SOPA: Support crumbles, but money still talks

Support for the American bill that could break the internet for everyone is slowly crumbling as companies withdraw, but is it enough to defeat SOPA?

Gaming giants Sony, Nintendo and Electronic Arts are the latest in a long line of companies to withdraw their support of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill currently passing through the American legislative system which could have a profound impact on the way that the internet works, not just for people in the US, but everyone.

The three companies all supported the bill back in November but are no longer named on an updated list of supporters from the House Judiciary Committee(PDF). In Sony's case, Joystiq had reported that Sony Electronics, Sony Music, and Sony Pictures all supported the bill, but now only Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Sony Music Entertainment and Sony Music Nashville are left on the list.

 SOPA: Support crumbles, but money still talks

How easily will cyber information be available in future? Reuters

GoDaddy, the largest ICANN-accredited registrar in the world, has also withdrawn support after a campaign by users of the social news site Reddit who called for users to boycott the company. Says CNet:

The idea of boycotting GoDaddy began with a protest thread on Reddit and was aided by Jimmy Wales' announcement last week that "Wikipedia domain names will move away from GoDaddy." It inspired, which urged Internet users and companies to "boycott GoDaddy until they send a letter to Congress taking back any and all support of the House and Senate versions of the Internet censorship bill, both SOPA and PIPA."

Domain registrar Namecheap offered users money off to move from GoDaddy, and reported at least 80,000 transfers.

Initial moves by GoDaddy to quell dissent, saying that it no longer supported SOPA but refusing to either criticise the bill or answer questions from the media and customer, did little to help. GoDaddy was eventually forced to make a more emphatic statement:

We have observed a spike in domain name transfers, which are running above normal rates and which we attribute to GoDaddy's prior support for SOPA, which was reversed. GoDaddy opposes SOPA because the legislation has not fulfilled its basic requirement to build a consensus among stake-holders in the technology and Internet communities. Our company regrets the loss of any of our customers, who remain our highest priority, and we hope to repair those relationships and win back their business over time.

Meanwhile, Gibson Guitar, D'Addario & Company and Petzl America all asked for their names to be removed from the list of supporters because they had never actually given SOPA the thumbs-up in the first place. It seems that all three companies had given general support to the idea of fighting "intellectual property theft via 'rogue websites'", but the US Chamber of Commerce had wrongly interpreted this as actual support for SOPA.

But is this continued desertion enough to derail SOPA? Although only 124 companies are now listed as official supporters, between them they have enough weight to keep driving SOPA forwards. Said David Carr on the New York Times:

Maplight, a site that researches the influence of money in politics, reported that the 32 sponsors of the legislation received four times as much in contributions from the entertainment industry as they did from software and Internet companies.

Money does, indeed, talk. Just how loudly it speaks we will find out in January. The House Judiciary Committee will continue its debate on 17 January and the bill could move to the full House by 24 January.

Why care about SOPA?

It's tempting to look at both SOPA and its sister bill the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and wonder why anyone outside of the US should care. But these bills are two bad bits of legislation that won't just hurt Americans; they could destroy businesses worldwide.

SOPA firstly will allow rightsholders to force ISPs to block access at the DNS levelto any foreign sites that are accused of infringement. They would also be able to force search engines to strip such sites from their search results. Finally, both payment processing companies and advertising networks could be forced to sever their relationship with accused sites in, cutting them off from these sources of income.

As we've seen before, the big rightsholders and their representatives such as the RIAA and the MPAA are quite happy to play fast and loose with the evidence when it comes to so-called pirates. SOPA would give them swingeing powers to effectively shut down any sites that they don't like with minimal judicial oversight and very little, if any, due process.

Companies that rely on search engines, payment processors, ad networks or even customers based in the US should be seriously concerned about SOPA. Imagine doing business without Google Search, Google AdSense, Visa or PayPal, or any of the other similar providers. It would take a miracle for a business to survive being falsely accused and blocked by those services and miracles are hard to come by.

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