Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage News SOPA, PIPA – Should Engineers Care

SOPA, PIPA – Should Engineers Care

This item in japanese

On 18th January, among other estimated 10,000 web sites stopped their service in order to protest against the US legislation planning to endorse SOPA and PIPA.  Although the votes have been recently postponed, the Internet community needs to remain worried. Software engineers might think, that they are not affected by the legislation, especially if they are outside the U.S., but considering Big Data, Cloud Computing and other trends this could be a rather naive perspective.

According to Wikipedia, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) has been proposed by U.S. representative Lamar S. Smith  to expand the

ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court-orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers (ISP) to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include streaming of copyright material, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The PIPA (Protect IP Act) or more verbose, Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, and  defines infringement

as distribution of illegal copies, counterfeit goods, or anti-digital rights management technology. Infringement exists if "facts or circumstances suggest [the site] is used, primarily as a means for engaging in, enabling, or facilitating the activities described." The bill says that it does not alter existing substantive trademark or copyright law.

SOPA and PIPA address the right goals but do they offer the right means? Opponents fear, SOPA and PIPA might threaten free speech and innovation due to the possibility to block whole domains if  infringement  material is found on one single place. The impact of such internet blocking can be experienced in countries like China. 

If an employee posted an illegal file on the company website, law enforcement could stop the whole company site, at least in theory. Basically, the legislation shifts the responsibility from the person breaking the law to the infrastructure or web provider. As companies increasingly provide and deploy web applications that offer exchange of information and content using globally distributed networks this risk is not just a theoretical one. The question is whether software engineers can design software that takes care of such copyright infringements or piracy.

A lot of IT experts have already expressed their opinion about SOPA and PIPA such as John Traenkenschuh ( InformIT), J.D. Hildenbrand (SD Times)
or game developers.

It seems to be common sense that copyright infringements and piracy should be prevented. But it also seems to be common sense that the price, bills like SOPA and PIPA cause, in terms of freedom of speech and innovation could be much too high. Software engineers could experience an immediate impact of these bills when developing web or cloud applications that include content or file sharing. So, according to many SOPA/PIPA opponents, they cannot just ignore these bills, neither as engineers nor as users of social sites.

Do you care? And, what's  your opinion about SOPA and PIPA?

Rate this Article