SOPA and PIPA

What and why?

The SOPA and PIPA legislation currently going through the American congress has impact and ramifications far beyond the shores of the US and piracy, and is a threat to the Free and Open internet that we have today. It iS a blunt, badly constructed piece of legislation that seeks to prop up an industry based on old business models by clamping down on new and innovative ways of producing and disseminating content. As with most bad pieces of legislation it will be open to creep and opportunism, where arbitrary take down and closure of sites pointing to or serving content would prevail. It offers a world where the winners will be the established players with large legal teams and vested interests and the losers will be everyone else. It is an outcome which we, as part of the Open movement, are fighting against.

What could it do?

Would it effect Open Data? We don’t know, as open data is made available by data owners under open licensing. It might constrain the publishing of data that has been scraped, but the legal arguments as to whether data is protected by copyright and IP law are complex.

It could constrain search, if you fall foul of its broad and ill-defined terms. You may have a site but it might as well not exist if it doesn’t show up in search results.

It can effect free expression – just imagine the internet awash with copyright bots who can automatically close down or de link sites with out any recourse to the law. You can get a flavour of this on on some sites that have content sniffing technology.

Who decides what is or isn’t copyrighted or IP protected material? In the SOPA world you will be found guilty and then have to fight to prove your innocence. How will this effect the ability to expose wrongdoing if the evidence is subject to SOPA and PIPA?

Many people have written about why these laws are a bad thing and some links are below. From the UK we can only watch and hope.

Technical overview

Why SOPA is bad for business

Guardian article on effect

Added 19/1/12
Excellent article on Al-Jazeera by Jonathan Zitrain et al.

Update 19/1/12

Last night several members of congress, who originally supported the SOPA/PIPA bill withdrew their support due to the massive international campaign that saw many thousands of websites, including Open Data Manchester’s, go dark and people ‘block the switchboards’ of the American congress. It was a victory in the battle to protect our free and open internet but there is too much money at stake and we are sure we will see a revised, more subtle form of SOPA/PIPA in the not too distant future.

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