Protect intellectual property - but not like this

by Abby T. Miller

on December 12, 2011

Last week, there was a lot of hubbub on Meta Stack Overflow about a system message that ran on Stack Overflow. The system message read:

SOPA is a dangerous law. It breaks the Internet and threatens sites like Stack Overflow. Protect the Internet!

For the intents and purposes of this post, let’s bypass the controversy surrounding whether or not this is an appropriate use of system messages and simply focus on the important parts: why SOPA and PROTECT IP are bad news for Stack Exchange, the United States, the Internet, and the world.

First off, if you’ve got a brain for legalese, you can read the full text of the bill here. The whole thing is very dense and fairly difficult to summarize. People far smarter and better informed than I have already tried, so I will let their work speak for itself:

These are only a few of the many resources that you can use to get educated on SOPA/PROTECT IP. Give it a spin around the Googles and you'll find plenty of information to keep yourself busy.

So why are we so up in arms about this? Stack Exchange’s mission is to try to make the internet a better place and SOPA and PROTECT IP do the opposite.  Despite _saying _that their mission is to protect intellectual property (supposedly without damaging the series of tubes we all call home), it's pretty clear that the proponents of these bills are not particularly interested in remembering that last part when they’re swinging a giant banhammer at YouTube. The bills threaten the internet free speech it facilitates in the interest of "protecting" a a tiny portion of companies.

Since the bills threaten the internet, they threaten Stack Exchange’s mission. They also have the potential to threaten Stack Exchange directly. Our sites collect and aggregate user-generated content. Under the new laws, the burden would be on the company to find a way to monitor every single piece of content that is posted on any site on the network to screen for copyrighted material. If something got through - say, an illegal YouTube clip from a popular film on our new public beta Movies site - we would be subject to all the terrible implications of the new measure. Under the current DMCA system, YouTube would simply pull the video, or maybe ban the user who posted it. SOPA and PROTECT IP would put Stack Exchange at risk for simply linking to the video - despite the fact that it was actually posted on a different site entirely.

SOPA and PROTECT IP wouldn’t make the internet a better place. The bills are harmful to the internet as an economy and an ecosystem, and they aren’t fair.

SOPA goes up for debate and markup on December 15th - that's this coming Thursday. That makes right now the perfect time for U.S. residents to contact their representatives in Congress, and for everyone around the world to keep spreading the word. Let your representatives (and the world!) know how you feel about the potential plan to break the internet.