If Microsoft controlled our speech on the internet, would we know about the Red Ring of Death? Or would every individual with a bricked Xbox believe they were a unique exception?
If you think companies are above this type of censorship, you haven't been paying attention. Corporations spend millions of dollars lobbying for the dismantling of watchdog groups and consumer protection agencies. They spend millions to fight against regulations that give consumers rights. Popular game publishers already censor legitimate complaints on their own forums. They have a legal obligation to their shareholders to protect their profits, even it if means censoring critical feedback.
Thanks to the internet, individual consumers have a voice for the first time in history. And that voice can have significant impact on companies. Before the internet, a customer that was screwed over had three potential recourses:
A) a slim chance of getting coverage from established print/TV media,
B) risking a ton of time and money on a lawsuit,
C) going through the slow bureaucracy of a government consumer advocate (which corporate lobbyists and their political bedmates wish to eradicate).
Your ability to be heard depended entirely on middlemen.
This was great for companies. Then the internet came along. Now consumers can communicate directly with each other. They can rate the quality of products and the service of sellers. They can compare their experiences with millions of other consumers. And douchebaggery is finally held accountable by the public. When Ocean Marketing figuratively bitch-slapped a customer, they were held accountable. EA, Activision, Ubisoft and Capcom have all spent time in the hot-seat of public opinion due to nefarious treatment of employees and paying customers. But what if they had the ability to make that negative press disappear?
The ability for the public to rally online is very new. Many big publishers, on the other hand, are stuck in the past. Lacking the creativity to change with the times, these companies would rather put a stop to innovation. There's a long history of such behavior. The movie industry did everything it could to sabotage the advent of television. The television industry threw a fit over the introduction of VCR's.
The record industry raised hell over mp3's. Here's the thing though. Right before mp3's and Napster became popular, there was a huge CD price-fixing scandal in the record industry. Price-fixing is when companies all agree to raise their prices simultaneously so they can increase profits without worrying about competition. It also happens to be illegal. In the course of a year, most CD prices rose five dollars. This illegal activity by several major record labels made music piracy much more attractive. The labels refused to recognize their mistake and they refused to learn lessons from Napster - that people wanted convenient online delivery of single songs. Instead the music industry spent millions of dollars to halt technological progress at the inconvenience of consumers. The music industry's decisions made piracy more attractive.
Compare this to Capcom. Claiming concerns over piracy (for a cheap PS3 game???), Capcom requires a constant PSN connection to play Bionic Commando Rearmed 2. Capcom has no way to ensure that PSN or a local ISP will be available. When PSN shut down for over a month, BC2 was completely unplayable to paying customers. The PS3 version would have ONLY been playable if there was a way to pirate a cracked version that didn't require the PSN connection. Obviously a pirated version that works would be more attractive than a legitimate version that does't work, even to gamers who enjoy spending money on games and fear the legal repercussions of piracy.
Capcom can't be that stupid, can they? Nor Ubisoft for that matter. They know a game that is guaranteed to work at all times is more attractive than a game that may or may not work. So why would they release games with broken DRM that punishes or scares away paying customers? Why would they take steps to make piracy more attractive? How could they possibly benefit from that?
And on a separate note, how can they limit online speech's negative impact on their company? Waaaaaait a second. What if those two issues aren't so separate?
With piracy as an excuse, SOPA is created. According to SOPA's language, almost every news and fan site could be accused of infringement due to the inclusion of pictures, videos, logos, etc.. Without any legitimate legal casse, companies can recommend that a website be blocked, and there's no fair system to challenge the recommendation. There's no checks and balances to protect online free speech. Websites would be in fear of incurring the wrath of companies.
Some people have said:
"The extreme language of the bill may be allow such censorship, but surely it won't be abused to that extent. It's for catching pirates, not for curbing critical speech against companies and their products."
Are you serious? Did you miss the part where companies are already spending millions of dollars in Washington to lobby against consumer protection? And this would make it f*ing free for them? Did you miss the part where publisher forums already censor legitimate concerns from customers? If this bill was REALLY about pirates and not limiting the impact of free online speech, the language would reflect that.
Your voice on the internet is the biggest headache for companies. If they had the ability they WOULD limit the reach of your public criticism…criticism that might negatively impact their sales. It's what they are legally obligated to do for their shareholders. It's not a secret. It's not a conspiracy theory. The fight to limit consumer rights is happening in broad daylight on Capitol Hill. Just follow the money to see who benefits from limiting free speech online? Follow the money.