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Reddit's Erik Martin on SOPA: "The End Of Reddit"

Proponents of web freedom received an unlikely Christmas present last week, when the House Judiciary Committee decided at the last minute to delay a full vote on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), in order to continue examination of concerns raised about technical aspects of the bill's implementation. This delay comes as a welcome relief for opponents of the bill who feared that passage was all but assured.

One such opponent is Reddit General Manager Erik Martin. In a comment posted yesterday to a thread on Reddit, he laid out Reddit's official position on the matter in terms that deftly explain why the bill will be terrible for online culture:

"If SOPA passes in anything like it's current form, it would almost certainly mean the end of reddit. It may not happen overnight, but we have a very small staff (~11, mostly engineers), and even dealing with DMCA stuff is a big burden for us. SOPA would make running reddit near impossible. And we have access to great lawyers through our parent company. I can't imagine how smaller sites without those kind of resources could even attempt a go at it if SOPA passes."

What Martin is referring to are some of SOPA's nastier provisions. If passed it would provide copyright holders with an accountability-free framework in which they can have a site shut down based on mere accusation of infringement without first notifying them or giving them a chance to contest the charges. SOPA also defines key concepts so vaguely, and sets such a low threshold for accusers, that an entire site could be brought down based on a single instance of supposed infringement, including a stray hyperlink. In other words, it would deprive website owners of their rights under the fourth amendment in order to deny those guaranteed by the first amendment.

At the same time, SOPA also massive changes to the current domain name system (among other things), changes that critics insist would make the Internet vastly less secure. Though it has been argued the bill's stated intent would prevent abuse, in a follow up to his earlier comment, Martin illustrated a fear echoed across the tech world.  "[T]he analysis from experts in press and various experts we have consulted independently," Martin says, "is that there is way too much room for US sites like reddit to be targeted. It doesn't matter what they say the bill is for, the language is far too vague and far too easy for various parties to use it beyond the stated goals. Given our experience with DMCA, it's a safe assumption that various rights holders will use SOPA in such a way that US companies like reddit are impacted."

The delay in a vote on SOPA gives opponents crucial additional time in which to increase the pressure on wavering representatives who might be able to stop the bill entirely. It's also worth noting that similar attempts to break the Internet in years past have failed. However, SOPA has surprising support and it's still very possible it will pass, a terrible fate not only for Americans, but for Internet users the world over. Those suggesting that the law will largely affect only American Internet users are discounting the fact that, being an American invention, a vast amount of websites and online businesses are based in the US. Or more succinctly, the Reddit thread that Martin posted on says, simply, "Reddit is centered in New York City. If you didn't know it already, that's in America. So is Google, and YouTube, and Facebook. You people outside of the US aren't exactly getting the better end of the deal. Think about it." Indeed.

Hearings on the bill will resume when congress goes back in session in 2012.

  • cmartin011
    burn SOPA burn!
  • rohitbaran
    However, SOPA has surprising support
    Well, if there is enough lobbying and enough money, anything flies.
  • errorcode99
    wth this is not democratic!! the population should be taking those decisions!!
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    errorcode99wth this is not democratic!! the population should be taking those decisions!!
    This is America. They're only "democratic" on TV. Everything else is governed by money. People want one thing, corporations want another? Screw the people.
  • Darkerson
    Considering some of the other retarded things that have been passed recently, I have a bad feeling this is still going to make it through when they get back around to it. I hope to whatever deity is out there that Im wrong.
  • bobusboy
    For a country that preaches personal freedoms, and espouses the belief that there is justice and liberty for all; they sure do have a lot of rules regarding what you can and can not do.
  • fyasko
    america is turning into a beautiful utopia... for giant corporations.
  • dgingeri
    If it passes in any form close to the current one, it will kill the internet in general. Companies will start accusing each other of things that gets their sites shut down just to keep a competitor out of the market for a time. Apple will probably accuse Google of infringement just to keep Android repressed and shut down one of the biggest search engines. It will be a total furball of accusations all over the place.

    On top of that, the court system, already overloaded with frivolous lawsuits, will see a massive influx of corporations and small businesses trying to defend themselves against false accusations, only to have hearings delayed time and again, stretching out the penalties of simply being accused. A site could be offline for a year or more, killing the business, just because of a false accusation.

    Small businesses all over will be totally shut out of the internet. People will be put out of business entirely, with no unemployment to collect because they were self employed. Millions who make their way under their own terms right now will have to go to work for large corporations in order to make a living. (Sure, small businesses make up 80% of businesses in the US, but they only employ about 20% of the people and make up less than 10% of the GDP.) Everyone will have to work for existing corporations, severely stifling innovation and progress. We'll be totally stuck in a noble/serf economy again.

    If this doesn't cause a second American Revolution, I don't know what would.
  • Dandalf
    Why don't sites like Reddit then move to Europe?
  • If this thing passes, I'll be ready for the second American revolution.