SOPA – The Death Knell for Podcasters? (updated 1-20-2012)
by Arnie C
Update: On January 18, 2012 all Venganza Media sites joined thousands of others in going dark to protest the SOPA/PIPA laws. On January 20th the sponsors of SOPA and PIPA withdrew their support, leaving the bills effectively dead in the water.
I applaud all the brave souls who risked revenue and popularity to stand against these bills, but the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. New laws will be proposed, and the US government will continue to stretch the reaches of their jurisdiction as they did with the January 19th, 2012 takedown of Megaupload.
This article was originally written to raise awareness. I am glad people became aware of these bills. Please stay informed.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing — Edmund Burke
Perhaps you’ve already heard of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. Then again, perhaps you haven’t. It’s very telling that the mass-media corporations that back the bill, who’s lobbyists caused the bill to happen, are the same mass-media corporations that report the news. So it’s very likely you’ve not heard of this bill which has been called the Death of the Internet, legalized internet censorship, and even a threat to human rights.
Perhaps you believe those statements to be hyperbole, and perhaps you think that a new internet law won’t really change your internet experience. But if you are reading this article, you are wrong, because if SOPA passes this article may cease to be published. And if you are here, you likely listen to one of the many podcasts I host and produce, and SOPA could end all of them as well.
The key to SOPA is that it allows private companies to order a “takedown” of any web site that infringes on that company’s intellectual property. There would be no due process, no review by any law enforcement agency. The private company, be it a movie studio, RIAA, or any other large firm, would issue a request and by law the following would happen:
- Google would be forced to remove all search results to that site.
- Google, Amazon, and all other advertisers would be forced to cease business with that site.
- Paypal would be forced to halt any payments to the site.
and much more. Worse, once a site has been reported for violating SOPA, it is up to the site’s owners to litigate and prove they did not infringe on any intellectual property.
In short — small sites will be closed by large corporations with large legal teams. Only sites that can afford drawn out litigation will be able to survive.
How does this impact my podcasts and Venganza Media? The language in the bill is exceedingly vague. While we may all agree that the intent behind the bill, to stop the online piracy of movies and music, is a just cause the language in SOPA fails to define what is really infringement. More, without any review, it is conceivable that sites which do not infringe on intellectual property could be shut down and simply not have the financial resources to litigate and bring themselves back online.
Imagine any of the following scenarios:
- Star Wars Action News, a podcast I have hosted and produced since 2005, has used Star Wars music and sound effects in its opening and closing (as do many other Star Wars podcasts). This is done with Lucasfilm’s approval, as we have discussed what is and isn’t “fair use” with Steve Sansweet when he was head of Head of Fan Relations for Lucasfilm. However, while Lucasfilm may approve of our use, we could still be entirely shut down. If 20th Century Fox (who distributes the Star Wars films), Time Warner (owners of Cartoon Network which airs the Clone Wars TV Series), Sony or RIAA (who would regulate any use of the music from the Star Wars soundtracks) submitted a claim that our show infringes on their intellectual property, our site swactionnews.com would be shut down immediately.
- Now Playing, a podcast we have run since 2007, is devoted to discussing movies. Our use of movie clips and music and movie imagery would be considered fair use in court; however SOPA does not require a trial. If we published a review that a movie studio, production company, or director doesn’t like, they could retaliate by claiming we are infringing on their intellectual property. As the language in SOPA is so vague, the simple discussion of plot details could be considered infringement. Now Playing operates on listener donations through Paypal; donations that would be seized if a single complaint is filed.
- Marvelicious Toys is my youngest podcast, started in 2010. It uses original music scored by Joe Harrison, and photos of toys we take ourselves. But again, because the language in SOPA is so vague, even showing a photograph of a toy based on a Marvel comic could be considered intellectual property infringement by The Disney Company or any of it’s various subsidiaries. Again, a single complaint and without any due process our site would be shuttered.
- The Venganza Media Gazette, the site which you’re reading right now, has been host to my reviews of the Blade TV series, a review of Duran Duran in concert, as well as a review of Dan Slott’s Spider-Island comic event. As articles with images are more visually appealing, we have used publicity shots, photos taken ourselves, or screen shots to enhance these reviews (again, an act covered by fair use). Any of those organizations could claim use of these images is infringement of their property, and the entire site would be shut down.
- Worse, we could be shut down through no action of our own. We have forums for our listeners to come and talk about our podcasts. The content in these forums is regulated by volunteer forum administrators, but we are not omnipresent. If a single person, be it a regular user or a spammer, comes and posts a link to pirated content, our entire forum community could be shut down.
We are a very small group of podcasters who operate thanks to a few affiliate sites (very few thanks to IL Governor Pat Quinn
), a couple of sponsors, and mostly by listener donations through Paypal. We do not have the resources to litigate; if a SOPA complaint is filed against us it is simply the end of our podcasts and our articles.
And we are not alone. The advent of the “blogger” has created thousands of news and entertainment sites just like mine. The internet is built on small entrepreneurs who start these ventures, and large corporations will have the power to shut all of us down without first having to prove we did anything wrong. This bill could kill our podcasts, and could kill the livelihoods of bloggers across the world
So what can you do to stop SOPA? Likely, nothing. It’s perhaps the cynical answer, but it seems that the campaign contributions of media lobbyists matter more than the rights of the American citizen. Unfortunately, I have no answers, and if you do please share them with me. I don’t write this article to rally you to action, or to tell you who to vote for or against. I just hope that by reading this you have been made aware that this bill is dangerous, and truly can kill the internet as we know it. Watch the progression of this bill, and pray it doesn’t pass.