At midnight eastern time, the entire GenreNexus will go dark to protest lawmakers in the United States continuing debate on two bills our sites feel would destroy the Internet as we know it.
The Stop Online Piracy Act is a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who has convinced 12 others from both parties to support. The bill's title should say it all, but it doesn't.
While the GenreNexus is against online piracy, SOPA and its companion bill in the U.S. Senate are not the path to take. The bill would allow the courts to take severe sanctions against sites accused of copyright infringement. This includes blocking advertising and revenue streams to those sites, stopping search engine from linking to those sites, and even requiring Internet service providers to block access to those sites.
Creating sanctions against copyright infringers is probably a move that should've been done a long time ago. The problem, however, is that sanctions can be taken against a site without proper due process, allowing a media company for instance to simply claim copyright infringement and have sanctions levied against the site, even before such charges can be adjudicated.
"Think of it this way, a news outlet like one of ours could print something a network might not like, so they look for anything that might be considered the smallest bit of infringement, and they have the ability to not only get retribution, but to finish you off for good," said Michael Hinman, president of Nexus Media Group Inc. which operates the GenreNexus sites. "Even if a court later says you're OK, being cut off from advertisers and being chopped down would be almost impossible to recover from. This is handing out and fulfilling an execution order before the trial even starts."
At the same time, government is deeply inserting itself into commerce by dictating to private companies who they can do business with and who they can not. That is not how the free market in the United States works, Hinman said.
Hinman also pointed out that there are many ways that such a law can be abused.
"For instance, we have networks provide us with clips of their shows all the time to stream from our site, all designed to promote those shows ahead of broadcast," he said. "All a network would have to do is revoke that limited license to show the clip, and then claim copyright infringement. The slope is very slippery."
These efforts, Hinman said, mirror what large media companies were trying to do in the late 1990s when sites like Airlock Alpha were just forming and becoming big. Many times, they would threaten legal action against news sites claiming copyright infringement, even when usage of content was most likely covered by American Fair Use laws, that allow portions of copyright material to be used in news or satire.
"Sadly, many sites shut down, or handed over domain names which were very expensive back then," Hinman said. "We were threatened a couple times by media companies when they didn't like what we were doing, but luckily I had a little better handle on the law back then, and neither of those companies decided to test their claims in court."
The bill does create sanctions for copyright holders that "knowingly misrepresents" a site that they claim is infringing, but it's unlikely those sanctions would go anywhere near the level of what would be levied against a site that was the victim of a false accusation.
Famed Star Trek novelist Peter David said he is against the current provisions of SOPA, but blames copyright infringers for bringing it to this point. He said that there are many who post entire texts of his novels online, costing him revenue from book sales.
"People who violate copyrights are wrong, and they are stealing from those who created the property in the first place," Hinman said. "However, I think it's irresponsible for anyone to blame pirates for a bill that is so extreme in its nature. That's like blaming calls to destroy America's interstate highway system on people who can't seem to stop speeding on the roads.
"There's other ways to address online piracy that is not only better aligned with American freedoms, but also are less likely to destroy the entire Internet in the process."
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