Why is SOPA so bad?

Our Internet habits have already outrun what legislation hopes to reel back.

Andrew Johnson

The Internet is often compared to the Wild West due to its anything-goes, uncharted nature. As users, the occasionally unruly but excitingly unbound environment has pros and cons; we worry about its risks but embrace its benefits.  
Last fall, Congress introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, to serve as the new sheriff in town, aimed at bringing some order to these here parts. SOPAâÄôs trusty deputy, the PROTECT IP Act (short for the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) also gained traction in the Senate, including co-sponsorships from both Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.
Aside from forcing late nights at the Capitol Hill Acronym Creation Office (CHACO), SOPA and PIPA âÄî the short form of an already-shortened mouthful âÄî has stirred up controversy. The biggest concern is the potential of a less free and open Internet, as websites suspected of copyright infringement and piracy could face steep consequences, including blocked access from service providers and search engines. This indirect form of âÄúcensorshipâÄù threatens the Internet as weâÄôve known it.
As an act of protest against SOPA, Wikipedia blacked out its website yesterday, which you may have noticed when you tried to look up Rachel McAdamsâÄô age or the overall population of the Greater Stockholm metropolitan area. Reddit, among other sites, joined in on the blackout too. Google, eBay, Twitter and Facebook also voiced opposition to the bills. These arenâÄôt random niche websites contesting the legislation; if there were a Mount Rushmore for the Internet, those four faces would be on it.
The objection to the bills rests in that weâÄôve grown accustomed to the services that the Internet provides, even if there are some breaches of infringement. ItâÄôs similar to being in a third world country and seeing a bootlegged T-shirt with Bart Simpson or Tweety on it. Vendors probably didnâÄôt check with Matt Groening or either Warner brother to legally display these cartoons wearing the countryâÄôs colors while playing soccer, but, âÄúwho cares âÄî let it slide,âÄù tends to be the response. The practice is seemingly harmless and doesnâÄôt merit strict enforcement, even if use of the image is technically prohibited.
Weighing the societal benefit versus the specific ownership rights for intellectual property can be tricky. A Trekkie doesnâÄôt upload episodes of his favorite show to hurt the franchise; his goal is to further the showâÄôs success, not lessen it. Yet, the process does affect profits and production, because even if consumers arenâÄôt paying a price to download a movie or song, someone paid a price to provide it. ItâÄôs easy to point to rich executives, actors and musicians, but technicians and stagehands support SOPA too, since their income is affected by a filmâÄôs revenue.
As mentioned earlier, though, the reality of the Internet is that weâÄôve progressed by using it without the looming regulations. Were we spoiled on too much of a good thing? Probably, but it wasnâÄôt monitored closely enough early on so we dove in. Is it now worth limiting access to information and material thatâÄôs been both useful and enjoyable? Probably not, so companies should look to modify their business models to correspond with the reality of our Internet habits. The recreational and productive value of the Internet in its current form is evident; encouraging the free flow of information is always worth the benefit of the doubt.
A tweet opposing SOPA said the act is âÄútrying to put out a match with a fire extinguisher.âÄù ThereâÄôs no denying that piracy and infringement are problems, but the solution should be adjusting to demand, not overreacting to the problem.

Andrew Johnson welcomes comments at
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