SOPA. It's an acronym so dirty that to type it causes a collective washing of the Internets mouth. Reaction has been swift and coherent in its singular defiance of proposed Legislation that is global in its reach, idiotic in its understanding of how new media and the internet intersects, and truly naive if it believes we don’t realise it has everything to do with censorship, and will do nothing against the 'rampant piracy' it purports to end.
As content producers entitled to the remuneration their entertainment work deserves, the Games Industry has become divided over the issues raised by the bill proposal. Some of these divides are within individual companies themselves, such as Sony where ‘Sony Music Entertainment’ is listed as a supporter, but ‘Sony Online Entertainment’ is not. It's always a mess when companies wake up to find the community Giant of the Internet awake and enraged, and so far a clear list of supporters and detractors have yet to emerge.
What is clear are the serious questions the SOPA Bill engenders for the Games Industry
User innovation and community engagement drives the success and sustainability of any industry. Under SOPA, custom files ranging from innocent configuration files to a full mod changing or altering a games base code can be accused of intellectual property threat, and the website hosting the content taken down. Under SOPA, the creators of the original Counter Strike mod could theoretically have been seen as infringing copyright and processed accordingly. With sales of over 25 million to date for Valve after they acquired the makers, the fear of making content that could get you prosecuted will cost the industry severely.
SOPA's true aim is censorship, not piracy. Under its mandate, content that even hints at misappropriation or misinterpretation can be removed. This would be the end of the YouTube generation, whether it is guides, game play videos or machinima. What has not been made clear is that it’s the Industry itself which are the enforcers under the proposal. Any request for a takedown by an Industry provider is given pre-authorization under the law.
The evidence for this is already here, even before the official SOPA debate begins, with the current war between Viacom and YouTube. When you hand over the power of self regulation, you create a corporate environment ripe for abuse and primed for anti-competitive practices. If every would-be indie developer is concerned their creation could be seen as a remote infringement and thus be prosecuted, you have an environment of fear which means less entrepreneurial content.
The notion you can hold responsible the content provider of user generated information is absurd. The logic follows that if I receive an inappropriate text from an iPhone, I can sue Apple for enabling the distribution of the content of that text. Broad definitions in legislation addressed at the fundamentals of the Internet model are at best worrisome, at worst punitive.
The advertising industry needs to wake up here as well: If your advertisement by the virtue of distributed media gets placed on a website that happens to even indirectly support or host pirated material, you can be held liable. I guarantee it will be your competitor who noticed and got you prosecuted.
Start-ups are the lifeblood of any industry, but the Game sector relies on innovation and creativity from its indie and self starter community. Investors are outright scared according to the latest BOOZ study, with some claiming they would need a minimum 13x return of investment before even considering a media and content related proposal under the SOPA provision.
The alternatives proposed are aren’t any better, and understand that any attempt to shift attention away from PIPA to SOPA is dangerous. They are both rotten, and their only difference is in their execution and the margins of the law. American law makers need to focus not on building the US version of the Golden Shield, which SOPA in strict terms will have to be to function as drafted, but instead paying attention to how innovation, flexible pricing and content value reduces piracy.
The game Industry needs to wake up and realises that SOPA and its ilk will not only reduce advertisement and promote unethical corporate conduct, but more importantly directly affect community engagement, production and the user content which drives so much of its success.
Is it any wonder the Swedish word for garbage is SOPA?