The tides aren’t turning against the Stop Online Piracy Act in the games industry, despite media reports claiming otherwise.
Last week, some tech and gaming publications reported that Sony, Nintendo and Electronic Arts had “dropped” support for SOPA, a bill that would allow the government to block websites accused of copyright infringement, and to cut off funding to those sites. But these game publishers never actively supported SOPA in the first place.
Instead, they’re staying silent on the matter, while the Entertainment Software Association, an industry trade group, supports the bill. “EA never took a position on SOPA or any of the other bills on this topic,” Jeff Brown, an EA spokesman, told Techland in an e-mail.
So why did several publications, starting with Business Insider last Friday, report that EA and other companies had “dropped” support for the bill? Apparently the media made the mistake of comparing a general letter of support for anti-piracy legislation, written before SOPA came into being, with a specific list of SOPA supporters. You’ll find EA and Nintendo on the former list, but not on the latter. (The first list is actually about five pages longer than the second.)
“A few months ago we signed the US Chamber of Commerce letter on piracy, but that was not an endorsement of the legislation,” Brown said. “Since then, we haven’t issued any statements or letters for or against specific legislation.”
Nintendo didn’t respond to my request for comment, but I’ll bet the company is taking a similar non-stand. As for Sony, it seems that some reporters confused Sony Electronics, which makes TVs and Blu-ray players, with Sony Computer Entertainment, which makes video games. Sony Electronics signed the first letter supporting general anti-piracy legislation, but not the second. Sony Computer Entertainment appears on neither letter.
Granted, there’s some hair splitting going on here: The original letter, written in September, supports “rogue sites legislation” and commends the Senate for “their early attention to this important issue.” By that time, the Senate already had its own version of SOPA called the PROTECT-IP act, so it’s not as though EA and other game publishers had no idea what the legislation in Congress would look like.
But that original letter is very careful not to mention any specific bill by name. That gives companies wiggle room to say they didn’t technically support SOPA and PROTECT-IP, even if they like the sentiment behind those bills. Meanwhile, the Entertainment Software Association, a trade group representing game publishers including EA, Sony and Nintendo, supports the bill.
SOPA is unpopular in the tech and games press for good reason: It could have a chilling effect on free speech, because even the smallest copyright violations uploaded by forum posters or social media users could result in the shutdown of entire websites. But the idea that game companies are actively dropping support for the bill seems like wishful thinking. In reality, they’re keeping a safe distance from specific legislation while their trade group, the ESA, gets its hands dirty.
Disclosure: Time Inc. parent company Time Warner supports SOPA legislation.