing behind the servers. Despite some initial indifference from the global information industry, discussion of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has started to explode on the Internet airwaves.
The pending federal legislation, originally introduced in October 2011, aims to curtail online copyright infringement. Large companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Mozilla, Facebook, and Twitter have voiced resistance to the proposed bill, claiming it will cost them time, resources, and revenue. Among the bill’s supporters are copyright-dependent organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
SOPA would end the safe harbor in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and would effectively turn private companies into enforcement arms for the US government. The legislation authorizes the Justice Department to seek an injunction against any site believed to be selling counterfeit merchandise or redistributing content without permission – including third parties such as Internet service providers (ISPs), search engines, advertisers, payment websites, and even personal websites. This aspect of the bill has provoked the loudest outcry from individuals and corporations wondering where the responsibility would end. Sites featuring user-generated content would appear to be especially susceptible to complaints and injunctions.
Passage of the bill is far from certain and its subsequent enforcement would be inherently difficult, monumental, and tedious. It seems a safe bet to believe this latest attempt to police the Internet will be met with more “unfollows” than “likes”.