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Protesting SOPA: How to Make Your Voice Heard

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This week, “call your Congressperson" is not just a cliché. It's one of the most important things you can do to make your voice heard.

As Ars readers know, Wikipedia, reddit, Craigslist, and others are blacking out their sites today in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), antipiracy bills that protestors believe would give far too much power to rightsholders at the expense of the Internet as a whole.

Members of Congress are already backpedaling on some of the provisions in SOPA and PIPA, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said Tuesday that he expects to have more co-sponsors for his alternative (and much saner) OPEN Act than “than SOPA has in the House."

SOPA opponents say it is critical to block the bill now, because if it is turned into law website owners will be at risk of having payments blocked, or forced into lengthy and expensive litigation even if they're not trying to enable piracy or profit from it.

“Scribd could not have come into existence in a world governed by SOPA," said Scribd co-founder Jared Friedman during a conference call yesterday. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of reddit (which shares a parent company with Ars Technica), said much the same thing about Internet entrepreneurs. “I'd hate to be the Congressperson who has to go back to his or her district and say, 'You know what, maybe this is not the industry for you. Maybe you can try your luck in Canada.'"

Video hosting site Veoh found out the hard way what litigation can do to an Internet business, even when the law is on your side. Veoh was “litigated to death" before being finally cleared in a lawsuit filed against the site by Universal Music Group. “The lawsuit dramatically impacted our company," said founder Dmitry Shapiro. “It cost us millions of dollars to litigate. It took up a tremendous amount of executives' time. More importantly, it dramatically demotivated our 120 employees who were constantly concerned about what this meant and what would happen to them and their families."

Veoh's defense, that it was eligible for safe harbor protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, was upheld on appeal. But it was too late—Shapiro laid everyone off and sold the company in a fire sale.

Friedman said he's grateful to Shapiro, because Veoh's “success" in defending itself helped Scribd fend off its own legal threats. But SOPA would weaken safe harbor protections and give copyright owners a “private right of action" to go after money and ad networks, making it even more difficult for future Veohs to gain traction.

You don't have to be a digital pirate to oppose SOPA, Issa added. “We don't want people taking brand-new movies and putting them online and prospering while the actual creator of the art is denied," Issa said. But OPEN, by focusing on the money supply through the International Trade Commission, would target the vast majority of abuses that SOPA intends to prevent without resorting to censorship, he argued. “We think we can do 80 percent of the good with almost no trauma."

“It is a great time to contact your members of Congress, make sure they know there is an alternative, and that there is a reason to slow down and get it right," Issa added.

Contact your senator or representative

Sending a message to our elected leaders' underlings has never been easier. Old-fashioned phone calls count for a lot; they take effort to make, and so they indicate opposition in a way that a mass form e-mail never will. The official Senate site lists the phone numbers and links to contact forms for all senators, while the House has a handy tool that lets you search for your representative by ZIP code and state.


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