It's a day of protest across the internet today, as Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, and others have all gone black to voice opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. We think the greater responsibility of The Verge as a news outlet is to serve our readers, so we're still up and running, but I wanted to take this opportunity to publish Vox Media's official SOPA position statement. As many of you know, Vox Media and The Verge are officially opposed to SOPA, and I worked closely with our general counsel Lauren Fisher to articulate the reasons why — although our company invests heavily in producing premium content, we feel SOPA is overbroad, dangerous to the technical operation of the internet, and will ultimately cost us more in compliance costs than it might save by "protecting" our work. It's a bad law, and we think it needs to be stopped.
At the same time, we also think it's time to rethink copyright policy itself to find a balance between the protections media companies like Vox Media and The Verge need to stay in business and the simple realities of how media works on the internet. Copyright law in the United States hasn't been seriously rethought since 1998 — before Google was really even a company, let alone before social networks like Twitter and Facebook and services like YouTube built empires out of regular people sharing content with each other. It's no wonder the law feels out of touch with reality, and SOPA is so rooted in that obsolete model that it's almost offensive to anyone who's been paying attention.
Ultimately, the SOPA debate should be more than just a protest — we should look back on this moment as a significant inflection point in the history of our country's internet and intellectual property law policy. This should be the moment the technology community begins to engage the machinery of government to craft laws that actually make sense, instead of simply opposing the bad legislative ideas of others. It's an election year — there's no better time to retake this conversation than now.
Here's our statement:
As a new type of media company that invests heavily in both developing our own premium content and providing our communities of readers with powerful tools with which to express themselves, Vox Media is in a unique position to understand the conflict raised by the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA.
Vox Media is officially opposed to SOPA. The bill as drafted is overly broad, vaguely worded, and gives rise to a number of significant concerns:
- Decreased effectiveness and questionable availability of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbor for sites that host user-contributed content;
- Higher compliance costs for all sites that host user-contributed content;
- Potentially overzealous compliance efforts by search engines and payment providers in their attempts to maintain the immunity offered by SOPA section 104;
- Serious constitutional issues in regards to due process and seizure of property.
These are major issues that appear to be insurmountable in SOPA as it is written. Although the legislation purports to target only so-called foreign pirate sites and not US-based sites or those that end in .com, .net, or .org, there is a very real possibility that (over)reaction to the legislation would catch more than a few U.S.-based .com sites in its crosshairs.
Vox Media may find our domain names to be the subject of an in rem lawsuit as a result of users posting unlawful video clips. We may find that payment providers proactively turn off payment accounts for any sites that have been the subject of a recent copyright claim, however frivolous. We may find that a service provider decides to redirect our domain names away from our content as a knee-jerk reaction to a single unsubstantiated complaint.
Whether or not US-based sites are directly targeted by the language of SOPA, Vox Media will certainly end up having to defend our properties and the content we display, whether published by our own employees or by our dedicated readers. We will eventually be forced to show why our publications fall outside of the wording and thus the reach of SOPA, which may prove to be an easy task or a much more difficult one — the vague language of SOPA makes it impossible to predict. What we do know is that dealing with SOPA will cost us time, money, and energy that would be better spent serving our readers with quality journalism and empowering our communities with innovative technology. Whatever heightened protection SOPA might offer to content owners is not worth that price, and SOPA should be opposed.
If SOPA is not the right answer, what is? It seems clear that there are two legitimate sets of interests that need to be reflected, addressed, and balanced. As a media company that creates content and empowers communities, Vox Media walks the very line where the balance must be struck. Vox Media is a company founded on and steeped in community content across hundreds of editorial websites dedicated to passionate conversation, but we are also increasingly a premium original content owner and creator that employs top-tier journalists and produces premium multimedia programming across each of our content verticals. We believe this hybrid model is the future of journalism; it is certainly the future of our company. We need a copyright law that understands the rapid pace of innovation online and allows it to flourish.
Content owners, including Vox Media, need to be able to enforce their rights in a meaningful and practical way against those that would steal from them. And we need to preserve the power of communities, like the Vox Media communities, by explicitly expanding fair use to encompass a wide range of legitimate uses that do not erode the market for the original works: commentary, criticism, parody, remix. Vox Media’s opposition to SOPA is not limited to defeating one bad law grounded in an outmoded view of content; it extends to a genuine desire for copyright law and policy to strike the right balance, which must start with comprehending and embracing the powerful and inspiring new media world in which we now live.