What SOPA Really Means and What Constitutes A Journalist?

The most pressing issue of our digital generation has come to a head.  Tomorrow, the congressional bill nicknamed the Stop Online Piracy Act (aka SOPA) is up for a vote by our elected officials.

What does SOPA really mean?  Some say that the language is intended to be overly broad for a reason, namely in the interest of not being seen as restricting freedom of speech on the Internet.  However, in our politicians' zeal to be non-committal on this issue, it leaves the door wide open to future administrations and more importantly, private businesses, to use SOPA as the battering ram against the strong door of Internet free speech.

Take the example of Universal Media Group (@UMG) in their move against Megaupload.  The site, designed for users to upload large file attachments that email can't handle due to size limitations, has been seen some in the past to suborn piracy of music, video and other media files.  It is this accused action that media conglomerates, like UMG, states is cutting into its bottom line.  But is it really?  More impact is felt by a seventeen-year-old shoplifting in the music section of Walmart than is caused by Megaupload.  Regardless, the latest round of action is being contested over a video that Megaupload put together featuring some of UMG's artists, with Megaupload obtaining the consent in the form of signed releases.  I'm not going to go into the specifics here, but needless to say that UMG got their knickers in a bunch over the video and had it pulled off of YouTube, not once but twice.

To make matters worse, Leo Laporte's TWiT Netcast Nework aired a feature about the debacle on their show Tech News Today with Tom Merritt.  Soon after the show was posted to YouTube, it was pulled by the service.  UMG had asserted a DMCA claim against the video, saying TWiT (and inclusively YouTube) was in violation of UMG's copyright.  TWiT counter-claimed saying the inclusion of the video clip during the show fell under fair use, since TNT was proving commentary on the video via the story.  YouTube restored the video.  UMG then filed another DMCA claim to YouTube and the video was pulled down and as of this writing, the video remains down. (Update: The video has been restored to the YouTube service per announcement by Tom Merritt in Tech News Today Ep.394.)

The issue about what is and what is not fair use is clearly defined in existing copyright law.  What really seems to be in contention here is that a corporation seems to warrant the authority to have content pulled off the Internet because of a seemingly bogus assertion that their copyright has been violated without any judicial oversight. That's the important part and something that SOPA fails to address.  Moreover, it calls into question the notion of who is and who is not considered a journalist.  I would think that TWiT, while not being traditional media, qualifies as a journalistic media since they give analysis and commentary while presenting technology news.

Really, the fight between traditional media and new media has never been more at the forefront of the future.  Traditional media businesses are desperate to retain any hold they have over the consumer any way they can - regardless of how it may affect us.  They don't seem to "get it."  Since the late 90's they have been trying to kill just about every technological innovation to access media, right or wrong. Napster, P2P and BitTorrent, and DRM all provide examples of how the traditional media businesses try to screw with the consumer for the sake of protecting their own bottom line.  Now it's free speech they're after.

I urge you to contact your congressional representative in both the House and Senate and tell them to vote against SOPA in whatever legislative session it's brought up for a vote (as of this writing, that's scheduled to be tomorrow 12/15).  If you're not up-to-date on the damage that SOPA will cause to the Internet, you can visit a post over at Boing Boing to not only get educated on it, but you'll be connected with your congressional representatives to speak your mind.

It is time that we as consumers take a stand against this new form of censorship.  While the physical threat of redcoats with bayonets might not be present any longer, this new form of digital tyranny is nascent and without our action, will only continue to grow.