The Stop Online Piracy Act won’t the end of efforts by media providers to influence the federal government into passing legislation that limits online innovation and decentralized file sharing. SOPA is just the opening skirmish in what promises to be a multi-year protracted war between Hollywood and Silicon. Legislation like this promises to alter every major service on the Internet, from reverse phone lookup to video streaming and document sharing. What can we expect in the short term if and when SOPA goes into effect? Here are some of the practical effects you can bet on seeing:
Far more stringent controls over file sharing: The Wild West days of endless options for video streaming and bit torrents will come to an end, as the possibilities for legal action will grow more daunting. If you think copyright laws are strict now, wait until the full force of the federal government is weighted on its side. File sharing will become risky business for individuals, companies, and agencies alike.
This will lead to:
Less diversity and fewer options: Media cartels will dominate online services, rendering small Internet services in constant fear of being seized. This will limit innovation and will discourage new ventures. What was previously protected by the process of legally proving infringement will now be streamlined and constitutionally bolstered.
Startups will suffer. Out of fear of being shut down over infringement, startups like Etsy and Vimeo may have to close their doors or pay heavy fines. Hundreds of vibrant, budding social media communities will be affected as well. Services like Reddit, Digg, SoundCloud, LiveStream, Grooveshark will also be heavily impacted, if not destroyed, by SOPA.
We Can Also Expect:
Limited user generated content outlets: New liabilities will make it so only companies like Google and Facebook will be able to afford the risk of UGC that may or may not contain copyrighted material. Even powerhouse online companies like YouTube will be dramatically affected. Lesser known video streaming services that focus on user generated content will be absorbed by bigger entities.
SOPA will also make it easy and legal for the government and corporation to censor online documents and blacklist whistle-blowing organizations like Wikileaks. The long term effect of this is hard to predict but it certainly doesn’t look conducive to innovation or small business. Hollywood, which hasn’t been nearly as hard hit by the recession as other industries, seems poisoned to benefit the most from SOPA while the new generation of entertainment providers and social media startups are likely to suffer considerable losses.