SOPA infographic

An official list of supporters for the much-maligned Stop Online Piracy Act, better known to many as SOPA, shows that the videogame industry is in the bill’s corner. That’s not to say every company in the industry has come right out and said as much, but many of them do at least support it by proxy as members of the Entertainment Software Association, the game industry’s trade association. The ESA has made it official that it supports the anti-piracy bill which many fear, if passed, will censor the Internet and stifle innovation.

The bill’s name might make it sound noble enough — stomping out piracy is good news for everyone except those who illegally download and distribute copyrighted content — but there are numerous reasons why opponents believe it should not be passed. Among the most important of these is the vague wording with which the bill is written, a serious problem for a piece of legislation. There are countless articles, videos, and infographics devoted to the subject, but at its most basic level it threatens to result in sites being shut down, startups facing potentially unfair legal action, and pervasive censorship as websites — including social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook — seek to prevent their users from sharing anything that the website in question could be held accountable for.

Access from within the United States to certain websites could be blocked, but as a means for stopping pirates this would be ineffective as sites could still be reached by typing in their IP address. More seriously, an intellectual property holder would, if SOPA passes, suddenly have the power to shut down a website’s advertising and payment processing far more easily than many feel is reasonable. With this power, websites could easily be crippled, and the sort of freedom we’ve come to expect from the Internet — which has become an essential tool for education, communication, commerce, and political action — would be greatly diminished. And that’s not to mention the steps search engines would have to take to “disappear” offending sites, among many other aspects that the bill’s adversaries say are simply not right.

The Entertainment Consumers Association, a non-profit group that advocates the interests of gamers, has summed up some of their significant complaints about SOPA:

It strips current laws by now making Internet companies, which used to be immune, liable for their users’ communications. This means that Facebook, Youtube, WordPress, Google and more are now on the hook for what you post.

It gives the US Attorney General, with court order, the power to seize websites that possibly infringe or partially infringe copyright. There would be no due process and no chance to defend yourself before the seizure. The mere accusation can get a website taken away.

It violates Net Neutrality by ordering internet providers, advertising companies and payment systems to block accused websites with technology that just doesn’t exist.

It threatens users by imposing fines or jail time for posting even derivatives of copywrited work(s). A video of your karaoke, playing the piano, video game speed trial would now all be punishable if a copyright holder decides to enforce it.

Needless to say, many find the videogame industry’s support of the legislation disconcerting, as the ESA represents Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Nintendo of America, Sony Computer Entertainment America, Capcom USA, Sega of America, THQ, and more than two dozen other companies (Activision being one notable exception). Piracy is undoubtedly a major concern for the industry; publishers argue it has harmed software sales and used it as the reasoning for why they ignore certain platforms at times. Piracy’s impact has led to many games becoming more online-centric, even if that isn’t always identified as the reasoning for that shift.

“As an industry of innovators and creators, we understand the importance of both technological innovation and content protection, and do not believe the two are mutually exclusive,” the ESA said in a statement regarding its support of SOPA. “Rogue websites — those singularly devoted to profiting from their blatant illegal piracy — restrict demand for legitimate video game products and services, thereby costing jobs. Our industry needs effective remedies to address this specific problem, and we support the House and Senate proposals to achieve this objective. We are mindful of concerns raised about a negative impact on innovation. We look forward to working with the House and Senate, and all interested parties, to find the right balance and define useful remedies to combat willful wrongdoers that do not impede lawful product and business model innovation.”

While the latter portion of the statement suggests the ESA would like to see the bill modified, its name nevertheless remains on an official list of supporters (PDF) of the bill in its current form. Destructoid notes this is the same ESA that called for support from gamers in the Brown v. EMA/ESA case that made it to the Supreme Court last year. Many it feel it is hypocritical, to say the least, to ask gamers for support when the industry was under fire but then to openly support a bill that would hurt those very same gamers not even a year later.

By Chris Pereira