SOPA – why it could destroy gaming

SOPA PS3

You might have heard this acronym knocking around the internet lately – the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, is a proposed legislation currently being debated by U.S. Congress that would give media owners much greater powers to protect their intellectual property on the web – whether that’s music, video, text or games.

In theory that sounds unobjectionable – of course IP owners should have the power to prosecute pirates. The problem is, as PC Gamer’s SOPA editorial outlines, that the proposed new measures are so heavy-handed that, if passed, they could destroy pro gaming, games forums, the games media and even in-game communication. That’s right. DESTROY.

If you live outside the United States, don’t think this won’t affect you. The internet isn’t localised, and neither is SOPA’s potential effect. If a copyright holder comes across a site that’s using their material without permission, they can file for a court order against that site.

They can also file against any companies affiliated with that site. Ad networks, payment services like PayPal, search engines that link to the site and even the webhost. Hell, if the legislation passes in its current guise, a website linking to an unofficial Youtube clip someone’s recorded of, say, Uncharted 3, could literally sink the site if enough pressure was put on advertisers, the webhost and the search engines that link to it.

Even humble forums could be profoundly affected (read: screwed). Say someone links some copyrighted material on CODHeadshotEnthusiasts. If SOPA passes, the IP holder could shut the whole forum down.

The pro gaming circuit could find itself in similarly boiling water, too.  Its lifeblood is streaming live footage, which would become a criminal act if SOPA passes. And without anyone to watch, the entire concept of e-sports would be at risk of going the way of dodo racing.

Taken to its extreme, SOPA could even hold responsible anyone who plays music down their mic in a multiplayer gaming session, or even quotes text that they don’t hold the copyright for. In other words, you’d be breaking the law if you were playing music in your room that could be heard by others gamers through your headset during an online match. If SOPA passes, COD deathmatches could become damn quiet.

This isn’t some hypothetical scaremongering. Unless SOPA receives serious resistance from enough members of congress, then it could fundamentally change the way you read, and more importantly, play games online. Personally, we don’t want to envisage a world where gaming sites get kiboshed for linking to copyright material or where you can’t talk down your headset during a game of Battlefield 3.

Sadly, there’s little UK gamers can do at the moment. But if you’re reading this and you live in the US, then there sure as Hell is. You can start by contacting your congressman and expressing your grave concerns about the detrimental effect SOPA could have on your beloved pastime. You can spread the depressing, alarming word among fellow gamers who might not have heard about the legislation.

And finally, you can take to Twitter and Facebook to find out where your favourite developers and publishers stand on SOPA. If they support the legislation, then challenge them with stone cold, doomy facts to their faces. Let them know that this is a law which could fundamentally destroy the relationship between developers and their gaming communities.

SOPA has spurred a growing backlash from all corners of the internet from gaming hobbyists to major web property owners like Google, Amazon and Twitter. The latter have penned an open letter to congress outlining their concerns with SOPA, and many sites (Reddit being a notable example) are planning a blackout on 18 January in protest of SOPA.

In the most simple terms we can muster: SOPA is a bad thing. It could irrevocably change the way we interact with games online forever. Anyone who owns a PS3 or any other console has a responsibility to spread the word on what could be the most damaging threat the video game industry has faced in decades.

UPDATE: We’ve just read House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith has made a huge concession to SOPA critics by claiming he’ll drop the specific legislation that would demand internet providers to block sites that infringe on SOPA regulations. If true, it’s a vital victory. We’ve decided to keep the original article in tact, just to outline the lunacy of the original legislation. And in other good news both Sony and EA have dropped their support for SOPA.