What Would a Post-SOPA Internet World Look Like?
The reason everyone's getting so upset about the Stop Online Piracy Act is because it isn't just meant to crack down on those of us illegally downloading the new Adele single or watching that HBO show on Megavideo. SOPA casts such a wide net that it would affect the entire online experience as we know it, in ways that reach far beyond the goal of preventing file-sharing. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the possibilities amid the kerfuffle—words like "censorship" and "felony" have been throw around a lot lately. So we're telling you about some concrete changes that SOPA would set in motion. What would a post-SOPA internet look like? Here's a glimpse of a dystopian future.
Let's start with the personal: Your Tumblr, Twitter feed, or Facebook page could be "executed" at any time. A fair number of us have online homes these days, whether it's a Wordpress blog with half a dozen readers or a Twitter page with half a million followers. If you happen to post copyrighted material on one of these sites—and you almost certainly do, especially if it's not monetized—your domain could be blocked, just like that. In the past, the copyright holder could invoke the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which would warn the site to take the material down. There are no such warnings with SOPA.
Google searches would never be the same. Search engines are slanted as it is, burying certain sites they deem inappropriate or irrelevant. SOPA would put this bias on steroids. Any site that may contain copyright-infringing material wouldn't appear in the search results. Even direct searches for domain names may turn up blank pages. Worst of all, the decision to block content is at the discretion of the internet service provider, leaving little recourse if a site owner believes he's been blocked unfairly.
Comments sections would die and take websites down with them. Not only would a blogger or site provider be responsible for her own content, she'd be responsible for her commenters' behavior, too. That means if a commenter posts an entire article from another site onto your blog, you're paying the price. The inevitable result? People would simply remove their comments sections for self-preservation, effectively ending online exchanges and conversations. (Same goes for Facebook pages: Would you let just anyone screw you over with one infringing post?)
It could create sneaky company wars, and ideological ones, too. Not everybody would post copyrighted content on a site accidentally. Rival companies could try to snuff out each other's sites by posting illegal content in their comments and on their forums. And what about political or religious crusaders? Anti-abortion activists could write a copyright-violating comment on Planned Parenthood's blog to shut the site down. Creationists could write a letter to the editor of an online science magazine that's riddled with plagiarized content. President Obama's staff could post copyrighted paragraphs on Mitt Romney's site. And so on.
Wikis and photo sites would be things of the past. Who would risk exposing a site to literally billions of users who could accidentally or deliberately post copyrighted content? Wikipedia, Wikileaks, even Flickr and other photo sites would be too much of a liability for site proprietors.
Kids (and a lot of normal people) would be cut out of the internet. The wonderful thing about the internet is that it democratizes information and entertainment by being so user-friendly. It's one of the few places where everyday people—especially kids—actually have a voice, whether they're singing or laughing or crying or pontificating. SOPA would take them right offline, since many of us won't know the ins and outs of complicated copyright laws. So no more adorable Nicki Minaj covers. No more Justin Bieber-like viral sensations. No more bigoted Girl Scouts videos—or awesome responses. No fun.
The internet would become a time capsule. When it comes to the internet, sharing is what spurs innovation. Sometimes that sharing needs to be scaled back (ahem, Napster), but the web's history is founded upon the dissemination of information. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Dropbox, MediaFire, and so many other sites would have never been invented if SOPA was in place a few years ago. The law would stop innovation in its tracks.