Who Else Does SOPA Affect?

On January 18, 2012, thousands of websites such as Wikipedia, reddit.com, and WordPress joined a concerted effort to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). These websites were voluntarily blacked out to demonstrate the impact of what these bills could do if passed. The federal government already has the authority to force a website to take down pirated content on its site, but the proposals in SOPA extend their authority to require Internet providers to block access, disabling search engines to link, and preventing investors from funding these sites.

The activities on January 18 turned out to be the largest online protest in history, resulting with the Legislature putting the bill on hold for now. Even President Obama showed his support.

Wikipedia blacked out their pages on Jan 18 to protest SOPA

Wikipedia blacked out their pages on Jan 18 to protest SOPA

However, it seems like almost all the focus is drawn to one place. FAQs and What-You-Need-To-Know-About-SOPA do a great job of explaining SOPA in plain language, but the focus is just on websites. I wonder if there will be any attention left for the other stakeholders affected by SOPA.

I’m not a lawyer so I’m not going to pretend to understand every word of this bill, but there were two sections that really caught my attention.

1) In Sec 205, it clearly states that the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Commerce shall “ensure that adequate resources are available…to ensure…aggressive support for enforcement action against violators of the intellectual property rights…”

What exactly does “adequate resources” and “aggressively support” mean? In our current economic climate, how do we come up with the funding to aggressively go after copyright offenders all over the world? What if it’s a country that doesn’t care about our copyrights? How does this affect our foreign policies and relationships in the international community? It would take A LOT of money to go after copyright infringers all over the world.

We got a taste of this last week, when the Department of Justice worked with New Zealand police to arrest executives from Megaupload.com. This might be the first domino to fall, but the way it’s written in SOPA is very clear: we’re going to commit to fighting piracy by opening up our pocketbooks.

I hope the next version of SOPA elaborates on this Section to clarify what this means.

2) In Sec 202, there is a provision for those that “intentionally traffic in goods or services and knowingly uses a counterfeit mark on or in connection with such goods and services”

To be more specific, “labels, patches, stickers, wrappers, badges, emblems, medallions, charms, boxes, containers, cans, cases, hang tags, documentation, or packaging…the use of which is likely to cause confusion, to cause mistake, or to deceive…”

Growing up in Southern California, there were plenty of flea markets, swap meets, and street vendors that sold designer brand products at ridiculously low prices. Walk through the city and you’ll see plenty of fake baseball caps and handbags. During the Super Bowl in 2011, federal agents seized $3.56 million worth of fake Super-Bowl related memorabilia. I’m sure there are existing laws against the trafficking of counterfeit goods, so what is SOPA adding that doesn’t already exist?

I’m not advocating the preservation of cheap, fake goods, but I recognize there are a lot of people who make their living selling these products. I’m just curious to see how the next SOPA affects this community.

Overall, all signs point to SOPA to be completely revamped. Based on what we’ve seen so far, the majority of attention, at least from the mainstream media, is paid to large websites with user-generated content. It’ll be vey interesting to see how the international community and the underground economy are affected in the next iteration of the bill.

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Jon Lee

Hi Robert, thanks for your comment. I haven’t had the same experience as you when I google products but I probably have different online shopping habits…that’s a good point though. Many existing legislation don’t account for the cuurent, ever-evolving landscape that tech can deliver for an industry.