What is the Stop Online Piracy Act?
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as H.R. 3261, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors.
The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders against websites outside U.S. jurisdiction accused of infringing on copyrights, or of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.
Why is this bad?
SOPA represents a sweeping, meat-axe approach to curbing digital piracy that would have a dramatic impact on online freedom of speech, user privacy, and web-based businesses.
Because the language contained in the bill is so broad and open-ended, it would expose many legitimate web-based businesses to unprecedented levels of legal liability.
As put by the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, "The bill attempts a radical restructuring of the laws governing the Internet [...] It would undo the legal safe harbors that have allowed a world-leading Internet industry to flourish over the last decade. It would expose legitimate American businesses and innovators to broad and open-ended liability. The result will be more lawsuits, decreased venture capital investment, and fewer new jobs."
The bill would establish a legal precedent for the banning of sites deemed offending. Even linking to such sites (through a search engine, for example) would be open to legal and financial repercussions -- services such as Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Vimeo among others would be forced to filter the type of content uploaded by users and limit the sharing of information to avoid infringing on SOPA. The end result is that user-generated content and online freedom of speech would be effectively stifled.
What role does the ESA play?
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) is the "U.S. association exclusively dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies that publish computer and video games for video game consoles, personal computers, and the Internet."
Essentially, it is the lobbying arm of the entertainment software industry. It's members include some of the biggest names in entertainment software -- companies such as Electronic Arts, Microsoft Corp., Nintendo of America Inc., Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment Inc., and Sony Computer Entertainment of America, among others.
Recently the ESA issued a public statement in support of SOPA. A small number of individual members, such as Epic Games and 38 Studios, have voiced their opposition to the bill and taken an active stance against it. However, the vast majority of ESA members have failed to take a stance and thus become implicit supporters of the bill.
As consumers of electronic entertainment products, we represent the constituent base for many of these companies and have a right to voice our opposition to their stance on SOPA. If we can convince enough individual members of the ESA to speak out against this bill, then the ESA would be pressured to reconsider its stance on the matter. This would be a significant step in the fight to protect online freedom of speech, and ensuring that the Internet remains a neutral platform for the sharing of ideas and information.