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SOPA: What it is and why gamers should be worried

Opinion: John Dean explains why the US bill must be stopped at all costs

SOPA. Yesterday, you might not have cared about what these letters stand for. Today however, things might have changed.

Pretty soon these links to Reddit and US gaming giant Destructoid won't work, and we're sure that you'll find other popular websites that don't either.

The servers for MMORPG Firefall will go offline, as will access to Mojang's Minecraft.

This week's planned 24-hour blackouts are in protest to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is set to be debated by the US Congress in Washington imminently. Strongly backed by entertainment bigwigs, SOPA is a US bill that aims to give content owners an incredible degree of control over who uses their stuff.

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For the world of gaming, it's an absolute disaster. Piracy certainly needs to be dealt with, but many are concerned that SOPA isn't the answer. If the bill gets pushed through by the US congress as planned, the way we're able to enjoy games - and from our perspective, report on them - will change dramatically.

SOPA is built on restrictions that have been in place for years. Because of the fact that the domain names are local, websites that end in .com or .net can be seized with a court order by the US government.

As they've recently found with websites such as The Pirate Bay, their sphere of influence doesn't spread much further, much to the dismay of anti-piracy campaigners.

The premise of SOPA is fairly simple: Rather than seizing control of the website, you simply trick the internet into telling you it isn't there. Behind each website is an IP address, which has to be looked up by the Domain Name System. Delete a website from your country's DNS, and the website simply can't be found.

The main problem with DNS filtering is that it doesn't stop piracy - anyone committed enough will quickly realise that you can still access these sites providing you know the IP address. Casual pirates might get bamboozled into hanging up their eyepatches, but the cost of SOPA really isn't worth it.

The breadth of SOPA's power sounds like pure science fiction: Any website seen to be breaking copyright laws can be blacklisted without any form of legal process, regardless of whether or not they're actively hosting the actual content.

In addition to this, SOPA will also grant the government the ability to control other aspects surrounding a website; forcing advertisers to cut support, or forcing a service provider to simply shut down the domain.

"For the world of gaming, it's an absolute disaster. Piracy certainly needs to be dealt with, but many are concerned that SOPA isn't the answer."

These powers even stretch to websites seen linking to the content - which is why companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are terrified.

Developers like Epic Games have spoken out loudly against the new bill, with the ESA being held accountable for the outcome.

If SOPA does end up being pushed through, we'll likely see developers boycotting aspects of the ESA in protest - which could well result in E3 2012 feeling like a ghost town. Acronyms might not be a barrel of laughs, but this one is something requires your attention.

Three aspects of gaming will be in serious trouble: E-sports, community videos, and gaming sites such as ours.

Stream live gameplay footage online, and you're effectively breaching a publisher's copyright. Whack a homemade walkthrough video on Youtube, and you're on equally flaky legal ground. Almost everything we put on CVG is under the same sense of scrutiny - any videos and screenshots taken from games could be seen as breaking copyright laws if it turns out that the company who owns the game doesn't like what they see.

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