Culture vs. the Law: White House Encourages a SOPA/PIPA Middle Ground

By Nick Susi 

This past Saturday, on January 14, 2012, the White House posted an official statement that it will not support SOPA or PIPA. These bills were crafted as a safeguard against the downloading and access of intellectual property without the U.S. copyright holder’s permission, specifically from foreign sites. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was written for the House of Representatives, with its counterpart Protect IP Act (PIPA) for the Senate. 

These bills faced a vast amount of opposition, claiming the terms to be too harsh on Internet platform providers and too generous in the control it granted to the Department of Justice. Major players in the tech world, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter, supported the opposition. SOPA and PIPA would certainly be punishing to pirates, but many others who are less deserving would be snared in the breadth of the bills. If unable to properly police user-generated content, sites like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube would be at risk for being suspended, stripped of revenue sources, or shut down entirely. With millions of posts to each site per day, the task seems daunting, if not impossible. 

Moreover, the original focus of these bills was on foreign sites. Allowing the Department of Justice to freely remove content from the web, however, teeters on the edge of censorship. 

The White House’s statement against SOPA and PIPA was in direct response to two petitions – “E-Parasite Act” and “To VETO the SOPA bill and any other future bills that threaten to diminish the free flow of information.” Together, these petitions amassed over 100,000 signatures.

“While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” declared the White House representatives. 

There is a clear need for a different solution, one that better supports both large businesses like Google and Facebook, and smaller entrepreneurial startups. Undermining these businesses would be devastating to millions of jobs, as well as the overall U.S. economy. Large limitations of the Internet will in turn limit the growth and innovation of business, government, and culture. After all, SOPA was proposed to “promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation,” when it seems to threaten to do the opposite.

Although the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) supports SOPA and PIPA, the entire music industry does not. Artists, especially new and developing acts, need the tools of the Internet to launch their career on their own. The viral nature of the ability to share links to copyrighted content is crucial to music reaching a mass market, for independent artists and artists signed to major record labels alike. 

The White House’s statement closed by promising better legislation in the New Year. They encouraged content creators and Internet platform providers to cooperate privately and to embrace voluntary measures. Both parties considering each other’s reasoning and finding a middle ground would be a huge step in the right direction.