In the next week, the US congress will return to Washington for a bit of work. The first item on the agenda is to debate and pass the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. SOPA is intended to give media owners the tools to act against those who infringe their copyright in all forms of media, be it audio, video or text. Be it the movie industry, the music industry, the publishing industry, and yes, the games industry.
But the legislation is awful, and it affects gamers worldwide. Under SOPA, e-sports is under threat. Game streaming is under threat. In-game voice chat is under threat. In-game text chat could be turned off. Gaming forums are under threat. And the gaming media (us!) will no longer be able to exist in its current form.
The powers SOPA will grant if it passes are broad and troubling and spell doom for certain sections of gaming. Copyright holders will be allowed to seek court orders against infringing websites, and in its current form, against companies that provide services for them. That means that under a SOPA order, a copyright holder could demand restrictions from not just the site itself, but partner companies and clients such as the hosting domain, the advertising networks that provide ads, payment facilitators and search engines.
For instance, a website hosting or streaming video from gamers could suffer not just an infringement notice against them to remove the content, but their advertising network being forced to cut ties. Their webhost could pull the plug, and any search engines that link to the content could be forced to delist them. In the current form of legislation, even linking to copyright material is infringement. SOPA also encourages automatic removal by granting immunity to any entity that voluntarily takes action, while making liable those who don't.
That's the technicality. Here's an example. A game publisher is unhappy that a player is streaming live play from a recent pro-game. The uploading and streaming of game footage is only allowable with the express consent of the copyright holder, and publishers routinely protect their copyright. Right now, publishers can easily get their content taken down from a site by filing an infringement notice, and sites are given “safe harbour” - a period of time to comply. Under SOPA, they could file against their host, their ad network, a search engine and expect compliance immediately.
So: the question? Why is this bad? Why shouldn't publishers be able to go after those who profit from copyright infringement?
Firstly: it's likely e-sports and the game media will be shot stone dead under this legislation. And not just in the US: teams and organisations worldwide will be affected.
Secondly: it's hugely detrimental to games developers, publishers and the community. Link to a clip on a forum, and that forum can be taken offline. The possible apocalypse scenario: playing music or quoting streams of text will make the game provider liable for copyright infringement. Game creators and providers will become liable for the infringements of their users.
This isn't workable. This isn't right. And this isn't going to prevent piracy.
Don't just take our word for it. Wikipedia has an excellent summary of the act, while major web companies like Google, Amazon and Twitter all drafted an open letter to congress explaining their objections. If you're based in the US - please, call your local congressman and express your objections. If you're not, please try to educate those who are.
If SOPA passes, gaming as a hobby could be damaged beyond recognition. And we can't let that happen.
Here's what we can do. If you're in the US; talk to your congressman, and talk to your gaming friends and family. If you're not in the US, ask the developers and publishers of your favourite games what their stance on SOPA is via Facebook, Twitter and their forums. And if they support the legislation, challenge them.
Gamers can defeat this, but we need to get the word out now. And fast. Congress reconvenes in just a few days. Let's rush them.