Why Don’t More Game Companies Oppose SOPA?
Since its introduction in 2011, the Stop Online Piracy Act has threatened to forever change the way Americans use the internet. The bill in the House of Representatives (and its Senate cousin, the Protect IP Act) hangs like a censorious Sword of Damocles over the head of popular sites like YouTube and Wikipedia.
SOPA’s opponents condemn its excess in no uncertain terms. A coalition of intellectual property law professors decried its ambiguous wording and unconstitutional clamp-down on free speech. Al Gore worried that the bill might impede the spread of democracy and freedom in the places it is needed most. Internet security experts explained that SOPA would undermine important improvements in DNS security. Julian Sanchez of the libertarian Cato Institute systematically eviscerated the bad-faith data used by entertainment industry lobbyists to justify the legislation’s draconian provisions.
For much of the fall, a floor vote in the House seemed imminent. Two high-profile December delays, however, have ensured that the public SOPA debate will rage on for another week or two, even as the bill becomes an electoral liability for its backers.
As lines are drawn and sides are chosen, SOPA support has also become an important litmus test for consumers. A “Boycott SOPA” Android App uses a barcode scanner to alert shoppers if the product they are about to buy is manufactured by a company that supports the legislation. A similar Chrome Add-on will alert you if you visit a SOPA-supporting website.
Where does this all leave gamers? The games industry has waged a long, mostly unsuccessful war against piracy, and with that in mind, its hardly surprising that the Entertainment Software Association is one of the groups which have given SOPA their full support.
But though most gamers would agree that game designers and publishers have a legitimate complaint (as writer Kyle Orland argued eloquently in a GameFront column last week), SOPA’s ambiguous language, harsh penalties and non-existent oversight make it an untenable solution to the problem. Why, then, are so many companies in the game industry continuing to toe the ESA party line?
Given SOPA’s many faults and the outpouring of criticism it has recently endured, the list of game companies who publically oppose the measure is conspicuously short. To date, it includes:
- Epic Games
- Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios
- Mommy’s Best Games
- Trion Worlds
- Major League Gaming
- UPDATE: Riot Games (League of Legends)
With the exception of Epic, this is hardly a collection of the industry’s most recognizable names. Officials at giant publishers like Electronic Arts may be keen to protect profit margins (and, by extension, shareholder interest), but in doing so, they risk alienating their best customers, internet-savvy gamers distressed by SOPA’s planned privations. In particular, as Destructoid editor and GameFront columnist Jim Sterling pointed out in a open letter, the bill gives the Attorney General’s office broad censorship powers, in hypocritical contrast to the game industry’s long-standing fight against unconstitutional censorship.
Despite revenue lost to piracy, more game companies should join their colleagues listed above (and others in the technology space, including giants like Yahoo, Google, and EBay) in opposing a flawed piece of legislation that could have disastrous consequences for the internet as we know it. In the words of the 20th century clergyman Harry Emerson Fosdick: “Liberty is always dangerous, but it’s the safest thing we have.”