Gamasutra staff will not be updating the website between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. PST on Wednesday, January 18, in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act, which despite some recent changes, still remains a very real threat to freedom on the internet.
We realize that we do provide a service that many people count on daily. But we strongly believe that ultimately, our readership, which includes many professionals in the video game industry, would be greatly damaged by SOPA.
With that in mind, it's important that as the leading industry-facing game news website, Gamasutra takes a clear stance on this issue. So we've made the tough decision to symbolically cease normal news operations, and an ad-free version of this article will take the place of the front page.
We will resume normal updates on Thursday morning. Comments on this article will remain active, and we encourage our visitors to discuss this measure.
The act is a clumsy attempt to eliminate copyright and trademark infringement stemming from foreign "rogue sites" that are deemed by the U.S. government or private corporations as havens for piracy. It would give the U.S. government and copyright holders the ability to seek court orders to block U.S. internet users from accessing sites accused of being "primarily dedicated" to copyright and trademark infringement.
Recently, the bill's author, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, made an attempt to clear up some vagaries of the bill's original language. For example, instead of targeting sites that supposedly "engage in, enable or facilitate" copyright and trademark infringement, the act now more specifically targets foreign sites that are "primarily dedicated" to copyright and trademark infringement. Last week, Rep. Smith also decided to drop the controversial Domain Name System (DNS) provision.
But those revisions are still not anywhere close to adequate. Even with those revisions, under SOPA, content rights-holders and the U.S. Attorney General have the ability to gain a court order to put supposed infringers on an internet blacklist, bypass due process, and target legitimate businesses with the threat of civil and criminal penalties. And even though "foreign sites" are now the direct target of SOPA, U.S. companies will bear a financial burden as a result of compliance and legal costs pertaining to this measure.
The bill is still all about internet censorship that's akin to the kind used in countries like Iran and China. For our non-U.S. readers who think this won't affect you, think of how much of the internet's power lies in the U.S., and the kind of precedent this could set for other governments.
SOPA is a particular threat to video game companies and their fans who partake in user-generated content, such as mods, videos and screenshots. In general, SOPA would place a chilling effect upon many ways that game companies interact with and foster their communities, and judging how the games industry has been taking its products online and worldwide for years, and positioning games as services, that's a bad thing.
So when your customers and fans are negatively affected, that also affects the business of game developers, killing fun, creativity and innovation, while hampering the industry's economic growth all at the same time. The measure is still overly broad and wouldn't actually stop piracy. It won't protect U.S. jobs, but rather put legitimate game industry businesses in the crosshairs.
Due to the vagueness of the act, experts have said that even in its current amended form, U.S. sites could become direct SOPA targets. Gamasutra currently has comments sections and blogs where users can upload content, and we're planning to expand community features. Depending on the kinds of material posted by our readers in these sections, will we be deemed a site that's "primarily dedicated" to trademark and copyright infringement? Shall we hastily delete anything that might bring down the mighty hammer of the U.S. government or some media conglomerate?
While the SOPA hearings originally slated for Wednesday have been delayed in light of Rep. Smith's revision to the act's DNS provision, Gamasutra and its staff are standing in solidarity with those in the game industry and other websites that oppose this measure.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled that video games are protected speech under the First Amendment. Gamasutra supports no measure -- neither SOPA nor the similarly dangerous PIPA -- that will undoubtedly counteract any progress this industry has made towards the freedom to create and innovate within the art and business of video games.
[Use the Electronic Frontier Foundation's website to easily send a letter to your congressman. Click here [PDF] for the bill itself