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SOPA: Stop Online Piracy Act & DRM: Digital Rights Management

January 13th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I mentioned in a previous article that I would one day cover DRM, or Digital Rights Management. With SOPA on the rise, there may be no better time. Those who know me are probably surprised that I’m even sharing my views on politics, but for someone who uses the internet heavily and has his own blog…this is kind of a big deal.

Lamar Smith introduced a bill to the House of Representatives called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. Its main goal is to stop, you guessed it, online piracy.

A noble goal right? When a person steals from any store and gets away with it, said store loses out on the profits. The same concept applies to those who create music and software such as games. Shouldn’t companies be allowed to receive the compensation they are due? The amount companies lose due to online piracy various from product to product, but the number is significant. Stealing is stealing, and it’s wrong.

Like…stealing is bad…mmmmmmkay?

With that said, SOPA in its current proposed form is complete and utter garbage. It would give owners of intellectual property the ability to get court orders against websites that they believe are infringing on their copyrights. It doesn’t matter if the site itself is violating those copyrights or just allowing it to happen on their forums…they could be shut down and that includes a freeze on any incoming revenue. On top of that, search engines would be required to remove the offending company from any type of search that would list any of their content for a determined period of time. In other words, it would look as if they had never existed. It’s a little disturbing that the company itself could be shut down if someone where to go into their forums and link something that violated copyrights.

This would affect ANYONE who has a website. Those most in danger are companies who rely on user-generated content and copyrighted material to function. Of course, companies like Microsoft, Nintendo, Sega, EA, and a few others are supporting the bill. It would make sense for the people who actually create the content to be in support of the bill, think of how relieved they’d be not having to worry about lost profits from stolen content. These companies would finally get the money they were due after releasing their products.

Or would they?

I honestly don’t see how SOPA actually combats piracy itself. Tech savvy people who already steal content have ways of creating multiple identities on the web. SOPA would not stop someone who was really determined and knew what they were doing. After all, this isn’t the first time that companies have introduced countermeasures to combat online piracy.

It turns out Darth Vader couldn’t be everywhere to crack down on piracy.

For those of you who own a PC and play games on it regularly, you’d be familiar with three little letters that on average piss off a lot of people who buy software legitimately. Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is software that is added to a product to limit its use or apply restrictions that prevent the buyer from performing certain functions. There are varying degrees of DRM that can be applied based on the wishes of the individual publisher. Some PC games require you to log in to the company’s server and stay connected while you play even though the game is primarily single player.

Settlers 7 is a good example. Every time I wish to play this game I have to log in to Ubisoft’s servers and stay connected. If I lose the connection for whatever reason, unless I’ve saved, I’d lose all of my progress. If Ubisoft’s servers are down, I can’t log in to PLAY the game that I purchased. For retro gamers that were around back in the day and still own their old gaming systems…they know that they could hook up said gaming systems and play the games they own any time they wished. Some PC games nowadays have an install limit (thanks to DRM) and require you to contact customer service should you exceed that limit to see if you are entitled to an extension. I don’t know about you, but customer service for me as of late has been pretty crappy. On occasion you get a company with excellent customer service but most of the time I’m being outsourced to someone who barely speaks English.

“Is your computer plugged in?” “Okay…is your computer on?” “Okay…is your monitor on?” “Hello? Hello?”

DRM helped combat piracy, but it didn’t STOP it. They tried for years. Those who legitimately paid for software were often the ones penalized because of all of the restrictions. Cracked versions of the game were restriction free and some of those games that had DRM were cracked within twenty-four hours after the game’s release. In these cases, the cash paying customers got screwed while the pirates, not having to pay a penny, happily played restriction free. Popular websites get hacked, putting private customer information at risk, on a regular basis… do you honestly think the people doing this will stop pirating games and music because of SOPA? After all, it “worked so well” with DRM.

On the bright side, there are a lot of people against this bill, mainly anyone who relies on user-generated content to function. Facebook, Google (who owns YouTube), Yahoo!, Twitter, gaming websites…you name it. In case you haven’t noticed, the Internet is kind of a huge, growing industry. A bill like this would cripple that industry. There are many companies and people in that industry who enjoy being paid, go figure.

I noticed that the bill itself stated that (I’m paraphrasing here) these changes would not affect the First Amendment…but…in my opinion it does. How many people are going to be afraid of posting something on the internet and choose not to because they don’t know what will be construed as legal or illegal? How many websites or blogs with creative content (like mine) will be dumbed down to the basic formal niceties for fear of pissing off the wrong person? Could you imagine reading my blog every day and reading every single time…”Hi readers. The weather is great today. I really enjoyed…oh wait, can’t talk about that. I played…oh wait, can’t talk about that. Well, the weather is nice. Thanks for reading!”

Assuming I don’t get sued by HP Photosmart for posting a picture of myself on WordPress, all of the pictures on my articles would be variants of this. Frightening.

Notch, the creator of Minecraft, had this to say about the bill on behalf of his company Mojang.

“No sane person can be for SOPA,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re sane, but we are strongly, uncompromisingly against SOPA, and any similar laws. Sacrificing freedom of speech for the benefit of corporate profit is abominable and disgusting.”

An attorney for Riot Games (gamers will recognize the name from their product, League of Legends) is getting directly involved in opposing this bill and is asking for support from their huge customer base. In other words, the fight is on.

With a lot of money being thrown around on both sides, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. I haven’t been able to find an exact date as to when the voting of this bill actually happens but I imagine it may be soon. Keep an eye out for it.

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