How SOPA and PIPA affect Authors and their Readers

Shared from Indie Books List

I suppose you’ve seen all the posts on SOPA/PIPA today. You’ve noticed that Google has a blacked out logo, and that Wikipedia went dark in protest.  We considered going dark today, but we had authors that we had already informed of posting.

Instead, we are choosing to educate authors and readers on what this means for you. After all, most of this hullabaloo was started by the film industry and RIAA (the music industry’s lobbying arm)…two industries that have a defunct business model to begin with.

The question has yet to be answered: What does this mean for authors and their readers, specifically those that are published digitally?

After all, these bills are framed under the guise of  ”combatting content piracy and saving American jobs”. And who is for piracy? I would argue that not one of you would agree with piracy, simply because it deprives content creators  of their rightful income. Some of you even have experience with filing DMCA takedown requests to get your content removed from torrent sites.

What does this actually mean when it comes to selling books, or readers having access to those books?

Well, let’s start with what this law means for Indie Books List, and sites similar to ours. Right now, this doesn’t affect us that much. We currently have consent from the author to post a portion of their work. It’s a process that is overseen by a human being. We don’t link out to torrented copies of the author’s work. All of our links go directly to a site where you can purchase the author’s work.

Where does it really hit readers ? Well, suppose tomorrow I wanted to start a site where readers could post links to the authors they loved, and discuss those links in the comments. Let’s say I decide to start a site like GoodReads. Automatically, I become liable for the places the people on that site link to, even if I didn’t place the link there. Why? Because you can search through past posts to find certain keywords. That makes me a “Search Engine” under the language of SOPA/PIPA.

Guess what? I have to have thousands of moderators that now make sure that every link doesn’t go to stolen work. This slows down the flow of information. Free-flowing conversation can’t take place, because every place there is a link, someone has to ensure that it doesn’t link to stolen content. This is a massive administrative burden that would be placed on site owners. Rather than comply with the extra regulations, most sites would rather shut down.

When the free flow of information is cut off, readers can no longer share their favorite books easily and quickly. The pirates have no shortage of workarounds that they are willing to deploy. Your average reader doesn’t care to learn how to use these tools, as they are going to pay for the books they read.

This is bad for forums as well. Sites like Kindleboards have limited moderation. There are, I believe, five main moderators on that site. They do a fantastic job given the limited personnel they operate with. SOPA/PIPA would make them

…criminally liable for “committing or facilitating the commission [my emphasis] of criminal violations punishable under section 2318, 2319, 2319A, 2319B, or 2320, or chapter 90, of title 18, United States Code.” h/t to the Reddit Blog for this info.

Why? Because they become liable for every link posted on their site.

Now think about how this affects Google, Bing, and Yahoo…whose main concern is linking content on the internet and determining relevance. Instead of coding brand new features, these guys have to spend massive amounts of money on compliance, instead of R&D.

Think about how much this will hinder the discovery of new authors and books. Most book-based sites these days are formed with the sole intent of allowing readers to connect with an authors work. Usually it is accomplished by posting excerpts, ratings, reviews, or simply providing author info. For the sake of sanity, at least some part of this process is automated. Heck, WordPress is designed so that I don’t have to open a notepad and write a brand new HTML document every time I want to post an article. The reason is so that we can spend more time creating and innovating.

Now, for those of you who think SOPA or PIPA are smart ideas, I ask you to do one thing:

Go learn to program. Figure out how to semantically search and determine human intent, without actually having a human present to review everything. Make sure it vets all content, and ensures that it was legally obtained with 100% certainty. Then, make sure it’s small enough that most servers currently in production can run it, and still serve content. Finally, make it free for all sites everywhere.

After that, collect your Nobel…because the greatest minds in computer science and artificial intelligence have been working on this problem for years now, and have made very little progress when it comes to these goals. Unfortunately,  CSI and shows of their ilk have done a great disservice to the public’s understanding of technological advancement. It’s not a crime procedural, it’s SciFi. Guess what? So is the idea that even Google could overcome this problem in an automated fashion.

 In summary, SOPA/PIPA:

  • Handicaps the discovery of new authors and books
  • Brings information and the common sharing of knowledge to a screeching halt
  • Stifles innovation
  • Imposes an undue burden on people with existing and new technology services
  • Asks technology to provide a solution that isn’t technically feasible at this moment in time.
While piracy is a problem, that’s no reason to enact a badly worded law as the solution, especially when the pirates say it won’t affect them in the least.
I urge you to become more informed: Write or call your representative, share this page with a friend….do something. Unless you’d rather read, sell, or discover fewer good books in the future.