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Dana White And UFC Fail To See Big Picture With SOPA Support

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This op-ed is solely the opinion of the author and is not the official position of Bloody Elbow or Vox Media. See Vox Media's official statement on SOPA/PIPA

By now it's become pretty clear that the Ultimate Fighting Championship and president Dana White are in support of the Stop Online Piracy Act. But do they really understand the wider implications an act like SOPA has?

SOPA in a nutshell is legislation that will allow for the blackout of any website that has the ability to host multimedia content once it is accused - and not necessarily proven - of violating copyright and infringing on intellectual property. Which basically casts a net wide enough on every site that allows user generated content, such as Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Word Press, Blogger and so on. It also includes every site here at SB Nation.

Before SOPA sites like these that rely and thrive on user generated content - such as Dana White's video blogs, or the UFC bonus-incentivised twitter use by fighters - were protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act safe-harbor provisions (Title II, Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act) so they would not be held culpable for infringement by a third party (the users) if they were not actively engaging with the party in the violation / infringement, but were expected to respond promptly and accordingly when a claim was made e.g. ban users and remove the content in question.

Even this act has it's own problems, as mentioned earlier some sites like Youtube respond to big corporations that make a claim of infringement and remove content without verifying ownership. For example when artists P Diddy, Will.I.Am and Kanye West decided to collaborate on a song about Megaupload in response to the USA's Domain Name System (DNS) takedown of the 'rogue' file sharing website, Universal Music Group claimed an infringement and had Youtube take it down - even though UMG had no rights to the music or video as it was written, recorded and produced independently of their publishing rights and mechanical copyrights. UMG, part of the major entities at large in support of SOPA and PIPA, have the ability to censor opinion and protest on a platform like Youtube just by making a false claim of infringement or violation. The video and song is back up now, but this is what Youtube and sites like it currently has to deal with.

If SOPA is passed and goes through, UMG could claim an infringement or violation and essentially shut the whole of Youtube down via a DNS takedown. Imagine if this coincides with the UFC wanting to stream a live pre or post fight press conference via Youtube? Or, if Facebook gets blacked out due to an infringement or violation claim and it coincides with the UFC wanting to stream preliminary fights via Facebook? What if Twitter gets shut down at a time when Dana White wants to organise a ticket give-away, or if this was last year before the Fox deal, rally a significant percentage of his 1.8 million followers to watch UFC programming on a channel that no one watches in ION?

This isn't hyperbole or theorisation, the language presented in SOPA allows for just this. One critic of SOPA made the analogy that it would be like counterfeit goods being stored in a safety deposit box, and the entire bank it was held in being shut down.

Outside of how the UFC could end up restricting its own utilisation of social media - and how obviously bad for business this would be - SOPA potentially allows governments to block access to sites it deems inappropriate or subversive under the guise of an infringement or violation claim. For instance, a country that decides to ban UFC from television could also find a way to block its people from watching via and UFC.TV.

The biggest rub in all this is that many experts in internet security have stated that the DNS takedown 'solution' is easily circumvented by pirates, and that the average internet user and web surfer is the one that will suffer the most. Instead of legislation that would provide a surgical strike against these digital 'terrorists', SOPA amounts to a nuclear assault that has mass 'civilian casualties' while the 'terrorists' are either safe in a bunker, or were able to escape via tunnels beforehand.

It has also been suggested that if SOPA goes through it will directly impact Tech start ups which in turn restricts innovation and the progress of social and digital media to evolve and improve how we do business in the world. Investment in internet Tech start ups will be seen as too high risk, and the return needed too high to make it worthwhile. The restrictions it can cause will likely stop the next Youtube, Facebook or Twitter from happening.

Piracy is an issue for a lot of companies, but going through with SOPA and even the on-the-surface 'tamer' PIPA will not only do little to stop the pirates, it harms the consumer and can end up harming companies like the UFC who have become really dependent on social and digital media to help further themselves.

Tomorrow I'll be looking at the issue of piracy and what a company like the UFC can realistically do to combat it.