The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its sister bill, PIPA, died over six months ago, on January 18, after massive voter revolt following website blackouts by several major internet companies, including Google, Wikipedia, and Craigslist. While the resulting furor has died down, major lobbies for the entertainment industry (The RIAA and MPAA) have not followed suit.
SOPA was widely derided for its potential to violate consumer privacy, the secrecy with which it was created, and the serious technical problems it may have caused. The RIAA and MPAA were not prepared for such a widespread public outcry, but they quickly cut their losses and moved on. However, for those who are eager to celebrate SOPA’s destruction—not so fast. The legislation’s defeat may seem like a major setback for the lobbies, but according to a leaked report from the RIAA itself, the bill would have been “an ineffective tool” for combating music piracy.
So if SOPA wouldn’t have been effective anyway, what are the entertainment lobbies pursuing now?
On the individual user front, a voluntary “Graduated Response” program that the RIAA and MPAA negotiated with the nation’s largest internet service providers (ISPs) began in July with the stated goal of reducing online piracy. Under this system, ISPs will monitor their customers’ internet activity and send increasingly dire warnings to illegal downloaders, culminating with reduction in internet speeds and potentially complete revocation of internet access. These warnings, known as “The Six Strikes,” are intended to frighten illegal downloaders into pursuing legal means of acquiring copyrighted material.
It remains to be seen how effective the “Graduated Response” program will be, but the entertainment lobbies are certainly having some success in getting remedies in court against websites that allegedly host illegal content. Because the vast majority of people who run these sites are foreigners, they typically do not show up to court and have no chance to defend themselves. This almost always leads to the plaintiffs getting exactly what they seek. The United States Executive Branch has also been aggressively pursuing copyright claims in a manner extremely similar to that envisioned in the SOPA legislation. One example of this is the Department of Justice prosecution of Megaupload announced on January 19th.
Consumers, IP owners, ISPs, and website hosts would do well to keep a close eye on the RIAA and MPAA’s latest strategy for combating piracy, lest they find themselves dealing with a new reality that they do not fully understand.